At QueerPHC, we welcome guest posts that are affirming and relevant to LGBTQ students and graduates of Patrick Henry College. To submit your own guest post, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week we received the following in an email from a PHC student and with the author’s permission have decided to share it anonymously. In the email the author told us, “I wanted to make available to you the attached document detailing how I came to embrace same-sex marriage. … I didn’t always take this position, but the testimony of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters in Christ and in the human race have forced me to reconsider my views.”
Same-Sex Marriage, Christianity, and Civil Government – A Discussion
I didn’t always hold the position I currently do. There was a time when I denounced those who embraced such a view as “culture destroyers” who wanted to remake America into some sort of libertine dystopia. But over the course of the past year, I have changed my views after much thought, prayer, and reflection.
I support same-sex marriage.
Here’s why: I believe that a distinction exists between sacred and secular spheres of
This principle has its roots in the Lutheran “two kingdoms” doctrine. Essentially, the doctrine stipulates that individuals enjoy liberty of conscience, and that civil government
should not be employed as an instrument to coerce the soul. In some sense, it foreshadows Thomas Jefferson’s notion of the “separation of church and state.”
This need not open the doors to rampant anti-religious sentiment. Traditional Christianity teaches that all men may apprehend a civil morality stemming from the aforementioned principles of freedom, dignity, and rights, without offering endorsement to a particular sectarian framework (general revelation vs. special revelation).
Arguments against same-sex marriage fall into two categories: moral and pragmatic.
Each deserves consideration.
The Moral Arguments
It is generally agreed (as it should be) that the torture and murder of a child is flagrantly wrong; though people may disagree as to the source of and motivations underlying such a moral proposition, its facial validity is rarely questioned. This proposition, however, may be reasonably affirmed by Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and others alike. Thus, it is reasonable to suggest that “civil morality” may exist outside a uniquely sectarian framework.
To anticipate a potential objection: this in no way diminishes the veracity of specific Christian truths; it simply notes that a civil society may be governed outside of principles requiring support for a given religious system. This is implicit in the New Testament: no doubt the Roman Empire of Jesus’ day enforced some God-honoring standards of “morality” through its legal codes (do not steal, do not murder, etc.), though this in no way constituted propagation of Christianity per se.
Not once did Jesus instruct His followers to occupy the institutions of civil governance and remake them in the image of an Old Testament society. Given the immense amount of time He spent expositing His kingdom, this is a notable exclusion. Rather, Jesus spent much of his time challenging the sacred authorities of His day – many of whom sought to impose Old Testament religious standards through law (witness the role of the Pharisees in handing down legal sentences).
America was not founded to be a theocratic society; quite the opposite. Freedom of conscience, emerging from this conception of civil morality, undergirds the First Amendment and much of American public life. Due to this, the law may reasonably permit certain interactions to occur, for the sake of strengthening civil society at large, without the necessity of deriving sanction from a particular religious system.
Most American Christians would be outraged – and rightly so – if a Muslim majority attempted to legislate shari’a law as a binding standard for civil governance, or if a Scientologist majority sought to require engrammatic audits for all Americans. This is likely because all Americans, deep down, recognize the necessity of this sacred/secular distinction: though some may desire that their personal convictions become law, they would resent another individual attempting to do the same. True religious freedom, paradoxically, calls for a secularized view of civil morality (though one that respects the necessity of the transcendent, which offers a grounding for the aforementioned freedoms, rights, and dignity inherent to man).
This might manifest pragmatically in the following example: though the Bible expressly forbids the marital union of a believer with a nonbeliever, civil society does not. I know of no individuals who would seriously advocate that the government prohibit interfaith marriages from occurring, despite the fact that such marriages directly conflict with the teachings of biblical Christianity.
I believe same-sex marriage should be viewed in the same light.
The pragmatic benefits of same-sex marriage will be discussed in subsequent paragraphs; this speaks solely to the moral question. I believe it is illegitimate for a secular civil government, purporting to espouse religious freedom for all, to hand down legislation based on specific sectarian tenets. It is because of my commitment to defending the rights of religious believers in a pluralistic society, and the concomitant value of freedom of conscience, that I reject the morally-rooted argument against same-sex marriage.
On to the practical arguments – which are manifold, and deserve thorough consideration.
The Pragmatic Arguments
Bad For Children: This, in my mind, comes closest to a compelling argument against the legalization of same-sex marriage. After all, I’m inclined to favor the research indicating that children probably do best when raised by a married mother and father.
