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Jesus Creed

California Defines “Marriage”

posted by Scot McKnight

Another letter,

Dear Scot,

know you’re sick to death of this topic, and before writing you I read
your entire series again, but I am in a grave quandary over how to vote
on Proposition 8, a voter-led initiative on the California ballot to
declare marriage a union between a man and a woman as part of
California’s constitution.  This move is intended to override the
ruling by the California Supreme Court overturning the ban on gay


question is this.  Assuming that we accept the proposition that
homosexual behavior is not “what God has created us for or redeemed us
to” (Richard Mouw’s phrase), how do we, as members of the church apply
that in the public square?  How do we weigh what we believe to be God’s
will for humanity with notions of justice, fairness, and rights to the
pursuit of happiness.? I’m torn betwixt looking God in the face and
saying that I voted for family and societal structures contrary to
God’s intention, and between looking my gay and lesbian brothers and
sisters in the face and telling them that I voted against their
opportunity to make a civilly recognized commitment to each other.

not too worried about the slippery slope towards polygamy – I think
defining marriage as between two people is a boundary which can be
maintained.  And I’m not too worried about the slippery slope towards
adults marrying teenagers (although this was the practice in NT

I do worry about the effect this will have on the educational
system – despite assurances of supporters of gay marriage to the
contrary, this is exactly what has happened in Lexington,
Massachusetts.  And I do worry about creating a society in which
everyone will have to weigh and experiment with their own orientation
when all notions of “normalcy” are abandoned and about what effect that
will have on the institution of marriage.

Perhaps others in the community would be willing to weigh in before I have to vote on November 4th
I expect this issue may arrive in many other states in the months and
years to come.  And I would appreciate it if you would weigh in as



Comments read comments(20)
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Jay E. Earl

posted November 3, 2008 at 12:37 am

Jesus took a stand.
Government must not interfere with our spirital evolution.
Gay marriage is just a continuation of the war on our lords saints. The TAX COLLECTOR MUST BE EVICTED FROM GODS CHURCH: my family
Jesus is love. God bless every loving person on earth.It is not a matter of social right or wrong.
Many years ago our country was founded on the blessing of GOD. It became the greatest nation on earth on Christian Ideals. Now just like every country before that turned its back on the WAY we are failling

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Darren King

posted November 3, 2008 at 1:20 am

I’ll be honest, this is a tough one. And I don’t mean just mean a tough issue for 21st century American Christianity, but a tough one for me personally. On the one hand, being formed in an evangelical milieu, the answer should be simple.
On the other hand, my good friend from Presbyterian circles sees this as prejudice on the scale of slavery. And, when I put on a certain set of glasses, I can see his point.
There are many aspects of the issue to dissect. Yes, there’s the issue of genetics. Is it genetic, is it not? If it is, however, I don’t see that this necessarily gives us a free pass to endorsing homosexual behavior. After all, what is the Fall if not something evident in our very biology?
But most of all there’s the scriptural issue. There are some who would like to wiggle their way out of a tight spot by saying a contextual reading of the relevant passages suggests that something other than homosexuality per se, is being addressed. But this often seems to me to be creative interpretation – almost beyond credulity.
But the issue that I am most “stuck” on is biblical authority. In what sense is the Bible authoritative on this issue? To what extent does revelation from God “override” the underlying prejudice of a particular worldview? Or is it more accurate to suggest that God gives revelation to the Biblical writers, but the reception of that message is always going to be filtered within the capacities of a certain worldview.
The thing is, both my Presbyterian friend and I see the process of scriptural writing as a both/and. We both recognize that God and man are involved in the process. However, where we diverge is on the weight we put on either side of the process. I tend to see God as being able to override a worldview prejudice – and I believe there are examples of this in the NT. However, I can’t help but wonder if this is merely my evangelical roots coloring my perception, based on an assumption, as opposed to being truly defensible in any kind of consistent way.

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Darren King

posted November 3, 2008 at 1:23 am

By the way, one perspective I definitely share with the original poster is that if we are to evaluate this issue, we should do so, first and foremost, as it pertains to the good of the community (read: society) – now, and on into the future, as opposed to merely addressing it on the level of individual rights.
And one of the questions we should be asking ourselves is: “How does the law of intended and unintended consequences play into the equation?”

