Yesterday, to no one’s surprise, President Obama revealed in an interview that after some “evolution” he has “concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.” This after the Vice-President came out last Sunday strongly in favor of gay marriage. Not coincidentally, the New York Times ran an article on Tuesday (an election day with a marriage amendment on one ballot) about how popular and not controversial gay television characters have become. In other words, everyone else has grown up so why don’t you? It can seem like the whole world is having a gay old time, with conservative Christians the only ones refusing to party.
The temptation, then, is for Christians go silent and give up the marriage fight: “It’s no use staying in this battle,” we think to ourselves. “We don’t have to change our personal position. We’ll keep speaking the truth and upholding the Bible in our churches, but getting worked up over gay marriage in the public square is counter productive. It’s a waste of time. It makes us look bad. It ruins our witness. And we’ve already lost. Time to throw in the towel.” I understand that temptation. It is an easier way. But I do not think it is the right way, the God glorifying way, or the way of love.
Here are five reasons Christians should continue to publicly and winsomely oppose bestowing the term and institution of marriage upon same-sex couples:
1. Every time the issue of gay marriage has been put to a vote by the people, the people have voted to uphold traditional marriage. Even in California. In fact, the amendment passed in North Carolina on Tuesday by a wider margin (61-39) than a similar measure passed six years ago in Virginia (57-42). The amendment passed in North Carolina, a swing state Obama carried in 2008, by 22 percentage points. We should not think that gay marriage in all the land is a foregone conclusion. To date 30 states have constitutionally defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
2. The promotion and legal recognition of homosexual unions is not in the interest of the common good. That may sound benighted, if not bigoted. But we must say it in love: codifying the indistinguishability of gender will not make for the “peace of the city.” It rubs against the grain of the universe, and when you rub against the grain of divine design you’re bound to get splinters. Or worse. The society which says sex is up to your own definition and the family unit is utterly fungible is not a society that serves its children, its women, or its own long term well being.
3. Marriage is not simply the term we use to describe those relationships most precious to us. The word means something and has meant something throughout history. Marriage is more than a union of hearts and minds. It involves a union of bodies–and not bodies in any old way we please, as if giving your cousin a wet willy in the ear makes you married. Marriage, to quote one set of scholars, is a” comprehensive union of two sexually complementary persons who seal (consummate or complete) their relationship by the generative act—by the kind of activity that is by its nature fulfilled by the conception of a child. So marriage itself is oriented to and fulfilled by the bearing, rearing, and education of children.” This conjugal view of marriage states in complex language what would have been a truism until a couple generations ago. Marriage is what children (can) come from. Where that element is not present (at the level of sheer design and function, even if not always in fulfillment), marriage is not a reality. We should not concede that “gay marriage” is really marriage. What’s more, as Christians we understand that the great mystery of marriage can never be captured between a relationship of Christ and Christ or church and church.
4. Allowing for the legalization of gay marriage further normalizes what was until very recently, and still should be, considered deviant behavior. While it’s true that politics is downstream from culture, it’s also true that law is one of the tributaries contributing to culture. In our age of hyper-tolerance we try to avoid stigmas, but stigmas can be an expression of common grace. Who knows how many stupid sinful things I’ve been kept from doing because I knew my peers and my community would deem it shameful. Our cultural elites may never consider homosexuality shameful, but amendments that define marriage as one man and one woman serve a noble end by defining what is as what ought to be. We do not help each other in the fight for holiness when we allow for righteousness to look increasingly strange and sin to look increasingly normal.
5. We are naive if we think a laissez faire compromise would be enjoyed by all if only the conservative Christians would stop being so dogmatic. The next step after giving up the marriage fight is not a happy millennium of everyone everywhere doing marriage in his own way. The step after surrender is conquest. I’m not suggesting heterosexuals would no longer be able to get married. What I am suggesting is that the cultural pressure will not stop with allowing for some “marriages” to be homosexual. It will keep mounting until all accept and finally celebrate that homosexuality is one of Diversity’s great gifts. The goal is not for different expressions of marriage, but for the elimination of definitions altogether. Capitulating on gay marriage may feel like giving up an inch in bad law to gain a mile in good will. But the reality will be far different. For as in all of the devil’s bargains, the good will doesn’t last nearly so long as the law.