The Debate Over “Same-Sex Marriage”
Today our nation is locked in a debate over whether or not we ought to permit “same-sex marriages,” or some sort of “civil union” between homosexuals. This article seeks to survey the debate and explore two reasons why Christians have not been very successful in the debate.
The Pro “Same-Sex Marriage” Position
Homosexual activists and apologists make their case for “same-sex marriage” on the basis of the following points.
1. Homosexual behavior is entirely natural and should therefore be recognized as good and a legitimate part of the human experience.
2. Marriage is a mere sociological phenomenon that has been created by man for utilitarian purposes. The benefits of the marriage arrangement should not be withheld from gay couples; to do so is discrimination.
3. Marriage is an evolving institution that should change in response to man’s more enlightened understanding of the nature of homosexuality.
4. Law is the mere creation of the state and a reflection of social customs and mores. Since society now generally accepts homosexuality, this acceptance should be codified by law.
5. Those who oppose homosexual behavior and marriages are motivated by fear, irrational prejudice, or religion-inspired hatred.
6. In addition to these secular arguments, there are some religious supporters of “homosexual marriage” who argue that the Bible condemns only homosexual promiscuity or cult prostitution but not committed relationships between homosexuals. They also teach that Jesus’ ethic of “love” should lead Christians to a new understanding and acceptance of homosexuality as a legitimate expression of the homosexual’s individual, God-ordained destiny.
A Biblical Response
A biblical response to these pro-homosexual “marriage” arguments is as follows.
1. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the Creator’s design (Gen. 1:27-28), and therefore is entirely unnatural (Rom. 1:26-27).
Homosexual acts are not good; they neither conform to the standard of good (i.e., righteousness) revealed in God’s law, and they are not good (i.e., beneficial) for an individual or for society. According to Scripture, homosexual activity is sinful and an abomination (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:9-10). The rise and acceptance of homosexual relationships is a sign of moral degradation, is due to man’s suppression of the knowledge of God in his pursuit of idolatry, and is a revelation of God’s wrath (Rom. 1:18-32; Gen. 19:1-11).
2. Marriage was established by God at creation as a covenantal relationship between a man and a woman (Mark 10:6-9).
As the originator of marriage, God has defined both the nature and purpose of this relationship. Scripture teaches that God created man incomplete in himself and created the woman to be his helper, perfectly suited to him in every way. Man’s need for companionship and completeness is, by God’s design, met in the woman who is his wife (Gen. 2:18-25; Mal. 2:14). The task of dominion given to man at the beginning was given to a man and a woman who had been joined in the covenant of marriage by God Himself (Gen. 1:27-28; Mark 10:9). Marriage is not a human invention, it is the creation of God; it did not originate in the mind of man, but in the mind of God. This being the case, man cannot change the definition or purpose of marriage to suit himself. The redefinition of marriage is the negation of marriage.
3. Marriage is not an evolving institution.
The nature and purpose of marriage was established by God at the time of creation, and it has never been changed by Him. From beginning to end, Scripture upholds the original meaning of marriage. Jesus Himself defends marriage against frivolous divorce by appealing to what God purposed for marriage “from the beginning” (Mark 10:6).
Those who believe that marriage is an evolving concept and that “same-sex marriage” is based on man’s new understanding of the nature of homosexual orientation fundamentally assert that “marriage” itself is a meaningless notion. If the concept of marriage has no fixed reference point beyond the evolving (constantly changing) mind of man, then no idea of marriage can have any permanence or claim to be the right view of marriage since, according to evolutionary dogma, man may yet progress to new understandings of marriage in the future. The logic of evolutionary thought also leads to the possibility that the idea of “same-sex marriage” will be rejected in the future as an ignoble phase of human development for which man should be ashamed.
Only the biblical view, which sees God as the author of marriage and derives the concept of marriage from the unchanging Word of God, can provide marriage with a transcendent meaning and purpose that can survive the whims and changes that afflict man’s unstable and puny mind.
4. Law is the expression of the mind and will of a sovereign power.
As God is the Creator, Lord, and King of heaven and earth, He is sovereign over all of His creatures. God’s law, which is based in His own holy nature, is the expression of God’s will for all mankind. God reveals His law in Holy Scripture so that man will know what is righteous and good.