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Alex Nevels

posted November 3, 2008 at 1:50 am

I think we as Christians need to tread carefully on such an inflammatory subject. In a political culture that thrives on polarizing issues as being particularly liberal or conservative, it is so easy to find yourself pigeon-holed into a corner with a handicapped witness.
So whether or not you vote for or against Proposition 8, be careful as to not lose some of your capital with those around you. That is to say, don’t let a foolish bumper sticker, t-shirt, or facebook post inhibit your witness to those around you.
You catch a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar.
And as for Proposition 8, if not this year, if not in 5 years, it’s only a matter of time. Perhaps we as Christians should pick our battles.

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posted November 3, 2008 at 8:11 am

You said, “I’m not too worried about the slippery slope towards polygamy.” Why does polygamy have to be part of the slippery slope? I have had several Africans as co-workers, some who are Muslim and some who are Christian, who have enjoyed marriages of polygamy in their country. They see polygamy as a way to strengthen families, maintain bonds and develop their family line. They have asked me why Americans refuse to debate polygamy in America and yet are willing to debate the merits of gay marriage. Why won’t Americans allow consenting adults to enter in a marriage of polygamy yet allow gay marriage? I think it is a legitimate question as America enters the Global village and we continue to be a more tolerant society.

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posted November 3, 2008 at 8:43 am

Frankly, I see this as the other “wedge issue” (see my comment under today’s JC post “Evangelicals & Abortion”) that the GOP uses to stay in power with the help of “values voters” like us. And this is another issue I have struggled over for many years. Theoretically, we have a secular government, albeit founded upon and informed by many Judeo-Christian principles. With that in mind, I do not see legal gay marriage or civil unions as something that will ever result in someone “choosing” a homosexual lifestyle. And I don’t see it as something that will ever undermine heterosexual marriages more than they are undermined now. On the other hand, I do see measures such as Prop 8 (we have a similar one on the ballot here in Florida) as ways to turn out religious right voters. This results in the continuation of other policies many of us might not agree with related to creation care, economic policy, poverty programs or the lack thereof, etc. And I feel it results in the perpetuation of a negative perception of Evangelicals by the “unchurched,” along the lines of what Kinnaman & Lyons wrote about in their book “unChristian.”

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posted November 3, 2008 at 10:18 am

On these issues, I really try to make a non-religious case — the good of society, the purpose of secular marriage, what’s healthy for children, use reason and logic.
On this particular issue, though, those things pale in comparison to this: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Is 5:20).
It’s one thing to say we aren’t going to legislate our morality by outlawing same-sex relationships. It’s another entirely to say we’re going to put our seal of approval on them, and that is exactly what state-sanctioned same-sex marriage is.
I also think it’s a quick trip from SSM to having marriage mean literally anything so it means absolutely nothing (Europe), to a nation where certain passages of the Bible cannot be preached (Sweden), and where children are taught that same-sex relationships are not just acceptable but good and healthy (the book “King and King”. We don’t want to go there.

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posted November 3, 2008 at 12:14 pm

I would strongly suggest looking up Maggie Gallagher’s column in the LA Times on this issue. The real problem with the issue of gay marriage is that it moves the purpose of marriage from creating rights and responsibilities between parents and their children to affirming the romantic entanglements of adults. The idea of marriage as being about biological relationships has been present in every culture and isn’t a religious concept. As Gallagher puts it, “it’s about biology, not bigotry.”

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Darren King

posted November 3, 2008 at 12:31 pm

Not sure exactly what you’re saying here. So, to clarify, are you suggesting that the definition revolves around the procreation and rearing of children? If so, what about infertile heterosexual couples? Or couples that have no intention of having children, even if they are biologically capable?
While the nuclear family and its relation to stable societies is no doubt part of the equation here, I don’t think we can make this the only consideration – or even the primary one.

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William Cheriegate

posted November 3, 2008 at 12:40 pm

Obama’s words over the weekend:
“I’ve stated my opposition to this. I think it’s unnecessary,” Obama told MTV. “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage. But when you start playing around with constitutions, just to prohibit somebody who cares about another person, it just seems to me that’s not what America’s about.”
“Usually, our constitutions expand liberties, they don’t contract them,” he added.

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Patrick Hare

posted November 3, 2008 at 1:58 pm

William (and by extension Barack) –
I agree that changing the constitution should be a matter of last resort. And out of context it might appear to be a very mean spirited Constitutional amendment.
The problem is that the California Supreme Court, in a very divided decision (4-3), took a fundamental cultural institution out of the hands of the people so that the only way to deal with it democratically is through a constitutional amendment.

