The television ad begins with Julia and Sam Thorn sitting on a couch. Sam states that he and his wife have been married forty-six years. They have raised three children who are grown and out of the house. Sam states, “My wife and I never treated our children differently, we never loved them any differently, and the law shouldn’t treat them differently either.” Then Julia adds, “If Prop 8 passes, then our gay daughter and thousands of our fellow Californians will lose their right to marry. Please don’t eliminate that right for anyone’s family.”
In case you haven’t heard, voters will decide in November whether or not to amend the state constitution to read, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” In other words, should the proposition pass, two people of the same sex may not marry in our state.
In a presidential election year, propositions like this one don’t garner the attention they would in an off-year election, but the battle over Proposition 8 has been ferocious. Hollywood has jumped into the fray with actor Brad Pitt, who donated $100,000 to defeat the proposition, saying this:
Because no one has the right to deny another their life even though they disagree with it, because everyone has the right to live the life they so desire if it doesn’t harm another, and because discrimination has no place in America, my vote will be for equality and against Proposition 8.
So, in the minds of people ranging from Brad Pitt to Julia and Sam Thorn, reserving marriage for people of opposite genders is discriminatory, unloving, and, specifically, the denial of certain people’s rights. For others, the very survival of marriage is at stake and possibly the viability of western civilization.
How, then, shall we think Christianly about same-sex marriage? On the one hand, we can argue from the perspective of God and his creation. God created us male and female. We were designed to fit together, socially, psychologically, and sexually. This “fit” itself is an argument against same-sex marriage. But an argument from design is unlikely to persuade the naysayer. Should we then shrug and say, “Well, I’m personally opposed to homosexual behavior, but if that is what they are going to do… we might as well let them marry”? Or should we work as citizens of this state to reserve marriage for people of the opposite sex?
Let’s ask three questions about the desirability of same-sex marriage:
First, does same-sex marriage matter? Asked differently, is it really anyone else’s business who is permitted to marry whom? In a word, yes. Marriage has taken many forms throughout history and in various cultures. In our time and place, marriage is understood almost exclusively in terms of romance. People who love each other romantically marry each other, and when a husband and wife no longer love each other, they divorce. But this is a very recent idea. David Blankenhorn, who calls himself a liberal Democrat and defends same-sex relations, nevertheless takes a strong stand against same-sex marriage (Los Angeles Times, 9/18/08). Blankenhorn has written widely on the effect of fatherlessness in America, and he recently spent a year studying the institution of marriage. He found that, while the style of marriage differs from society to society and from one era to the next, the one constant in all societies and in every period of history is that “marriage shapes the rights and obligations of parenthood.” Marriage, Blankenhorn says, is not primarily a license to have sex. “It is,” he emphasizes, “primarily a license to have children.” Anthropologist Helen Fisher agrees when she writes, “People wed primarily to reproduce.”
So, does same-sex marriage matter? It does, because our children deserve to be reared by the parents who made them. Blankenhorn again:
“For healthy development, what a child needs more than anything else is the mother and father who together made the child, who love the child and love each other…Every child being raised by gay or lesbian couples will be denied his birthright to both parents who made him. Every single one.”
Heterosexual marriage, then, along with heterosexual adoption, is society’s gift to the next generation.
Second, why should we care about same-sex marriage?
Will it really matter if we, as a society, cross this bridge and begin approving same-sex marriage? Think for a minute about Scandinavia. Sweden, Norway, and Denmark have had legalized same-sex marriage for over a decade. The results have been significant. According to editorialist Stanley Krutz, these countries have experienced a 25 percent increase in cohabitation and unmarried parenthood as well as a 60 percent out-of-wedlock birthrate.
So we should care about same-sex marriage because it would be one more step away from the stabilizing influence of marriage in our society. With the pill, penicillin, abortion, and easy divorce, we have isolated the romantic component of marriage from its child-rearing function. The result is a society where more and more children are growing up without the benefit of both a father and mother. Fewer couples are seeing the necessity of marriage and favor cohabitation instead. The result is a greater number of children growing up without a father.
As Elizabeth Fox-Genovese writes in Marriage: The Dream That Refuses to Die, “[W]e as a culture seem to be rushing headlong towards the abolition of marriage as we transform it to conform to our personal desires.”
Parenthetically, let us never think the debate will end with the issue of same-sex marriage. If two men are permitted to marry, why not two men and one woman if they are “in love”? Why not, as certain Mormon sects argue, one man and three women? Why not a father and his daughter? A brother and his sister? If love is the only basis for marriage, where will the lines be drawn?
Third, who are we to impose our views on others?
If the church takes a stand against same-sex marriage, aren’t we meddling in partisan politics? Aren’t we supposed to keep our faith private and personal? Absolutely not! When Rick Warren introduced his televised evening with our two presidential candidates, he pointed out that, as Christians, we believe in the separation of church and state, but not the separation of faith and politics. Jesus didn’t give his church a partisan mandate, but he gave his followers a prophetic mandate. He sent his followers into the world to be salt and light. As such, the church must have a voice in the moral issues of every generation, and the church must take care not to become the pawn of any political party or political action committee.
Yes, many columnists, political thinkers, and television pundits repeat the cry, “Don’t impose your morality on the public square!” Matters of religious and moral conviction, we are told, are to be held in private. But, to paraphrase Richard John Neuhaus, the question is not whether the public square will impose morality; the question is whose morality will be imposed. All law is an example of society codifying morality. It is both biblically mandated and civilly appropriate that the followers of Christ take their place at the table and enter the discussion. We need not necessarily quote chapter and verse from our Bible when we enter the public square. Rather, as lovers of the One who is Truth incarnate, we are to speak the truth in love and overcome evil with good. May God help us.