When in his God-ordained role of civil magistrate (Rom. 13:1-6) man is called upon to make positive law for the governance of the body politic, the laws he enacts ought to be based on the commands and principles of God’s law. If the law is not based on the righteousness revealed in biblical law, then the law is not only unjust, it is also a usurpation of God’s sovereignty by man. No man or institution has authority to legislate anything that is contrary to God’s law. The state is not the creator of law, but the custodian of God’s law for the civil sphere. As God’s servant, the duty of the state is to interpret and apply biblical law to the circumstances of its own day within the sphere of its own jurisdiction (Deut. 1:16-17; 16:18-20; 2 Chron. 19:6-7).
There is no uncertainty that in the biblical text the law of God recognizes marriage as the covenantal union of a man and a woman and defends this union against those who would degrade it by unholy passions and unfaithful conduct. There is also no doubt that the Scriptures identify homosexual acts as both sinful and criminal. The responsibility of the magistrate is to interpret the biblical texts that are relevant to the matter of “same-sex marriage” and legislate accordingly.
If there is no higher law than the will of the state, then the state becomes man’s ultimate sovereign, against whose will there is no appeal. The legalization of “same-sex marriage” by the state would be a definitive rejection of the sovereignty of God and would constitute a claim of divinity by the state—whoever is the ultimate source of law in a society is the God of that society (cf. Isa. 33:22). The debate over “same-sex marriage” is not simply a debate over what our marriage law will be, but more so, over who will be our God: the triune God of the Bible or the state?
5. Those who oppose “same-sex marriage” are not necessarily driven by fear, bigotry, or hatred; though some may be.
None of these things should motivate the Christian. The Christian opposition to the legalization of “homosexual marriage” is based on two primary considerations.
First, because Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God, their opposition is rooted in a commitment to the absolute authority of the Bible to define the institution of marriage and to judge the moral nature of homosexual acts (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Therefore, their rejection of homosexuality and “homosexual marriage” is based on the objective, propositional revelation of Scripture that teaches that these things are sinful because they are contrary to the will of God. The true Christian does not condemn sodomy and “same-sex marriage” because of fear or hate, but because his faith in God’s revelation requires him to do so.
Second, the Christian is motivated by love—his love for God and for his neighbor. The whole duty of Christian ethics is summarized by the command to love. But what is love? According to Jesus, love is keeping the commandments of God (Matt. 7:12; 22:36-40). The moral law of God shows us how to love God and our neighbor (Rom. 13:8-10). Christians believe that the laws of God against homosexual acts are given not only to reveal God’s righteousness but also for man’s own good (Deut. 10:13). The prohibitions in Scripture against homosexual acts are there not only because this behavior dishonors God, but also because it is destructive to man individually and in community. A man of love will act, to the degree to which he is able, to protect his neighbor (understood in both the singular and collective sense) from the degradation, danger, and destruction that is associated with homosexual practice (Lev. 19:17-18). The facts reveal that homosexuality is more of a death-style than a life-style. Can true Christian love ignore this reality?
When homosexuals charge Christians with fear, bigotry, and hate they may be showing that human tendency to transfer to others that which they subconsciously know to be in themselves. It seems that the ones who are driven by fear, bigotry, and hate in this debate are the members of the “gay” lobby. If Christians are guilty of hate, they need to repent and offer to the homosexual the healing Gospel of Jesus Christ and show him the pleasant paths of righteousness found in God’s law (1 Cor. 6:11; Ps. 1:1-6).
6. The Bible condemns all forms of homosexual activity, whether it be expressed in the contexts of cult prostitution, promiscuity, or a “committed relationship.”
The biblical prohibition and denouncement of homosexual behavior is consistently of the act itself and never is contextualized to apply only to certain kinds of homosexual relations:
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. . . . (Lev. 20:13; cf. Lev. 18:22).
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly. . . . (Rom. 1:26-27).
. . . them that defile themselves with mankind. . . . (1 Tim. 1:10).
. . . abusers of themselves with mankind. . . . (1 Cor. 6:9).
Greg Bahnsen, commenting on the Leviticus passages, summarizes well the biblical view on homosexual acts:
God’s verdict on homosexuality is inescapably clear. His law is a precise interpretation of the sexual order of creation for fallen man, rendering again His intention and direction for sexual relations. When members of the same sex (homo-sexual) practice intercourse with each other . . . they violate God’s basic creation order in a vile and abominable fashion.
Why Christians Are Faltering in this Debate
Evangelical Christians are not doing very well in the debate over “same-sex marriage” and other issues in regard to “gay rights.” Why is this? Let us consider two factors.
