We asked people about the relevancy of marriage.
"The court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them." With these words, Justice Anthony Kennedy supported the decision of the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States. Gay and lesbian couples across the country are celebrating this long-awaited decision. Those who are Christians are not only thanking the court but also thanking God. But we know that other Christians are not giving thanks -- some are angry, others are confused and uncertain. Can a faithful Christian support the court's decision? What can we say in response to questions voiced by some Christian people?
"Doesn't the Bible define marriage as between one man and one woman?"
Let's go to the creation story in Genesis 2: "Then, God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper as his partner.'" This was the first not-good thing in the creation. In Genesis 1 God looked at every created thing and saw that it was good. But loneliness is not good. So God created the animals and birds and told Adam to name them all. Adam was not a name as we think of names, but a word meaning from the soil - adamah. We might say "Earth Creature" - but that's so ponderous, we simply say Adam. When all the animals had been named, God saw that none of them was a fitting partner for the man. So God took a rib from Adam and created another human. "This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh," he said. Later on in Genesis, Laban will say almost these same words when he meets his nephew Jacob for the first time: "Surely you are my bone and my flesh." You are like me. We are kin. Adam was delighted to see another human being: "Here at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh," that is, you are not a gerbil or a giraffe! His loneliness was over.
Then, in a verse often cited against gay marriage, the text says, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This must be a later addition to the story because there was no father or mother to leave! Something strange happens after those words in Genesis 2: it's almost impossible to find a couple that abides by them in Genesis, or in the entire Bible. Abraham fathered sons by Hagar (the Egyptian slave woman who had no choice) and by his wife Sarah. Jacob had two wives and two concubines and fathered children by all four. King David was married and so was Bathsheba when he took her to bed. We know Peter was married because Jesus healed his mother-in-law, but we know nothing more about Peter's marriage. Jesus said nothing about gay relationships, though he spoke strongly against divorce and remarriage. Paul was quite opposed to marriage except to control passion. It's almost impossible to find stories of "traditional marriage" in the entire Bible.
We do find promises of love and commitment but they aren't between one man and one woman. Ruth's promise to her mother-in-law Naomi is often read at weddings: "Where you go, I will go; where you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people; and your God my God."(Ruth 1: 16)This promise doesn't mean Ruth and Naomi were lesbians, but it does mean we have to look outside of "traditional marriage" to find texts for weddings. Paul's beautiful words about love in I Corinthians were written for a community torn apart by dissension and accusations. "Now faith, hope and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love." But Paul wasn't talking about marriage.
"Won't gay marriage destroy marriage?"
Why would that be true? Gay and lesbian people who choose to marry are affirming the goodness of marriage. They are saying, "I do" not only to each other, but also to the institution of marriage itself. In states where same-sex marriages were legal prior to the SCOTUS decision making marriage equality mandatory in all 50 states on June 26th, 2015, the divorce rate is 20 percent lower than in states where such marriages are banned. Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage (2004) also has the lowest divorce rate in the country. (Huffington Post: June 27, 2013) If you ask any minister or priest, "What is the most common cause of divorce?" most pastors will name one of the 3 A's: Adultery, Addiction, or Abuse. They will not name gay marriage.
"Isn't same-sex marriage unnatural?"
For years interracial marriage was judged to be "unnatural." It took the Supreme Court to overturn laws forbidding interracial marriage in 1967. The case that came before the court was aptly titled "Loving vs. Virginia" named for Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple who had been arrested in Virginia after being married in Washington, D.C. The judge who sentenced them to prison, Leon M. Bazile, appealed to natural law: "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents... The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix." The Supreme Court decided otherwise even though 72 percent of American adults were opposed to interracial marriage. The Lovings stayed married and went home together.
"Will Christian ministers will be required to marry gay couples?"
No. This is a scare tactic. Anticipating the court's decision one church leader recently wrote:
"Will we be fined for not performing same-sex marriages? Potentially. Will we be thrown in jail? Maybe. A recently deceased Catholic bishop (Cardinal George) described what I believe we shall now begin to face: 'I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.'"
No minister can be forced to officiate at any wedding. Many rabbis will not officiate at inter-faith weddings. Ministers have said "no" to a marriage if abuse is suspected. Some priests refuse marriage to divorced people, even though divorce is legal. They aren't in jail. No minister will be arrested for refusing to officiate at a gay wedding. Church leaders who scare members with talk of arrest and martyrdom are bearing false witness.
"Are same-sex marriages moral?"
Again, words from Justice Kennedy: "No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family..." Gay marriage can embody these ideals as well as marriage between a woman and a man.
What makes a relationship moral? It's not the gender of the partners, but the faithfulness and love the partners have for each other. When gay and lesbian people fall in love and choose to be married, they take the words of Genesis as their own: "Here at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh." Here is a fitting partner for me. What God has joined together let no one, neither the state nor the Church, tear asunder.
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