The Bible and Same-Sex Marriage
Recently in “Speak Out” (Rocky Mountain News, December 1, 2003) two local clergymen, one Jewish and one Christian, argued that nothing sacred is violated by same-sex marriages. To make their case they appealed to the Book of Genesis, which is understandable given its immense influence on world history. However, their arguments from Genesis are incomplete and questionable. The rest of the story should be considered. This essay does not address all the pertinent moral, social, and legal issues raised by same-sex unions, but is specifically a response to the claim that the Genesis text offers no moral argument against same-sex marriage.
The authors argue that their belief that humans are made in “the image and likeness of God” (as Genesis, chapter one, puts it) somehow gives dignity to same-sex marriage. But one should consider chapters two and three of the Genesis creation account as well. In chapter two, after God created the woman and man in the divine image, God sanctions marriage as follows: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (verse 24). Anchored in this text, revered by both Judaism and Christianity, is the God-ordained institution of marriage. Marriage as such is both heterosexual and covenantal—and irrevocably so, because it is designed according to the perfect wisdom of the Creator. Given its divine origin, purpose, and meaning, marriage is not—according to the historic teachings of both the Jewish and Christian faiths—open to human amendment, reinvention, or negotiation.
The third chapter of Genesis narrates humanity’s tragic fall into rebellion against God’s authority and the sad consequences of sin’s subsequent invasion of God’s handiwork. We now dwell in a world east of Eden, where tears and pain besiege our work, families, and other relationships. It is from this estrangement from God and from one another that all our woes and weaknesses flow. While we retain the divine image and are not abandoned by the “God in search of man” (as Jewish philosopher and theologian Abraham Heschel put it), we groan in our bent world. Thus the Christian philosopher and novelist G.K. Chesterton quipped that original sin is one biblical doctrine that is empirically observable. The rest of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament echo these fundamental declarations of Genesis. For example, Jesus ratified the teaching of Genesis when he affirmed, “At the beginning the Creator made them male and female,” and then quoted the marriage passage from Genesis, chapter two, mentioned above (see The Gospel of Matthew, chapter nineteen, verses 4-5).
The clergymen argue that because heterosexual marriages can be abusive while same-sex unions can be loving, this implies that the gender of the marriage partners is not what makes a marriage sacred; therefore, same-sex marriage may be sacred also. This conclusion does not follow. The traditional religious claim that the gender of the marriage partners (male and female) is a necessary element of a “sacred” marriage does not entail that it is sufficient to make a marriage sacred. To put it another way, the normative biblical pattern for marriage is heterosexual monogamy. This arrangement of man and woman constitutes the minimum requirements for a marriage, according to the Bible. This is the divine institution of marriage.
However, heterosexual, monogamous relationships (the only bona fide marriage, biblically speaking) may be marred by self-centeredness, which can result in all kinds of abuse, neglect, and betrayal. In fact, from the biblical perspective, all human relationships are marred by human selfishness to some degree. As the Apostle Paul put it in The Book of Romans, chapter eight, because of the effects of human rebellion against God—as first narrated in Genesis chapter three—the whole universe “groans in travail” in anticipation of its culmination at the end of history. The matter at issue here, however, is whether the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures can be said to permit same-sex marriages as intrinsically ethical. If one appeals to the foundational chapters of the Bible, one finds good reason to bring this into question