This is not a rhetorical question, though you, dear reader, may have thought it was when you first saw the title. For anyone who needs a reminder, a rhetorical question doesn’t expect an answer. It’s a question stated for the purpose of making a point. This question deserves an answer. And there is an answer. Whether or not the answer is popular has no bearing upon whether or not it is true.
It amazes me that this question must be answered at all, because only a decade ago the answer seemed to be obvious. But one of the long trends in contemporary western civilization has been postmodernism, based on the belief that any question like this doesn’t have a single right answer. Instead, every individual person’s opinion is supposed to be equally valid and right. If that were true, civilization would be doomed to a brief existence.
What is it anyway?
We must begin with a clear understanding of the term “gay marriage.” It’s not an easy thing to define, since many passionate contributors want to help their own side win the political debate by framing it with their own vocabulary. I will try to be fair, but in the interest of full disclosure: my worldview is based upon what the Bible actually says, from beginning to end.
“Gay marriage” is shorthand among some for a legal blessing upon civilly-sanctioned domestic relationships between two people of the same sex, which give them the same legal rights that so-called “traditional marriage” gives to couples of complementary sex.
This understanding of gay marriage makes some assumptions about marriage that are important to recognize, especially when the argument is made that this is a civil right.
- It is assumed that the interest of our civilization in marriage is limited to providing certain legal rights for couples who wish to make a public declaration of marriage.
- It is assumed that the only participating factor necessary to establish a marriage is the commitment of love.
- It is assumed that marriage itself is established by or receives recognition from some level of civil government, and that this also means it is defined by civil government.
- It is further assumed that this definition of marriage is fluid, and subject to change based upon the fads and opinions of society’s members. In other words, what may have been good or true in the past is not necessarily good or true today.
The Interest of Civilization in Marriage
Consider the history of humanity. Certain aspects of that history are constant. For example, people need food and shelter. Also, there have always been conflicts, but the necessity of food and shelter tends to keep us out of trouble as we work to meet our needs. One of the most prized elements of human life is procreation. It’s self-evident that the children in a society embody the future of that society. Without children, human civilization is cut short. Where children do not grow into wise and responsible adults, the future of that society will be handicapped.
There is a tendency in recent Western civilization to emphasize the independence of the individual. This is often a good thing, because it allows a recognition of individual human rights that transcend the authority of anyone on Earth. These are expressed in the American Declaration of Independence as the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. However, the individual emphasis goes too far if it fails to acknowledge an interdependence among human beings. Every living human being has a mother and a father. Without a mother and a father, we would not exist, because the design of human life begins by requiring genetic material from two parents.
Human civilization has further expectations of mothers and fathers, because an incipient human life requires care both before and after a child is born. When a father or mother fails to live up to those expectations, it does not prove that he or she is unnecessary, or that the care would make no difference. Rather, it is the (all too common) exception that proves the rule, because children who receive that care are measurably better off on the whole. This is commonly measured by such things as weight, academic performance, incidence of disease, and income later in life. The jury is in: the attentive care of both parents is best for children. It should not be surprising.
With the addition of human conflict and natural tragedy, there are inevitable cases where children do not receive attentive care from both parents. Some are partial or complete orphans before adulthood. Some have stepmothers or stepfathers, who may or may not give attentive care. Some are chronically neglected, abused, or enslaved to the will of uncaring adults. Sometimes other adults step in to provide the needed care as replacement parents. This last case is encouraged by the official recognition of our society in the form of adoption, which is also intended to protect children from harm.
It is self-evident that when children survive bad childhood circumstances and become wise, capable, and responsible adults, their success is an exception. Many do not survive unscathed. The best childhood circumstances include the attentive care of both parents, who live peacably in the same home as the child. Even when they do not live peacably, their mutual presence in the home is usually better than their absence. If one of them dies, it is a hardship for the child, but typically less harmful in the end than if the same parent is lost in a divorce.
So the interest that human civilization takes in marriage is directly related to the future of civilization. Marriage is the glue between human civilization as it exists today and civilization as it will exist a generation or two from now. What makes the future strong are the parents and grandparents who are now providing for the physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs of their children and grandchildren. They are joined in this vital work by all of the adoptive parents and other caring adults who provide for some of the same needs when children have encountered the disruptions of human conflict and tragedy.
