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).