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posted November 3, 2008 at 2:24 pm

I’m a Cali resident, so I vote on Prop 8 as well.
As a follower of Christ, and fellow Jesus Creeder, I’m voting ‘no’ on 8. A few reasons why:
– This is being used as a wedge issue (Steve above says it well). This has already been decided, and voted on… it keeps coming up to try to turn out ‘religious right’ voters. We need to stop playing that game!
– This will not affect marriage as we know it… both as individuals, or as the Christian community. Do the research, every doomsday scenario (teaching gay marriage in schools, polygamy, not being able to teach from the pulpit, etc.) is a half-truth at best… there is no sound evidence of this. I just don’t buy the slippery slope arguments, and believe Christians shouldn’t make decisions based on fear.
– This would be the first time in a long time, since the days of Jim Crow, that a constitution would be changed to RESTRICT rights (see the Obama quote above). Again… no matter what you feel about the issue morally, Christians should not be for anything that would change the State constitution to leave certain people out!
If you have sound arguments… and the Christian community tries to live out what it believes in a compelling way.. there are better ways to engage this issue in the public square.

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posted November 3, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Here’s the deal: marriage always and everywhere has been tied to procreation. The simple fact is that marriage, responsible parenting and bridging the divide between male and female are all extremely difficult and absolutely essential to the well being of a culture. It is for this reason that the strictures surrounding marriage have generally been so strong and inflexible. When something is both terribly difficult and essential, it needs a system in place which supports and enforces it. (And yes, property often played into it as well – a driving force behind the start of the gay marriage movement as well, oddly enough – but the fact that the strictures surrounding marriage applied even to those without property highlights the essential nature of the other issues at play.)
With not only the practical need of binding biological families together, but the vital issue of supporting and enforcing the structure of biological families (ie marriage) in mind, we can see how infertile, elderly and childless couples fit. The first issue is practical: keeping the fertile members of the couple off the open market where they may produce children outside the confines of marriage. Elderly men can often sire children. With infertile couples, usually only one is actually infertile. And birth control frequently fails even those who intend to remain childless. Therefor, containing their sexual behavior within marriage prevents inadvertently creating children outside of marriage. The other issue is connected with creating the structure which enforces and supports marriage. While these couples may be functionally infertile, they still are structuring their lives in such a way as to affirm the importance of marriage as it relates to tying biological families together and bridging the gap between male and female – both vital and difficult tasks. They have shown respect for the importance of responsible parenting by removing themselves from a situation in which they or their partner might bring a child into the world outside of marriage. And by engaging in marriage which requires reaching across the gap between male and female, even in the absence of the practical necessity of child rearing, they affirm this connection as a vital good, worth the struggle.
Homosexual coupling can bring stability, comfort and companionship to those involved. And this is no small matter for homosexuals who do not try to restrict themselves to religious teachings on sexuality. However, what homosexual coupling does is not the same thing which heterosexual coupling does. The contribution of heterosexual coupling in binding biological families together and not allowing men and women to drift into comfortable, seperate spheres is essential to the well being of a society. Homosexual coupling simply does not provide the same benefit to society. It is no insult to say that heterosexual coupling and homosexual coupling do not do the same things or offer the same things to society. It is not insult to say that these essential differences make treating them differently justifiable and perhaps even essential. In fact, by insisting that we view homosexual coupling and heterosexual coupling as essentially the same, we undermine the idea that the unique contributions which heterosexual coupling provides are even important to us. A culture in which marriage serves its purposes of binding biological families together while bridging the natural divides between male and female doesn’t just happen. The task is so challenging that without substantial support – not just of the idea of romantic entanglements, but of marriage with all of its requirements of biology – people simply will not succeed. Unfortunately, our concept of the vital nature of marriage and our commitment to it is already so shaky that I don’t see how gay marriage can be anything but a disaster. While I do see where gay people are coming from in this argument, the simple fact is that in order for gay marriage to be seen as analogous to hetero marriage, we need to embrace an idea of marriage as how we get government benefits for being romantically involved with someone else. And if that’s the essence of what we think marriage is, then we give people very little reason to and even less support as they really struggle for the much more challenging and essential purposes for which marriage has always existed.

