April 25, 2004

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

“At the beginning of creation God made them ‘male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’” Mark 10:6-8

Last year was a big year for homosexual people seeking government endorsement. In Canada an Ontario court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, and a British Columbia court soon issued a similar ruling. In the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned all remaining laws against homosexual activity, and a court in Massachusetts took things a step further and ruled in favor of gay marriage. The court told Massachusetts lawmakers to rewrite the laws, arguing that the state constitution “forbids the creation of second-class citizens.”

Homosexual activists rejoiced at these court decisions. But what happened next? When the Ontario court gave the immediate go-ahead to gay marriage, did throngs of homosexual people flocked to the altar? Did countless same-sex couples, eagerly desiring marriage but previously prevented by “discriminatory” laws, rush out the moment the barrier was removed and obtain a marriage license? No, gays and lesbians celebrated the decision as a landmark for their political and social status, but only a few chose to get married. The vast majority did not.

Why not? It seems that most don’t want to get married. Most want official government support for homosexual marriage because they think it sends a message that it’s good to be gay. But when it comes to actually living their lives, few care to tie themselves down to another person. All want the aura of prestige and normality that comes with saying that homosexuals are just as eligible for marriage as heterosexuals, but far fewer want to promise the monogamy and life-long faithfulness that are the ideal of traditional marriage.

After the court decision, some Canadian homosexuals got nervous that with marriage becoming an option, their partner of the moment might propose, and they didn’t want that to happen. A University of Toronto sociologist warned that marriage might be too boring for most homosexuals and might cramp the freewheeling sex lives of gay men. He wrote, “I can already hear folks saying things like: ‘Why are gay bathhouses needed? Straights don’t have them. Will queers now have to live with the heterosexual forms of guilt associated with something called cheating?”

A gay website expressed concern that while marriage for gays might seem to remove discrimination, it might strengthen other forms of discrimination. Homosexual marriage might demean bisexuals who want to be free to sleep with either men or women, depending on their appetite at the moment. It would also be unfair to transgender folks who don’t want to define themselves exclusively as a man or a woman, but go back and forth between regarding themselves as male or female, depending on their mood. “Transgenders will be left in the dust,” complains this writer. “They will need to assume a single ‘official’ gender in order to be married.” Yet another problem, he says, is that defining marriage as a union of two persons discriminates against anyone who wants more than that. “The possibility of legalized consensual polygamy,” he laments, “will be removed from lesbian-gay culture.”

Perhaps he need not worry. Polygamy, whether heterosexual or homosexual, may be the next thing to gain court approval. Already the movement is underway in the United States. A married husband and wife, joined by another woman, went as a threesome to apply for a marriage license. Their application was denied on the basis of an existing law prohibiting polygamy, but the Utah Civil Rights and Liberties Foundation filed a lawsuit in federal court on their behalf, charging that the anti-polygamy law is discriminatory and violates their rights and freedoms. The basic reasoning is that if it’s discriminatory for government to restrict marriage to a man and woman, it’s also discriminatory for government to restrict marriage to only two persons. Some people prefer polygamy. If personal preference is the ruling principle in same-sex matters, it is only logical that government not discriminate against those who prefer polygamy.

Is there any reason to object? Why shouldn’t government give marriage licenses for multiple spouses? Why shouldn’t government give marriage licenses to same-sex matings? The simplest answer is that marriage between one man and one woman is the right context for sex and childbearing and is the basic building block of a healthy culture and civilization. This is not true of polygamy or same-sex matings, so there is no good reason for government to encourage and promote these deviations in an official way. Besides, it’s impossible for government to approve same-sex marriage. There is no such thing.

Defining Marriage

The word marriage means the union of a man and a woman. There has never been such a thing as same-sex marriage, and as long as words mean anything, there never will be. The dictionary defines marriage as “the social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife.”

This is not discrimination; it is definition. Would it be discrimination to say that a brother and sister are siblings and not spouses? Would it be discrimination to say that my brother’s son is my nephew and not my husband? Would it be discrimination to say that a group of first-year college students moving into a campus apartment are roommates and not newlyweds? No, that’s not discrimination; it’s just accurate use of words. The word marriage means the union of husband and wife. It would be nonsense to apply the word marriage to a brother-sister relationship or a nephew-uncle relationship or a college roommate relationship, and it would be silly to demand that the government regard such relationships the way it regards marriage. Likewise, it is nonsense to apply the word marriage to a same-sex pairing and to demand that the government regard those non-marital relationships the way it regards marriage.