Marriage forms the core of the most powerful social conspiracy in the history of the world: the family. The strength of this institution is the long-term commitment between its co-conspirators. Outside relationships are temporary. Sometimes, even family relationships may be cut short, but even then they have a way of lingering. Where outside relationships tend to be built upon the economic motivation of quid pro quo, the relationships between a husband and wife, and between parents and children are motivated by something stronger and more enduring. It’s a commitment beyond eros, the Greek word for romantic love. It’s a particularly strong form of philos, the Greek word for the kind of love that exists between friends and family. The resulting stability of an intentional, public marriage provides the best environment for the long-term work of raising children. That explains civilization’s interest in marriage.
Gay marriage runs against the interests of civilization by subverting its future and destabilizing its present.
What About Legal Rights and Privileges?
The privileges that come with the social recognition of marriage are bestowed intentionally because of the future that marriage uniquely provides to human civilization. Those privileges are essentially meant to protect the relationships between household “conspirators.” They recognize that a family is an economic unit that benefits the whole society in ways that are different from private enterprise.
Families don’t exist to turn a profit. In fact, they usually operate at a loss, financially. Their interests are compatible with those of private enterprise, and are usually not competitive with it. Their inherent stability, their internal loyalty, and their tendency to evoke human interest in greater good make families advantageous for civilization and civil government. In biblical terms, the authority that God established in parenthood is the original form of civil authority. Therefore a government that weakens families is also weakening itself.
Where civil laws attempt to order and constrain relationships between other parts of society, they instead recognize the special nature of family relationships, and protect them from interference. They shield family relationships from burdens that would be an unreasonable hardship for families, while allowing individuals to bear them instead through other relationships. For example, family members might share and exchange property in ways that would be taxed or regulated if they were not family members. They also have an interest in the health of their fellow family members that others do not have.
The advantages that civil society bestows upon married couples are not the purpose of marriage. These privileges come because marriage offers a far greater advantage for civil society in at least two ways.
- Marriage provides the best environment for engendering a strong and healthy future for civilization. In other words, it’s the best way for children to be raised by their own parents.
- The moral and social stability that marriage promotes in families also extends to the civil society.
It is noteworthy that homosexual relationships, including those that are called marriages, are typically not as stable, faithful, or long-lived as those between people of complementary sex. An illustration is available in the history of the HIV virus, which spreads equally well between homosexual or heterosexual partners. While there are plenty of heterosexual parters who have been infected, vastly more homosexual parters have been infected through sexual activity, especially as a percentage of their total number. The reason is obvious: heterosexual relationships tend more often to be limited to one partner. They are more stable. The reason is also obvious in a biblical worldview: homosexual behavior is already a deviation from human design, and further deviation in a population of deviants is predictable.
Speaking of deviants, what about biblical examples of deviancy among those who were “God’s people?” There was a lot of polygamy, for example, as well as prostitution and other shameful behavior. If this was your comeback to my argument, then please take note of two things. First, it’s a poor objection, because it has nothing to do with my argument, which still stands. Second, I never claimed that the lives of those saints are examples of perfection. Those who believed the promise of a Savior are not considered righteous because they had perfect lives, but because they received God’s forgiveness through faith in His promise. They wouldn’t need forgiveness if they were perfect. This is explained well in many places of the Bible. By the way, the same Savior also made atonement under God’s Law for homosexual sins, so that they also can be forgiven.
Gay marriage does not merit the legal rights and privileges that civilization has afforded to marriage, because it does not offer the advantages to civilization that marriage offers.
What establishes marriage?
There are many who are confused by proponents of gay marriage, thinking it sounds true that “those people should also have a right to be married to the person they love.” It is assumed that the only factor necessary to establish a marriage is the commitment of love, and wherever that is found, marriage should be possible.
Love is a hard thing to define. Anyone can claim to love. Maybe the person “in love” knows what they’re talking about, maybe not. Poets and songwriters seem to have a hard time producing a universal definition. So why not take advantage of thousands of years of history, and follow the categories of the ancient Greeks? They had three distinct word families for the concept of love, each covering a different aspect of the English word. Two were introduced above. I think the meaning most often meant by “love” in English is the one covered by the aforementioned eros: romantic love or physical desire.
