Probably sooner than later, every Christian must decide whether or not you will attend a same-sex wedding. Those of us who are pastors will also need to be ready to give advice to church members. I’ve chewed this one around, in my own thoughts, with my elder team, and with others. I offer these preliminary thoughts, in the form of Q&A, to help you make your own decision.
Our churches should welcome all individuals, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. We should also seek to be faithful to the teachings of the Bible and the 2,000-year history of the Christian church. There are times when our values will appear to be at odds with our wider culture. The current climate surrounding the definition and expectations of marriage is a significant example.
Marriage is not simply a human institution but has been given to us by God. This gift begins at the start of the human story with the account of Adam and Eve in Genesis (Gen 1:28; 2:18-25) and continues throughout the Bible story. All depictions of marriage the Bible provides (both positive and negative) are between a man and a woman. While the manner in which marriage is formalized has varied over time and from place to place, theologically and historically marriage has always been understood given by God to a man and a woman.
If a couple love one another why does it matter what sex they are?
This point might sound strange, but I believe that marriage is about more than love. In fact, I do not believe that “being in love” is sufficient reason (or even the main reason) for getting married. Feelings of romantic love for another person tend to shift over time—sometimes they are stronger and at other times weaker. If marriage is based primarily on the feeling of love then marriage is likely to be weakened. This is why so many people leave their marriages when they no longer feel in love with the person they married. In order to be strong, marriage needs a firmer foundation than feelings of love.
If being in love with someone isn’t the main reason for marrying them, what is?
Good question! The Bible paints a picture of marriage as not only for the good of the couple but for the good of the whole community. This intent is most clearly demonstrated by the fact that God created marriage as the place for children to be born and raised, as having children is essential for the community to endure (Gen 1:28; 9:1; 15:1-6; Ex 1:7; Lev 26:9; Ps 127:3; Jer 29:6; 1 Cor 7:14). Jesus said there will be no marriage in the resurrection (Mt 22:30)—when all God’s people are raised to eternal life in Christ there will be no need for reproduction; that means there will be no need for sex, and hence no marriage.
Additionally, I believe marriage to be a covenant, rather than a contract, which reflects the relationship between Christ and the church (Eph 5:22-33). By definition, such a covenant must be between husband and wife, man and woman. I have no problem with the government legislating on what contractual arrangements couples can make. Indeed, I think the kind of financial contractual arrangements associated with marriage should be available to all, whether or not the relationship is sexual. But such arrangements are not the same as the fruitful, faithful, and sacrificial covenant of marriage between a man and woman.
But not all heterosexual couples have children—what do you say about that?
Assuming that a married heterosexual couple are fertile, I believe they should have children at some point and that refusing to do so in some way resists God’s intention for sex and marriage. However, if a heterosexual couple are unable to have children because of their age or due to infertility that is an accidental effect, and does not invalidate their marriage. (There are examples in the Bible, e.g., 1 Sam 1:1-2; Lk 1:5-7.) For a same-sex couple the inability to reproduce is an essential aspect of their relationship.
But some same-sex couples do have children, by adoption or surrogacy or sperm donation—can that make same-sex marriage legitimate?
Adoption is wonderful, but adopting a child is not a basis for marriage: it cannot legitimize a marriage that is not a real marriage. In the case of surrogacy or sperm donation, I would not support this choice for any couple, whether gay or straight, as it involves a third person in the relationship, which the Bible describes as adultery.
So should I attend a same-sex wedding?
There are two competing tensions to reconcile in answering this question:
- The fact that you love and care for the person getting “married” means the answer should be “yes.” It is difficult to see how not going to the ceremony demonstrates love and care for the person.
- The fact that this is not really a marriage at all means the answer should be “no.” It is difficult to see how going to the ceremony communicates anything other than your approval—so if you don’t approve but go anyway you act dishonestly or with hypocrisy.
My personal position is that answer #2 above outweighs answer #1, so I would not go. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is not the thing that on the surface looks most loving. I don’t want to do something in order to make someone else feel more positive about me if by doing it I am in effect encouraging them to do something harmful. Going to a same-sex wedding is not the most loving thing to do because I don’t want to encourage my friends in actions that run contrary to God’s command.
If I decide not to go to a same-sex wedding won’t this damage my relationship with my gay friends?
Sadly, this is possible, maybe even likely. But if you go to the ceremony you could end up doing more damage to your friends by giving the impression that you approve of what they are doing and so encouraging them in something contrary to God’s command. There really is no pain-free answer to this situation, but if you decide not to go there are some things you should do to help your friends know that you love and care for them:
- Spend time with them beforehand explaining why you feel this way, and that while you are not rejecting them as a person you cannot approve of what they are doing. If you cannot do this face to face or are worried you won’t be able to express yourself clearly, send your friend a letter (not a text or e-mail) explaining how you feel.
- Spend time with the person socially around the time of the ceremony (both before and after) in order to keep building relational bridges.
Even if you do these things your friend may be so offended by your decision that your relationship with them is damaged. Sometimes the cost of being a disciple of Jesus is that our friends take offense at us.
If I don’t go to a same-sex wedding, should I go to a “wrong” heterosexual wedding?
Our friends often get married in less-than-ideal circumstances, such as when divorce in a previous marriage has been a factor. Going to such a wedding might also be considered condoning something wrong. There are a number of things to consider in making this decision:
- If the people getting married claim to be followers of Christ and claimed to be so when the previous marriage broke down the real question is whether their divorce was legitimate in the eyes of God. If the divorce should not have happened then remarriage should not happen, and in such a case I probably wouldn’t attend the wedding.
- If the people getting married are not followers of Christ I would not hold them to the same standard as Christians. In such a case, while their previous divorce may well have been wrong, their new marriage is still in some measure legitimate, as it is between a man and a woman and so conforms to the legitimate pattern of marriage.
- Biblically and historically we can see a number of examples where marriages are in some measure wrong but remain legitimate. For example, consider the case of polygamy, which falls short of God’s intention for marriage to be “one man, one woman” (Matt 19:5) and bars a man from eldership in the church (1 Tim 3:2), but which the Bible doesn’t condemn as illegitimate marriage.
I recognize that my views on marriage are out of sync with our wider culture and that as a consequence I am likely to be accused of bigotry and homophobia. This is a small price to pay for remaining faithful to Jesus and no less than we should expect as his followers (Matt 5:11-12). It is important to note, though, that my entire approach to sexual ethics is wildly different from the cultural norm. My expectation that faithful followers of Jesus will only have sex within marriage and that it is possible to live a satisfied life without sex is not normal. My views put me on a collision course with our culture at many points.
Nevertheless I do not seek confrontation with anyone. I recognize that all of us stand as sinners before God, with our own issues and junk. The radical nature of the Christian gospel recognizes that none of us in and of ourselves is morally superior to anyone else. Apart from the grace of God we are all lost souls. Only by surrendering to the grace of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ can we find healing and wholeness. This healing and wholeness profoundly affects our attitudes towards sex, sexuality, and relationships and empowers us to live as disciples of Christ, even when to do so is costly.