A Christian Debate About Gay Marriage
By D.C. Innes & Lisa Sharon Harper
May 15, 2012
This time last week, voters in North Carolina were heading to the polls to weigh in on Amendment One, a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as a union solely between a man and a woman, effectively shutting the door on same-sex marriage for the state. It passed—with more than 60 percent of the vote.
But you know all of this already, because the nation spent the rest of the week arguing about the outcome in North Carolina. Social media spheres erupted in hot debate. And then the president joined in. Though he'd expressed his support of civil unions, President Obama had long hesitated to make a conclusive statement about the legality of same-sex marriage. But on Wednesday, he became the first sitting president to publicly declare his support.
Amongst Christians, the same-sex marriage debate becomes even more intense, proving divisive in both policy and theology spheres. Even President Obama cited his Christian faith in his decision but acknowledged, "This position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others." So, what does Scripture say about homosexual unions? And what bearing, if any, should Scripture have on the law? On both sides of the issue, believers are striving to determine how their faith should inform their political beliefs.
Today, Christians from either side of the aisle share their views.
A Christian argument against same-sex marriage: the family is fundamental
D.C. Innes is an associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City.
Redefining the nature of the family is like trying to restructure the human body. No good can come of it. Underlying every good that we derive from society is the proper understanding and functioning of the family. Where family structure and authority weaken or disintegrate, these goods melt away. That’s why God instituted not just reproduction, but specifically marriage. God gave Eve to Adam to be his wife. She was “suitable” for him. God made no provision—whether in the garden or in Israel or in the church of Christ—for homosexual pairing. None. Indeed, He calls it an abomination (Lev.18:22).
Extending marriage to homosexuals destroys it for everyone. If two men can marry, or two women, what exactly is marriage? Is marriage just close friendship between any two people? Is it the solemnization of any two best friends in a sexual relationship? What’s solemn about that? Is the solemnity in the permanence of it? Surely it is people’s own business how long they want to remain friends and intimate. Why is the state involved? Why is the Church involved? Why are there weddings at all?
Same-sex marriage suggests all of these questions because it is a relationship that, in principle, has nothing to do with the begetting and moral formation of the next generation on which all of life depends. We have weddings as community events because every marriage, God willing, is the community’s lifeline to the future. It’s how we beget and train the next generation. The community has a stake in the permanence and health of the marriage. This is not true of homosexual couples by the very nature of the relationship.
Recognizing the homosexual relationship as a marriage, then, reduces everyone’s marriage to essentially that relationship. Sexual complementarity and childbearing would become optional add-ons, not an essential feature and a natural fulfillment. There would be nothing solemn, therefore, about anyone’s marriage, and no expectation of permanency. The indiscriminate sale of birth control and our easy divorce laws have already taken a heavy toll on our understanding of marriage, though the old ideas persist because of the nature of the union. But equating homosexual “marriage” with heterosexual marriage destroys the basis for those ideas.
It is tempting to bracket the moral question and view same-sex marriage as simply an issue of equal protection of the law. But that begs the question whether a homosexual relationship can, in principle, be a marriage at all.
Of course, nothing justifies personal cruelty toward people who, perhaps through tragic circumstances, are confused in their sexual desires. They are made in the image of God. Like any sinner, they need the love of God’s people if they are going to see the gracious way back to the Father through Christ. But justifying and dignifying sin, and calling something marriage that is not, is no way to love a sinner.
A Christian argument for same-sex marriage: the end of discrimination
Lisa Sharon Harper is the director of mobilizing at Sojourners.
To be honest, as an evangelical who values the Scripture and justice, this issue has presented me with more biblical, constitutional and just plain practical conundrums than any other political issue. I’m comforted to know I am not alone. But for the purpose of this discussion, I will focus on one thing: same-sex marriage and the question of its legalization in the United States of America—not whether homosexual acts are sin or whether same-sex marriages should be sanctioned by the Church.
Divorce and remarriage after divorce are clearly sin, according to Jesus. Yet no party is rushing to introduce legislation to outlaw divorce. In fact, according to a 2008 study conducted by George Barna, born-again Christians are slightly more likely to have experienced a divorce (32 percent) than atheists and agnostics (30 percent).Thus, even by our own standards, the biblical sinfulness of a private act does not determine whether legislation should be levied to outlaw it.
Given the fact that we live in a pluralistic democracy with a spectrum of experiences and deeply held convictions at play, how then shall we live together?
I agree with Tony Campolo, the prolific evangelical preacher and evangelist who, in 2003, stood in the shadow of the Federal Marriage Amendment and stated in a public debate with his wife, Peggy, a staunch advocate of gay rights, that, “At this particular point, we have to agree on one thing: [gay and lesbian people] are entitled to an end to all forms of discrimination. There should be no legal system that gives rights to heterosexual couples that it does not make available to homosexual couples.”
Are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people human? If they are human, then they, too, are made in the image of God. If they are made in the image of God, then they, too, in Genesis 1 were given free will—the right to exercise liberty over their bodies and their lives. This right applies even when I disagree with the liberties they take. What’s more, the fact that gay and lesbian people are made in the image of God endows them with intrinsic value and the same basic rights and protections afforded to any other human being. To legislate anything less is to set up a society that formally declares a certain class of people as less than human.
The truth is that institutions of marriage and family have been on an ever-changing journey since the founding of our nation. The institution of marriage is not static. It is dynamic—and as a woman, an African-American woman, I say thankfully so.
The Church and society are still splitting over the rightness or wrongness of homosexual acts. But we can know that we are talking about people—people made in the image of God. And as long as we maintain a dehumanizing legal system that gives fundamental rights and protections to some and not to a class of others, our society is in sin.
Excerpted from Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics by D.C. Innes and Lisa Sharon Harper, © 2011. Published by Russell Media, www.russell-media.com. Used by permission.