1. Evangelicals do not appeal to Scripture in the public debate, but base their arguments on reason and “natural law.”
By so doing they surrender the only real authority and power they have (Isa. 8:10; Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12) and are forced to stand on the same ground as their opponents. Not only does this method disarm the Christian, it is also disingenuous. The leading reason why Christians reject homosexual behavior is because the Bible teaches them to do so. In refusing to stand up and say this, especially since their opponents know that their chief objection is based on the Bible, they appear to be dishonest and ashamed of their faith. It is much better to be bold and forthright in defending biblical morality by using the Bible! Even if their enemies reject their arguments, Christians cannot help but gain a measure of respect for their honesty and courage.
2. Evangelicals seem blind to the hypocrisy of treating homosexual conduct so seriously and adultery and divorce so lightly.
Evangelicals cry out that they must defend “traditional marriage” against the danger of “gay marriage.” But the greatest threat to traditional marriage is not from without but from within; from the rampant adultery and divorce that is found in heterosexual marriages. Churches preach against “gay marriage” (and rightly so), but tolerate adultery, divorce, and adulterous remarriage within their own memberships. The divorce rate among Christians is a disgrace. The church is so morally compromised by adultery and sexual sin (e.g., addiction to pornography and fornication) among its heterosexuals that it has lost its power to confront the plague of homosexuality.
The Bible has more to say against adultery and divorce than it has to say about homosexual sin (cf. Deut. 5:18; 22:22; Matt. 19:3-9; 1 Cor. 7:10-11). Christians often point out that in the Old Testament God showed His hatred of sodomy by calling it an “abomination” and prescribing the death penalty for it (Lev. 18:22). But they seem to forget that God looked at adultery in the same way (Lev. 18:20, 27-29)! In the Old Testament, sodomy and adultery were both capital crimes (Lev. 20:10, 13). Yet in the church today, one is tolerated while the other is roundly condemned. Evangelicals would never think of ordaining homosexuals, but they seem willing to have pastors who are defiled by divorce and adultery.
The current breakdown of marriage in America has not been caused by homosexuals, but by sinful heterosexuals who have despised their individual marriage covenants and lusted after their neighbor’s wife or their neighbor’s husband. This rebellion against God has led to the breakdown of the family and paved the way for the homosexual sin that is ravaging the nation today.
America first deserted its commitment to God’s law concerning marriage in the sphere of adultery and divorce law. First, in direct contradiction to God’s law, adultery was decriminalized. Second, the abomination of “no fault divorce” was made the legal standard. When this happened America’s apostasy in regard to marriage law was realized. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we are now considering the redefinition of marriage to include homosexual unions.
The state ought to defend by law the marriage relationship established by God at creation. To do this, it must legislate in regard to adultery and divorce. Emil Brunner gives counsel in this regard, and then sounds a sober warning:
Hence “for the hardness of your hearts” the legislator of the state will admit the possibility of divorce, but if he knows what true justice is, he will reduce that possibility to the absolute minimum required by the circumstances. A legal system which, for all practical purposes, does not concern itself with adultery, will never be able to maintain a strict order of divorce.
On the other hand, every state will learn by experience that it cannot allow the divine order of creation to be infringed with impunity. All political anarchy in the state begins with anarchy in marriage. The state in which adultery and divorce are the order of the day is also ripe for political decay. No house can be built with mouldering stones; no sound body can grow out of diseased cells. If the social basis, marriage, is rotten, the whole community is rotten.
Christians should vigorously oppose all attempts to legitimize “homosexual marriage” or “civil unions.” But if Christians are really serious about “saving marriage,” then let them begin by first making sure that they save their own marriages; let them begin by practicing moral purity and marital faithfulness in the home; let them learn to “hate putting away” (Mal. 2:16).
The church must also rise up and begin to teach the biblical standards of marriage and divorce, and then enforce those standards by church discipline. In the civil sphere, the call to protect marriage should not be limited to the homosexual issue, but should also include the repeal of “no-fault divorce” and the reconstruction of divorce law to reflect the standards of biblical law. Many legislators are eager to support laws banning “same-sex marriage,” but where are the legislators who are eager to support legislation to reform divorce law? No politician is really “pro-family” unless he seeks to reform divorce law in accord with God’s law.
1. ^ Greg L. Bahnsen, Homosexuality: A Biblical View (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 36.
2. ^ Emil Brunner, Justice and the Social Order (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1945), pp. 144-145.
This is a slightly edited version of the article that originally appeared in The Christian Statesman, vol. 149, no. 3, May - June 2006.