It is a violation of truth to force on a word a meaning it has never had, and it is a violation of morality and wisdom to force on an institution a reality it has never contained. The institution of marriage goes all the way back to the beginning of the human race. From the very first, marriage has been the union of a man and a woman. The book of Genesis makes this clear, and no less authority than Jesus himself declares, “At the beginning of creation God made them ‘male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’” (Mark 10:6-8) Jesus does not say God made them male and male, or that God made them female and female. Jesus does not say that a man will be united to his husband, or that a woman will be united to her wife. Jesus says that “a man will … be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

Whatever two people of the same sex do together, their relationship is not marriage—not according to Jesus, not according to the dictionary, not according any culture on any continent in the entire history of our planet. To approve of same-sex marriage, a government must trash language, it must trash the structure of creation, it must trash Jesus and his teaching, and it must trash the entire history and heritage of human civilization.

Some judges have misused the power of courts by ordering parliaments and legislatures to support a right to gay marriage which the judges somehow discovered in constitutions and charters which never mentioned the matter. Now the question is, How will citizens and lawmakers respond to such folly? Will we submit to judicial dictatorship by a handful of unelected judges? Or we will stand up for the rule of law and insist on the will of the people and their elected leaders? Courts may claim godlike power to create a new institution from nothing, they may claim sovereign power to redefine words, reinterpret constitutions, and reshape society, but marriage will always be between a man and a woman. Marriage existed long before judges and courts. It’s less foolish to say that a nine-person Little League team is the same as a nine-person supreme court than it to say that a two-person same-sex relationship is the same as a husband-and-wife marriage.

Even if same-sex lovers decide to call their relationship a marriage, even if they can get a court to agree, even if Congress or Parliament kowtows and changes the definition of marriage, saying it won’t make it so. Saying that a dog is a cat won’t make it meow, and mating two people of the same sex won’t make it a marriage.

Faithful Monogamy?

     Redefining marriage to include same-sex partners won’t just change who is eligible to get married. It will also change the institution of marriage to mean something besides faithful monogamy. I mentioned earlier that many homosexuals have mixed feelings about the issue of same-sex marriage. They want public, official affirmation of their brand of sexuality, but few actually want marriage if it means permanent, exclusive devotion to one partner. Especially among homosexual men, their idea of “committed relationships” is far different from what traditional marriage means by commitment.

The Netherlands (homeland of my grandparents) was the first country to legalize “marriage” for same-sex couples. A Dutch study finds that the average length of steady partnerships is only about two years. And even if a so-called “committed relationship” lasts awhile, what does it really mean? It might mean sharing a house and perhaps a bed, but it seldom means sexual faithfulness. A study of homosexual men in committed relationships found that less than five percent were faithful to each other throughout the relationship. Dutch homosexuals in supposedly committed partnerships averaged eight sex partners per year besides the person to whom they were supposedly committed. What most heterosexuals would call cheating or adultery, most homosexual men—even those in longer term relationships—would call a way of life.

Perhaps this explains why most Canadian homosexuals who support government approval of gay marriage as a political measure were not at all eager to enter marriage themselves. They would consider marriage only if they could make it mean something totally different than what is has meant historically. The editor of a Canadian gay publication said, “I’d be for marriage if I thought gay people would challenge and change the institution and not buy into the traditional meaning of ‘till death do us part’ and monogamy forever.”

In other words, he would consider marriage if it doesn’t involve someone of the opposite sex, if it’s not a commitment to be sexually faithful to one person, and if it’s not meant to last until death. Isn’t that nice? If marriage had none of the things that make marriage what it is, he’d be all for it!

Some who want government-approved gay marriage argue that it will encourage more monogamy and faithfulness among homosexuals. But gay marriage won’t make homosexuals more monogamous and faithful; it will just make marriage itself less monogamous and faithful. Indeed, to understand the movement toward gay marriage, we need to see how it fits into the bigger picture of the sexual revolution. We would never have reached a point where gay marriage could be considered if heterosexuals had not been so busy trashing marriage. David Frum writes:

The background to the triumph of same-sex marriage in Canada is the collapse of marriage in the general population. In just six years the number of couples living common-law rose by 20 percent… the number of married couples increased by just 3 percent… The spread of cohabitation seems to have taught Canadians to think about family life in new ways. They are increasingly willing to think of family as a revolving-door arrangement (the average cohabitation lasts only five years), in which parents move in and out of the lives of their own and other people’s children.