Eros is probably the meaning most often intended when someone says “Those people also have a right to be married to the person they love.” It’s the meaning implied by those who use the terms “homosexual” and “heterosexual.” Eros centers on the desire to express oneself sexually, which is also the motivation for homosexuality.
There is a place for eros in the Christian worldview. God defines that place in the sixth commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.” This commandment is applied to the Israelite civilization in civil laws that elucidate the meaning of this moral law. It’s important to notice the context of God’s commands in the Bible, because sometimes they are given for the Israelites alone, though still based on universal morality for all people. The sixth commandment was given expressly to the Israelites, but meant to summarize part of God’s moral law. In my church, we teach that this commandment means: “We should fear and love God, so that we lead a chaste and decent life in word and deed, and that husband and wife each love and honor the other.”
Advocates for gay marriage may say that the Greek word philos also applies to homosexual relationships. This is a wider meaning of love, applying to family and friends, as noted earlier. I think many people have been unfortunately confused by the rhetoric of gay marriage advocates into thinking that “love” (in this sense) does not properly apply between people of the same sex, unless they are homosexuals. Young people in particular are being encouraged to be sensitive to their feelings for others, so that they may identify whether they are “gay” or “straight.” If they find that they have feelings for another person of the same sex, this confusion may lead them to conclude that it must mean they are “gay.” In reality, it only means that they have a friendship with that person, so that love (in the sense of philos) exists between them, as between all friends.
It is a deceptive and simplistic notion that love alone (of either kind) establishes the basis for marriage, so that two people of any sex should be able to be married if only they “love” one another. This is the sort of malicious idea that can take root in the minds of the young whose understanding of love and marriage has not been enriched by the application of history, morality, or even by much experience. There is little wonder that some advocates have pushed for (and obtained) earlier “sex education” in schools, where damaging ideas like this may be introduced to young minds away from the protective oversight of their parents.
Civil Recognition of Marriage Does Not Create or Establish It.
Marriage is established in a civil sense by an orderly, public recognition of the sacred bond between a man and a woman who are capable of committing themselves to a lifelong, exclusive, domestic union for the purpose of mutual companionship and raising children. Some elements, like whether they can have children, are out of their control, but marriage establishes the context where that is both acceptable and encouraged in civil society. Love doesn’t even enter into it, though probably everyone agrees that marriage and parenthood are better when there is mutual love.
Marriage is based upon free, mutual consent and a solemn commitment undertaken publicly, usually in the form of a vow. In the Christian context there’s more to it than that, but on this much we should all be able to agree. Again, there’s no mention of love. But why must it be a man and a woman, rather than two men or two women?
Since every child has both a mother and a father, it is self-evident that the natural design of the human race favors a home that includes both parents. This design element doesn’t call for a village of parents, nor any two people who could help care for the child. It calls for the same two people who participated in the beginning of the child’s life. Anything else is a compromise. Sometimes a compromise is necessary due to circumstances beyond the control of anyone on Earth. But to intentionally create those compromising circumstances, say by selling your children to the highest bidder, would be a perversion of the natural design. Another perversion would be for two men or two women to pretend they are both mother and father to a child. The child indeed needs both his mother and his father, by design. But at best, the child in that case has two fathers or two mothers, at least one of whom is not the natural parent. This is an intentional perversion of the natural, self-evident design.
Because the interest of civilization in marriage is based for the most part on establishing the best kind of homes for raising the next generation, the traditional civil limitations on marriage are sensible. The couple must be sexually complementary, otherwise society would be undermining its present stability and the future of civilization. The state doesn’t care whether the spouses love each other, or what kind of love they may have. Its purpose is fulfilled if they meet the criteria necessary for human civilization, and if they make a freely-entered, binding, and life-long commitment. If they find themselves unable to have children of their own, their complementary sexuality still gives them the option of providing a stable, natural, and complete home to adopted children.
Yet it’s not the civil recognition of marriage that makes marriage what it is. Rather, the leaders of human civilization merely endorse something that exists before and outside of their jurisdiction, because marriage is such a good and powerful thing that their endorsement strengthens civilization itself. In order to understand where marriage actually comes from, one must learn from a source like the Bible. Anthropologists and sociologists can only make guesses and observations in the present. God can say what happened long ago, even in the beginning.