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posted November 3, 2008 at 10:05 pm

You make an interesting and persuasive case for not allowing marriage to be redefined. I agree with you that the primary purpose of marriage historically has been to protect children and provide societal boundaries and support for a difficult task. Evolutionarily, it provided protection and support for women and children, and stabilized groups by providing a safe outlet for sexual behavior. But if I may take issue with a couple of things:
I don’t think the reason that most gay couples want to get married has to do with government benefits. I know several gay couples who married recently and that has had absolutely nothing to do with it. In all cases the couples were affluent professionals, each with their own benefits and their was very little financial incentive – other than sharing a residence, for them to marry. The reason they married was to publicly affirm their commitment to each other. In fact I think you are much more likely to see the marriage as a way of getting government benefits for heterosexual couples. I realize that anecdotal evidence isn’t exactly convincing but I know and I am sure you know heterosexual couples who have been living together and then married so one of them could take advantage of medical benefits of the other. Or marriages of convenience for immigration purposes. One of my colleagues just got married after 15 years of unwedded cohabitation so she could “get her teeth fixed.” I’m sure that wasn’t the only reason, but a huge looming dental bill was the tipping point.
You have argued that marriage for infertile couples is not analogous to gay marriage. You mention keeping that the marriage of an infertile couple keeps the fertile member of the couple from producing out of wedlock children and this supports the institution of marriage in general. I am not sure how this connects with gay marriage.
Almost half of heterosexual marriages end in divorce and the rate for infertile couples is considerably higher. If infertile couples were not allowed to marry, the fertile member of the couple would have the choice of choosing another partner or “living in sin” with his/her loved one.
One of the sadder situations is when someone with a gay orientation marries a member of the opposite sex for the sake of optics and then has affairs or later leaves the marriage because he/she is unable to continue leading a double life. The resulting fallout can be devastating for the spouse and children left behind, much more so than the breakup of regular heterosexual marriages. It would be more protective of traditional marriage if gay people did not marry members of the opposite sex, because such marriages have a very high failure rate. Allowing gays to have the same sort of commitment in a same sex relationship would prevent at least some of these disastrous gay/heterosexual marriages. By choosing to marry, rather than live in a non-legally binding relationship or, worse, engage in risky promiscuous sexual practices, gay couples are also affirming the importance of marriage and family. I think it ironic that people think gay marriage is anti-family, when it is, in fact the opposite. It is a statement that commitment and family matters. I think divorce, consumerism, the proliferation of blatantly sexual media images and the shallowness of our society are far greater risks to family than gay marriage. And as for St. Paul, I think if he were living today and knew what we now know about sexual orientation he would have said, “If you cannot control yourself it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

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posted November 4, 2008 at 10:58 am

miriam, honestly, I think that most heterosexuals have a lot of nerve denying gay people the right to marry after the way we have treated marriage. I really do and I have much more passion about the hash straight people have made of marriage than over gay people wanting to get married.
Marriage as I spoke of it is historical, logical, and I believe necessary. However, the simple fact is that over the last few decades we have decided that marriage is really about saying, “I am romantically involved with this person and intend to remain so for the foreseeable future. I will go before a judge/clergy/ship’s captain to have my romantic entanglement affirmed in public.” Once we have taken the institution of marriage and stripped it of all the things which make it truly meaningful to the well being of a society, then really, there isn’t much of a logical reason left to deny gay couples the right to likewise have their romantic entanglements affirmed by officials. (And to enjoy the ever shrinking benefits reserved for those whose romantic relationships are thus recognized.)
However, that vision of marriage is a thin thing. It will not provide the benefits to society which have always justified official involvement with marriage to begin with. It seems to me that gay marriage is like a final stamp of approval on this very thin substitute for marriage we heterosexuals have designed over the last couple of decades. I guess that I tend to look at it as a point of no return, and that does not bode well for our society. However, I will absolutely concede that if we turn back gay marriage and then carry on as if our heterosexual marriages were really nothing more than private arrangements between two adults which have been given official recognition, turning back gay marriage will be worse than pointless. So, we may well be doomed regardless.

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posted November 4, 2008 at 11:30 am

Miriam, I think Paul would have said, “If you cannot control yourself trust in the grace of Jesus Christ and the power of his blood to keep you from struggling with your sexual sin.” Paul affirms sexual desires for the opposite sex, but he never affirms sexual desires for the same sex. It would contradict his gospel to exhort same-sex couples to marry. And a gay marriage would not justify the sin of homosexuality before God.

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Darren King

posted November 4, 2008 at 12:18 pm

Rebeccat (and others),
I think, as Christians, its important that we distinguish when we are making arguments from Christian conviction, as opposed to societal/cultural pragmatism. I’m not saying that the two never intersect, of course they do. But the second you move beyond the witness of scripture (or some other Christian authority you subscribe to) and focus on pragmatic advantages to marriage for the society, you open up a million other avenues for counter-arguments. And in this day and age of “put my needs first” and the needs of the culture a distant second, I don’t think you’re going to win that argument in any convincing way.
Not to mention, just as importantly, that in arguing pragmatism we can actually end up unintentionally undermining the sacrament of marriage that we as Christians believe in.