If you think of coupledom as an ad hoc partnership that may or may not involve children, or if you have become accustomed to the idea that the children in a home will often have a biological relationship with one adult but not necessarily the other, then you will not find same-sex marriage a very exotic idea; indeed, you will be ready to believe that prejudice and hatred are the only possible reasons that somebody might oppose same-sex marriage…

To oppose same-sex marriage effectively, you have to believe that marriage is more than a contract between two consenting adults, more than a claim on employers and the government for economic benefits. You have to believe that children need mothers and fathers, their own mothers and fathers. You have to believe that unmarried cohabitation is wrong, even when heterosexuals do it. Lose those beliefs and the case for marriage has been lost. (National Review July 14, 2003)

Those who oppose gay marriage are right to do so, but we must all realize that we didn’t reach this point overnight. The sins and failings of heterosexuals—the anti-child attitudes and millions of abortions, the epidemic of single-parent situations, the view of sex as a personal privilege and undeniable right disconnected from personal commitment or public obligation—these things provide the setting in which same-sex marriage doesn’t sound all that different from what’s happening among many heterosexuals. The approval of same-sex marriage would simply be the final seal on a society’s acceptance of the sexual revolution and its rejection of genuine marriage.

It would be wrong to blame homosexuals for all of this. Gay marriage might do further damage to whatever remains of traditional respect for marriage, but most of the damage has already been done by heterosexuals themselves. Society already went a long way down the wrong path before we got to this point. But now that we’re at this crucial juncture, what should we do? Should we just plunge further ahead until we reach the point of no return? No, the demand for gay marriage should serve as a wakeup call. It should alert us to how far marriage has already fallen and how urgent it is for us to turn around, to repent, and go back to marriage as God designed it and as Jesus defined it. It is time for heterosexuals and homosexuals alike to repent, seek God’s forgiven, and live by his wisdom.

The Government’s Role

When it comes to government policy, many say it must be kept separate from religion. They say that morality can’t be legislated. But government legislates sexual morality when it outlaws polygamy, when it outlaws bestiality, when it outlaws rape, when it outlaws molesting children, when it outlaws child pornography. The question is not whether government should legislate morality but how much. In countries that once had a strong Christian consensus, there were laws against pornography, fornication, adultery, groundless divorce, and homosexual coupling because these things were known to be wrong and harmful. In recent times these laws have been relaxed. How many other laws will be relaxed remains to be seen. Polygamy may eventually be permitted, and even sexual exploitation of younger and younger people may gain approval. Again, the Netherlands leads the way, moving the age of consent lower and lower. If a Dutch adult has sex with a twelve-year-old, the act is not punishable if a neighbor reports the child molester. It is punishable only if the child does not consent and files formal charges. If an adult successful seduces and dupes a twelve-year-old into consenting, the government will do nothing. As a society moves further and further from its Christian roots, it allows more and more degrees of sin and protects children less and less.

No government can prohibit or punish every form of sin, of course. It criminalizes only those things that are considered most harmful to public order and wellbeing. Still, even if a government doesn’t criminalize or punish many sins, it is still a huge step to go from allowing something to endorsing and promoting it. There are three ways a behavior can be dealt with by government: it can be punished, it can be tolerated, or it can be encouraged. At one time homosexuality was punished. Now it is tolerated. The next move is to encourage it, to exalt it to the same level of value and importance as marriage. This would be a colossal blunder. It is one thing to tolerate sins committed in private; it is quite another to make a particular sin an honored, subsidized part of the public fabric.

Have you noticed the irony of recent arguments in favor of homosexuality? In one breath, supporters say that it’s a totally private matter that government ought to stay out of. But in the next breath, they demand the government to get involved and grant official approval. When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws against homosexuality, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.” A homosexual said, “Our right to privacy needs to be respected like everyone else’s.” Well, if privacy and being left alone is the goal, then why the public parades flaunting homosexuality? Why the demand for public schools to teach homosexuality early and often? Why the demand for public funds to cure deadly diseases contracted through private sexual behavior? And why the demand for special government approval of homosexuality by a marriage license?