If you don’t care where marriage comes from, then what God says about it doesn’t matter to you. But if you care at all what God says, then you should be delighted that He tells you where marriage comes from. You can’t truly care about what He says while contradicting it, even on a seemingly isolated subject like marriage. So, to learn the origin of marriage, read Genesis 2. Since some Christians have been unfortunately confused by those who place their religious faith in something they call science, you may be reluctant to trust the words of Genesis as true. In that case, begin by reading the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:4–6. You can decide for yourself whether you believe that Jesus was mistaken or lying (in which case He’s not your Savior and Christianity is pointless), or that He was teaching the truth.
Marriage is what it is because God made it so. Civil experiments have no effect upon its essence. It will never include so-called “gay marriage,” even if everyone on Earth were convinced it did. Churches like mine will cease to be churches long before we begin teaching that God blesses so-called “gay marriage.” That would probably be okay with some gay marriage advocates, but I pray that they are brought to know and accept the truth before they stand before the judgment throne of God. For my part, I would prefer that they receive the gift of eternal life.
The Logical Argument for Gay Marriage
Usually advocates for gay marriage don’t make a logical argument. Instead, they try to influence people through intimidation, appeals to emotion, and other demagoguery. Yet I will still try to pull together their logic, such as it is, and I will try to be both fair and accurate.
The Major Premise
The major premise used to argue for gay marriage is that naturally-occurring distinctions between human beings are morally neutral, so that those who are distinguished from each other must be considered and treated as equals. For example, people of all races and genders are equally permitted to marry.
This premise seems acceptable, with one reservation: some naturally-occurring differences between people are not morally neutral. For example, the distinctive differences in a compulsive thief are not morally neutral, yet they may be considered to be entirely natural. As a matter of fact, the Bible teaches that there is a general, naturally-occurring inclination toward evil in every human being since the Fall of man. This is inherited from our parents, but manifests differently in each individual. Some have a natural inclination to one evil, and some to another. It affects thoughts, emotions, words, and deeds. So where naturally-occurring distinctions are morally neutral, I can agree that they make no difference in the way people should be considered and treated.
The Minor Premise
The minor premise arguing that a civil redefinition of marriage should include “gay marriage” categorizes homosexuality (not the behavior, but the psychological/physical pseudo-condition) together with morally-neutral distinctions like race, sex, and religion. I deny this on the basis that it is untrue. Some people accept this premise because of the loud, persistent braying of its advocates, who seek to embarrass or shame their opponents and to destroy their reputations and careers through false accusations and demagoguery. It is still wrong.
Race is an artificial distinction without a significant difference, because all human beings naturally belong to the same race, regardless of bodily features. But at least most of the racial categories in use have observable traits. It’s obvious that genetic traits like skin color are neither voluntary nor morally significant. Self-identification as a homosexual may be voluntary, and is morally significant.
Likening homosexuality to race is offensive. It’s another attempt to define homosexuality as a natural psychological/physical condition, which is still awaiting any proof, and is contrary to observable complementarity between the male and female sexes. Claiming that gay marriage is a civil right such as Martin Luther King Jr. might have championed is ridiculous and denigrates the cause of true civil rights leaders.
Likening homosexuality to gender is equally offensive, especially for those who have fought hard to obtain for women the same privileges and protections under the law that men have. Even self-identified homosexuals have a gender, which is an outwardly verifiable and natural condition, unlike their self-identification as homosexuals.
The only sensible way to define homosexuality is as a behavior. Certain outward acts make a person “gay,” or homosexual. The alternative is for homosexuality to be a condition based upon the individual’s identity choice, and nothing more. That would be like allowing a white American to self-identify as racially black or latino, or a man to self-identify as a woman. Postmodern to the hilt, but entirely nonsensical.
So the major premise is close to being acceptable, but the minor premise is denied. The conclusion, that gay marriage should be considered a civil right for homosexuals, cannot stand. As a matter of fact, marriage is not a civil right for heterosexual couples either. Some couples would be forbidden to marry due to issues like consanguinity or polygamy (out of concern for civil stability and the future of civilization). It is reasonable that the privilege of civil marriage should also be denied when the applicants are the same sex.
But What about Love?
With a hat tip to Ann and Nancy Wilson, we return to the thing that probably bothers most people about this issue: some men love men, and some women love women. The problem is not philos love, but eros — romantic love, with physical desire. What are we to think about this? Those men or women would like to be considered normal, and nobody likes telling someone that there’s something especially wrong with them.