The arguments raised by LGBTQ advocates against the extensive work of Mark Regnerus are, frankly, unconvincing; I find it reasonable to hold that the lack of data on stable two-parent same-sex households is more likely to suggest a lack of such households than a serious research flaw.
That said, I still support same-sex marriage, and here is why: if the “children’s best interest” criterion is employed as a justification for disallowing LGBTQ persons to marry one another, this criterion would have far-reaching implications for the existing heterosexual marriage framework.
I find it inconceivable that two married lesbians or gay men would automatically constitute an inferior parenting arrangement when weighted against the heterosexually inclined households that are currently permitted to rear children – an alcoholic single parent in an impoverished community, bad foster parents who show little love and concern for their temporary progeny, and any number of others.
Somehow, participation in the LGBTQ community is automatically more of a disqualifying factor for child-rearing than these? I cannot fathom how two married, monogamous LGBTQ partners are automatically inferior to any other arrangement, and are accordingly disallowed from adoption, etc.
Unless conservatives favor a centralized administration that determines who is and who is not qualified to have and raise children, this argument is deficient.
Bad for Heterosexual Marriage: I have never understood the merits of this argument. If marriage is beneficial for heterosexual couples (due to its promotion of stable, monogamous relationships for the rearing of children), there is no logical reason why expanding marriage to encompass LGBTQ persons would harm this objective.
This is a poor argument, at best.
Procreative Function of Marriage: This is the new defense being offered by supporters of traditional marriage – that male/female sexual relationships, in the context of marriage, have a uniquely procreative context.
As has been noted at length by various commentators on the topic, this fails to include the infertile and the elderly within the definitional penumbra of “marriage.” Unless it is believed desirable to disallow heterosexual marriage to those incapable of procreation, this argument does not hold water.
Redefining Marriage: This argument stems from the belief that a fundamental social institution should not be redefined for political purposes. Even a cursory look at the history of human civilization, however, indicates a patchwork of cultural traditions respecting marriage (concubinage, polygamy, polyandry, and any number of others).
This in no way implicates the sacred or sacramental dimensions of marriage in a transcendent sense: I believe that marriage is a unique conjunction of souls that was originally ordained by God Himself. But this does not constitute a basis for civil government policymaking, as exposited at length above. My argument solely speaks to the question of whether or not the civil government may define the character of a marital relationship as it exists in the secular sphere. There is little doubt that it may; in America, marriage requires the consent of both parties who have reached the age of majority or received parental permission, and the signature of said parties on a marriage certificate. “Redefinition of marriage” is a scary but ill-thought-out concept – civil governments often establish varying definitions as to what constitutes “marriage” in the eyes of the law. (Consider the case of British common-law marriages).
“It’s Unnatural”: A virtually identical argument was raised during the miscegenation controversies of the 20th century. Respecting that debate, history speaks for itself. Moral disapprobation of a policy, by a group of individuals operating from a specific sectarian mentality, does not constitute a basis for its legal-political disallowance.
Religious Freedom Undermined: Religious institutions should certainly not be compelled to perform same-sex marriages, nor should private organizations be required to embrace a specific political stance on the issue.
Regarding the resulting legal quandaries stemming from anti-discrimination issues, I am inclined to consider LGBTQ rights as paralleling the rights of religious liberty, rather than those of race and gender; race and gender are immutable and immediately identifiable characteristics, whereas religion and sexual orientation are usually fixed and are not immediately identifiable. Generally, institutions are accorded a higher level of discretion in selecting their associates on the basis of shared religious beliefs, rather than shared race or gender; I would propose that a similar standard be employed in the case of sexual orientation. Thus, a Christian business opposed to LGBTQ practices would not be legally compelled to hire LGBTQ individuals, but the government itself would be forbidden from engaging in such discrimination. This seems to be a reasonable compromise that respects the rights of all parties involved.
Slippery Slope: As previously noted, monogamous same-sex relationships may be reasonably integrated into the current definitional framework of marriage. This does not automatically trigger a downward decline toward polygamy, bestiality, and incest; the issue of same-sex marriage should be considered on its own merits. And, as previously mentioned, this was an argument raised against miscegenation…and the promised apocalypse failed to materialize in that case.
I offer no condemnation of those fellow Christians who do not share these views. This is a challenging topic dealing with the intersection of morality and civil governance, about which I believe individuals may reasonably disagree. I ask only that grace be shown in the dialogue process.
If, in our haste to defend that which we hold as truth, we become the Westboro Baptist Church…we have lost far more than just the culture war.
March 27, 2013