If homosexuality is an entirely private matter for individuals to pursue and for government to stay out of, then it is not something for public schools to teach, and it is not something for government to license, regulate, and subsidize. But if it does indeed have an important public element, that would destroy the argument that it’s merely private conduct. Those who demand, “Keep the government out of our bedroom,” should not demand, “Have the government license and support what we do in our bedroom.” Those who say, “What we’re doing is nobody else’s business,” shouldn’t go on to say, “What we’re doing is so important to the public good and the future of the society that it should have the same public standing and government approval as marriage.”

There are many personal behaviors which are morally wrong and which government chooses neither to punish nor promote but simply to tolerate. In our society, there is no punishment for adultery—but at least government does not give adultery special recognition and privileges. There is no punishment for pornography—but at least Hugh Hefner doesn’t get a medal and Playboy isn’t required reading in government schools. There’s no punishment for homosexual sin, but we should not grant it official public approval and exalt it to the level of marriage.

Some people think it’s a healthy compromise to restrict the word “marriage” to the union of a man and woman but then to have the government license “civil unions” between homosexuals. The effect would be to grant pretty much the same legal and public status as marriage without calling it that. This is a bad idea. Why single out homosexuality for special treatment and not declare other relationships to be “civil unions”? Should government declare civil unions for all uncle and nephews who go fishing together? Should government declare civil unions for all grandparents and grandchildren who hug each other? Should government declare civil unions for all students on college campuses who room together for a few years? Should government declare every close friendship a civil union? Of course not. So why license friendships where the main difference is the additional element of sinful sex?

The simple fact is that marriage is uniquely important and strategic in raising up the next generation of citizens. That’s why good government has a special interest in supporting marriage. It is not just biblical teaching but an observable fact that children flourish best in families headed by a father and mother committed to each other in lifelong marriage. Society blesses marriage because marriage blesses society. The future of society depends on the future of the family. It does not depend so directly on other types of relationships, and it certainly doesn’t depend on relationships that are sinful.

The Church’s Role

In the meantime, whatever the government does, the church must keep proclaiming the Word of God. Whatever lawmakers and judges do, Christians and their pastors must keep teaching and living by Jesus’ standard of celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in the marriage of man and wife. We must keep calling heterosexuals and homosexuals to repent and find salvation in the risen Lord.

The sad truth is that some apostate churches and pastors have raced ahead of government in rejecting biblical standards for marriage. The United Church of Canada officially passed a motion calling on the Canadian government to approve same-sex marriage. The United Church has been ordaining homosexual pastors and blessing same-sex unions for years. In the U.S. the Episcopal Church consecrated as bishop a man who divorced his wife and shacked up with another man, not only dealing a blow to marriage but to the unity of the church.

Such blatant error shocked some people, but it shouldn’t have. For decades these and other denominations have supported various leaders who denied the virgin birth and bodily resurrection of Jesus and who denied salvation through him alone. When leaders deny the essence of Christianity, should it shock us that they also deny Christian morality? Any congregation or denomination which does such things is no more a church than a same-sex partnership is a marriage.

Jesus says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Wolves in bishop’s clothing have gnawed and torn at vital biblical doctrines of God and salvation, and now they are tearing at the moral pattern of sex, marriage, and family revealed in the Bible. Jesus’ brother Jude writes in the Bible of such preachers: “They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4).

Just as government endorsement of homosexual marriage would be unthinkable if heterosexuals had not first made such a mess of marriage, so government folly in exalting homosexuality would have not have happened if churches had not led the way to perdition. It’s common to say that religion shouldn’t influence politics, but the truth is that religion always influences politics, and bad religion produces bad politics. The religions of secular humanism and apostate theological liberalism are the driving forces behind the sexual revolution and the political movement toward same-sex marriage.

Those who value a healthy nation and civilization need political courage to resist the latest onslaught and strengthen the crumbling foundations of our society. But political action, though important, is not enough. Government is a product of culture, and culture is largely a product of church and family (or lack thereof). This means that we don’t just need amendments or laws to defend the family. We need revival in our churches, rebirth in our relationship to God, and renewal in marriage and family life.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.