EAI, Same-Sex Marriage and Ireland

A timely recent post related to the EAI statement on Same Sex Marriage.

Ben Witherington talks about what marriage is and isn’t. Like EAI, he supports civil unions but opposes the redefinition of marriage.

The EAI statement focused primarily on the threats posed by an illiberal secularism to human rights and a civil society. While important, this emphasis meant that while same-sex marriage was talked about as being a ‘retrograde step’ for the common good, a weakness in the argument was it didn’t really give reasons why.

Witherington gets into the ‘why’ a bit more.  He refers to an article from CNN written by three lawyers. This is Witherington’s summary of the lawyers’ argument.

First, the redefinition of marriage will undermine the marriage itself and will inevitably lead to more and more forms of ‘marriage’.

If marriage is just the emotional bond “that matters most” to you — in the revealing words of the circuit judge who struck down California Proposition 8 — then personal tastes or a couple’s subjective preferences aside, there is no reason of principle for marriage to be pledged to permanence. Or sexually exclusive rather than “open.” Or limited to two spouses. Or oriented to family life and shaped by its demands.

In that case, every argument for recognizing two men’s bond as marital –equality, destigmatization, extending economic benefits — would also apply to recognizing romantic triads (“throuples,” as they are now known). Refusing such recognition would be unfair — a violation of equality — if commitment based on emotional companionship is what makes a marriage.”

Second, marriage is NOT just a ‘bond of affection’.  “The attractive civil rights rhetoric of “marriage equality” masks a profound error about what marriage is.”

“All human beings are equal in dignity and should be equal before the law. But equality only forbids arbitrary distinctions. And there is nothing arbitrary about maximizing the chances that children will know the love of their biological parents in a committed and exclusive bond. A strong marriage culture serves children, families and society by encouraging the ideal of giving kids both a mom and a dad.

Witherington adds other more theological reasons of his own that have general implications for marriage in general beyond the church.  If both male and female are made in the image of God and it is together that they are complete, then gender difference matters in the marriage relationship. A father and a mother give children something that two men or  two women can’t. There is a purposeful duality to human nature.

Within the church for believers, for both Jesus and Paul, “heterosexual monogamy and celibacy in singleness were the only legitimate options for Jesus’ disciples.” Witherington argues that no Christian minister should be “advocating or solemnizing non-marriages as if they were God-blessed marriages.”

See here for Steve Chalke’s very different view on this in his own words.  He has blessed monogamous gay-unions and says

I leave it to others to debate whether a Civil Partnership plus a dedication and blessing should equal a marriage or not. But I do believe that the Church has a God given responsibility to include those who have for so long found themselves excluded.

A few musings and, as ever, feel welcome to add your own:

Witherington does stress that far more than just a man and woman together is needed for a marriage to be a good one – marriage needs love for one another and for children if it is to work (and is not just all about children). Neither is he saying homosexual couples don’t love one another etc. He is saying, like EAI, that civil unions provide the context for same-sex relationships to be recognised by the state with various legal implications. But marriage by definition is a relationship between a man and woman.

I think the argument made by EAI and Witherington needs to be articulated by Christians (with grace and charity). They have as much democratic right as anyone else to make their case. They don’t of course have any automatic right for their views to be privileged.

Especially given Ireland’s recent past, getting a hearing for that case is hard work and likely to fall on stony ground. Religious views are increasingly seen as threats to tolerance, equality and diversity in an increasingly secularist society. The ‘civil right’ narrative around marriage is hugely persuasive, popular and politically potent.

Therefore, one of the greatest contemporary challenges for Christians (in Ireland / the West) is to be thinking through how to relate to a culture that is detaching itself from its Christendom past. In terms of mission, ethics, witness, citizenship and so on.

Another is how to relate with love, grace, respect and Christ-likeness to a gay community which has all too often not experienced any of those attitudes when it comes to church?

And in terms of critical self-reflection – why do Christians all but idolise marriage, the middle-class nuclear home, 2.2 kids and all that jazz? Why is it held up as the ultimate expression of the ‘good life’ ? (and I speak as someone only missing the .2 children from that description, still looking).


4 thoughts on “EAI, Same-Sex Marriage and Ireland

  1. Leaving aside the gender/procreation points for a moment, I think the other arguments above fail to address the diversity of the LGBT perspectives. What of the same-sex couples who agree with Witherington that marriage is not about the bond of affection but is founded on the principle of covenant? It appears he is taking the dominant view of marriage among the LGBT community, critiquing it (rightly) and then stating that this is an argument against same-sex marriage being legislated for. But he is not taking the same dominant view of marriage among heterosexuals (i.e. bond of affection), critiquing it and arguing that heterosexual marriage should be banned.
    Justin Welby (clearly an evangelical) holds to a traditional view of marriage but still cites same-sex couples who he knows and feels inspire him in their relationships in areas such as permanence. To answer one of your questions, the grace and charity that he speaks from is rooted in his experience of gay Christians who are profoundly committed to covenant. If they can inspire one of the (if not the) most influential evangelicals in the world then maybe they can inspire all of us.

    • Hi Richard. Hear what you are saying about popular cultural heterosexual assumptions about marriage being ‘bond of affection’ – that once the bond weakens, the marriage often is over. My anabaptist leanings here: same-sex marriage is an eventual inevitability – just talk to teenagers on what they and their peers think. The challenge for the church is to be a ‘light on a hill’ in modelling a counter-cultural understanding of marriage, love, self-sacrifical committment, being a blessing to others etc – whatever the wider culture does or does not do.

      • Indeed Patrick. A reminder of Hauerwas’s view on marriage is doing the rounds here: http://www.bransonparler.com/1/post/2013/03/stanley-hauerwas-on-sexuality-and-marriage.html

        What are your views on how an anabaptist v. Constantinian perspective applies to divorce? I am not talking about the specifics of divorce as might be biblically interpreted but the reality that whatever your perspective is the state law (particularly in somewhere like the US) offers a broader set of parameters than the Bible. So why is there not the same vigour and logic applied to the “re-definition” of divorce? If we substitute “divorce” for “marriage” in Witherington’s final sentence does that change things or can we think about divorce differently?:
        “God gets to define what Biblical marriage is and isn’t. We do not.”

  2. On your question Richard. I don’t know, I can guess ..
    Is it that same-sex marriage is a visible touchstone issue in the post-Christendom shift? A clear battle line, trying to hold back the tide? And divorce is less visible or hot an issue. But as Hauerwas says, the US divorce culture has already eviserated marriage. In the UK too – and we will follow. And co-habitation has also already eviserated marriage. So it is not that same-sex marriage will deal a death-blow to marriage. The culture already has done that.
    Someone said to me the other day that perhaps why we in Ireland spend crazy amounts on weddings, is an attempt to make a day special – since with co-habitation there is nothing that special left to celebrate on a wedding day.

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