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posted November 4, 2008 at 1:50 pm

darren, so we can’t influence the culture working from our Christian convictions, but if we just deal with non-religious reality we’re undermining our Christian teachings? Wow. Talk about no win situation! Sorry, but that sort of argument strikes me as only good for making sure you can shut those you disagree with up.
The simple reality is that marriage centered around biological families and bringing men and women together isn’t a Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Janist, or any other sort of religious thing. All religions have recognized the inherent reality of marriage as essential to the proper functioning of society and families which societies depend on for their survival. However, the universal formation of some sort of marriage demonstrates that while culture may work our male-female marriage in differing ways, marriage itself is not cultural or religious. At its bottom marriage is rooted in biological and practical realities.

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Darren King

posted November 4, 2008 at 2:33 pm

What I am saying is that I think you underestimate the degree to which marriage is rooted in a Judeo-Christian ethic within western culture.
And where are you seeing the institution most at risk today? In places like post-Chrsitian Europe. I don’t think this is a conincidence, do you?
The truth is, the human species no longer needs marriage in order to ensure the smooth functioning and perpetuation of our societies. Women are empowered financially and vocationally and can now visit a sperm bank whenever they feel like having a child. Who needs a father in that scenario? Who needs a nuclear family?
I’m not saying that is the most redemptive approach, I don’t think it is. However, I’m saying it is an option our society now affords. So the pragmatic need for marriage is nothing like it used to be.

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posted November 4, 2008 at 5:58 pm

Darren, I think I get what you are saying. However, I think that what you are saying demonstrates exactly why gay marriage presents such a danger in a post-Christian world. It is desperately sad, but there is a real perception out there that marriage is no longer particularly relevant to the proper functioning of society for precisely the reasons you mention. However, perception and reality are two completely different things.
First off, every tiny piece of sociological data we have points to the fact, rooted in biology and human nature, that children do best in homes where they are raised by their married, biological mother and father. Children raised outside of this biological, permanent family unit (which is in no way a uniquely Judeo-Christian construct) are at exponentially higher risk for every imaginable problem. (There are exceptions and times when nuclear families are impossible, of course. However, these situations should be seen much like we see disabilities – something we should accommodate but clearly not something we view as normative or desirable.) Because the long term viability of a society is completely dependent on raising children into adults with the maturity and character necessary to carry forward what has been left to them by their forefathers, we need children to be raised in married, biological family units whenever possible. This is not an idea rooted in Judeo-Christian values. This is a reality recognized by pretty much every human culture through out time, backed up by every sociological study we have done. It comes out of biology and human nature, not religious ideas about right and wrong. (As a matter of fact, polygamy poses far less of a threat to society than abandoning this reality does. It is a threat to judeo-christian values like individual liberty, but leaves the essential biological/human nature basis for families intact.)
A society in which men are viewed as disposable and optional is also dooming itself to failure. Again, this is not a Judeo-Christian issue, but one rooted in human nature and backed up by sociological studies. Societies where men are not able to take on the responsibility of marriage and family are marked by high levels of violence, conflicts, criminal behavior, substance abuse and shortened life spans. Historians have explored at length what happens in these situations and it is not pretty. As someone who is married to an African American and has close relationships with many African Americans, I really hate to say this, but this view of men as unnecessary is probably at the root of virtually every social dysfunction which disproportionately affects the African American community. There is not much which is sadder than talking to an intelligent young African American man and seeing that he has utterly no sense of his place in this world. He has seen and been taught since he was a child that the women around him do not need men, that men are a problem and to the extent that they have any place, it is as a wallet for the child(ren) they donate sperm to create. (this is, of course not to say that every African American woman views men this way, but African Americans are far more likely than others to say that a woman can raise a child on her own.) If we insist on acting as if men are disposable, we are completely and utterly doomed. That is not a religious idea either, but again, one rooted in human nature.
The fact that these simple realities are seen as disposable, religious baggage is just about the worst indictment of our culture I can imagine. Being free of religion is not the same thing as being free from biology and human nature. I have been working with kids for years, including several years working with juvenile offenders. I have seen the fall out with children and with the people closest to me of what happens when we think we can just throw out old notions of family, men and women and our obligations to children. It is horrid, ugly, extremely difficult to ever recover from. I do not see how we as a society, regardless of our religious beliefs, can embrace the idea that biological families are outdated and men are disposable for long without bringing about our society’s doom.

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