We are told that these feelings and desires are completely natural, and are the defining characteristic of what it means to be homosexual. That’s problematic. In fact, as I explained above, it can’t stand, because it results in arbitrary, entirely subjective self-identification. Besides, there is a better explanation for this “love problem.”
Remember how the Bible describes the inclinations of man since the Fall into sin? We are constantly dealing with a barrage of feelings, thoughts, and temptations that lead us away from God, and away from the order of Creation. God considered it necessary to give the ancient Israelites strict, specific, civil laws not only against homosexuality, but also other sexual perversions like bestiality, rape, and sexual relations between family members. Remember, these were God’s chosen people who needed such laws with their stern, unyielding punishments. That’s because even God’s chosen people have natural inclinations and attractions to things that are morally wrong.
Same-sex attraction is only one of many different twisted inclinations found in mankind since the Fall into sin. It’s not even surprising to find the same problem manifest in other earthly creatures, since Creation was also affected by the Fall. (See Romans 8:20–21.) Here’s the important thing to understand: for morally-corrupted people, a “natural” attraction is not necessarily a good attraction. In fact, it’s more likely to be evil.
Also among heterosexual couples, God forbids sexual acts unless they are done in the context of marriage. That’s what the sixth commandment is all about. Marriage is where God designed the two to become one flesh. Any time this design is changed, it is a perversion.
The eros desire, however, may be considered separately from acts of perverted sexuality. A pertinent quote says, “You can’t keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” Sinful desires are a normal part of life for sinful human beings. But normal does not mean morally right. The desires are wrong, yet one particular attraction does not define a person categorically until the person dwells on it and lets it change his behavior.
Homosexuality is best understood as behavior based upon same-sex attraction. The attraction itself therefore does not not make a person into a homosexual any more than the attraction of stealing a car makes a person a car thief. Both inclinations are wrong, and should be confessed before God as sin. Both are also atoned by the blood of God’s Son, so that there is forgiveness for those who repent, just as there is also forgiveness for those who repent of homosexual behavior. For penitent Christians, God’s forgiveness applied in His Word and Sacraments provides strength to resist the temptation of all evil inclinations, even as it also frees the penitent sinner from the burden of guilt.
But What about Love? (Again)
I described for you two of the three kinds of love expressed in the Greek language. The third is extremely rare to find among human beings on Earth. In its purest form, it is extinct on the Earth, and must be imported from heaven. Agape love is selfless love, which neither desires nor expects any reciprocal benefit in return from its objects. The best example is in John 3:14–17, where Jesus describes God’s love for the sinful, corrupt, and helpless human race.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (NKJV)
This perfect love of God for humanity is the point of the Bible. Some have tried to poison your understanding of this by making you think only about the terrible things also contained in the Bible, like the world-wide flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the conquest of Canaan, the evil committed by various individuals, and the seemingly barbaric punishments required in Israelite civil law for certain transgressions. Taken out of context, they might seem to reveal a God who does not love human beings. But in the context of the whole Bible, they show an almost unbelievable patience of a morally perfect God whose unwavering purpose all along has been to provide a Savior for mankind, just as He promised. The sins and evil recorded in the Bible show what He has had to deal with along the way. Now, we have added gay marriage to the list.
God’s love leaves Him subject to criticism by those who have no understanding of its depth and power. Not only does it prompt Him to put up with the evil and suffering that human beings have brought into the world and even make use of it, but His love also prompted Him to enter the world Himself so that by His suffering, the same human beings might receive His gift of eternal life. He promises a new and perfect creation after this one is destroyed, where those who have received His forgiveness will enjoy perfection forever. Meanwhile, those who refuse His gift of salvation will receive what they want instead: unending life without Him, in the place reserved for all such individuals. It will be worse than life on Earth.
The agape love of God for human beings is the strength in Christian marriage. That’s why many Christians seek to formalize their marriages while seeking God’s blessing in a church service for that purpose. Churches where the Bible is believed, taught, and confessed to be God’s Word will never condone gay marriage, because it is clearly a human perversion of God’s gift in the divine design of humanity.
Gay marriage is wrong because it runs against the interests of civilization, against the obvious design of human beings, and it promotes an immorality that ultimately brings sinners to reject God’s forgiveness.