Same Sex Marriage in 2023
Towards the end of 2022, with passage of the federal law named, “The Respect For Marriage Act,” the subject of same-sex marriage reemerged as a prominent public issue.
“How does two people getting married affect you?” supporters of same-sex marriage say. There have also been Christians effectively saying, “What’s the big deal? Why should we expect the government to pass laws requiring non-Christians to live as though they’re Christians?”
While, in general, there can be truth to be heeded in these and similar statements - “mind your own business” has its rightful place after all! - the Christian’s participation in civil society, which includes the command to love our neighbor, does not limit our evaluation to what’s in our self-interest, i.e., what affects us. Furthermore, in this case, these and similar sentiments are missing the essence of the case that has been advanced in favor of same-sex marriage. Contrary to many arguments advanced in its favor, same-sex marriage as a public and legal issue is not about regulating conduct or controlling people’s lives.
David French, one of the more prominent evangelical defenders of civil same-sex marriage, wrote: “I don’t want my gay friends and neighbors to live in fear that the law might tear their families apart.”
However, this concern is not well-founded. The contemporary secular state does not require marriage for any type of family arrangement. As a matter of fact, as it unfolded, the same-sex marriage debate was not about how people order their lives, or the choices and decisions they are free to make or not make.
The same-sex marriage discussion was about the meaning of the word, “marriage.” In particular, it was and is about whether the male-female union’s unique characteristics, uniting the two sexes in the only life-generating relationship, could be recognized by virtue of having the appellation “marriage” only applied to it. Inseparably, it was and is about the distinction between male and female.
It was this assignment of the word “marriage” to the male-female union alone, absent any restriction or regulation of conduct or life-decisions pertaining to other relationships, that the United States Supreme Court in 2015, in declaring a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, determined was “demeaning,” “hurtful,” “imposes stigma and injury,” “deprives dignity,” “diminishes personhood,” and “works a grave and continuing harm to gays and lesbians.” Correspondingly, a core conviction underlying same-sex marriage and Obergefell is that there is no meaningful difference between male-female and same-sex relationships. The sex of one’s marital partner is simply a matter of personal choice, incidental to the meaning and significance of the marriage itself. Such decision is no different than a woman deciding who she will marry between James and John. Vital to same-sex marriage is the insistence that man-woman and same-sex unions are themselves “the same.” Any other perspective, acknowledging the different character of the joining of the two sexes, is “demeaning, hurtful, etc.”
The attribution of such dehumanizing harms to the understanding of marriage as a uniquely male-female union was at the essence of Obergefell and, arguably, its most significant effect.
In that regard, Obergefell functioned as a theological and moral treatise, referring to transcendence, meaning, love, sacrifice, devotion, freedom, intimacy, and spirituality. It was practically a religious declaration, rooted in particular views of life and purpose and human well-being.
Obergefell compared the recognition of marriage as an institution that binds the two sexes to bans on interracial marriage. This has been at the heart of claims demanding same-sex marriage and are what give it its power. The same-sex marriage movement is rooted in, and inseparable from, the insistence that the understanding of marriage as the union of man and woman is inherently evil and is simply an extension of the racism that has marred American history.
If same-sex marriage were simply about allowing people to live their lives as they see fit, then once Obergefell ruled the United States Constitution required states to license same-sex marriages, that others had a different opinion and maintained their understanding of marriage as the joining of man and woman wouldn’t have mattered. But, of course, that wasn't and isn't the case. This is because same-sex marriage is about what people say, what they think, what they believe. It is about eliminating from public acceptance those who don’t endorse it, even simply as a matter of conviction.
This may not be what those who participate in or support a particular same-sex union are thinking. However, as a legal, political, and social movement, the apparent goal of same-sex marriage from its inception has been to destroy the belief in the uniqueness of the union of man and woman, and to discredit those who understand that sexual difference is inherent to marriage.
Same-sex marriage is not based on the notion of "live and let live." It is not an expression of the "civic pluralism" many claim on its behalf.
In some sense, this was a step on the way to what we are now seeing, which is the denial and attempted obliteration of sexual difference entirely. In the same way as the malice attributed to the recognition of the male-female union, now male and female themselves are claimed to be oppressive social constructs to be liberated from. The tainted qualities the Obergefell decision applied to acknowledging the distinctiveness of the male-female bond are now applied to basic male-female bodily reality on the whole. Especially for those who are ideologically motivated, being “rid of the sexual binary,” reducing everyone to generic humans with replaceable and malleable body parts, with “men” capable of childbearing, is the only way that all marriages could be “the same.” Thus, the truth of the human body must be suppressed, with puberty’s sexual and reproductive development regarded as a pathology requiring “treatment.”
In contrast to the above, the marital union of man and woman is a thread that runs through the Scriptural narrative. In Genesis 1 and 2, we read of God’s creation of man and woman as male and female in his image, bringing them together in one flesh union to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:21-25). This is affirmed by our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 19 and Mark 10. “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female. ‘Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” Matthew 19:4-6. The marital bond of man and woman is a picture of the relationship between God and his people (Isaiah 54:5-6), Christ and his Church. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying it refers to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:31-32.
A marital celebration joining Christ, the bridegroom, and the Church, the bride, is one of the ways the Bible depicts the joy and radiance of the new heavens and new earth. Revelation 19:6-8; 21:1-4.
The joining together of man and woman in marriage is a core Christian conviction intertwined with our most essential creedal beliefs regarding God, Christ, man, sin, and salvation.
While some advocates of same-sex marriage still hold to the Christian understanding of the male-female marriage bond, it’s hard to imagine inviting people to a belief system and perspective on humanity for which such an allegedly harmful, dignity-denying, personhood-diminishing institution is so integral.
“Would you like to come to my church to have your dignity denied?” isn’t a particularly appealing invitation.
Same-sex marriage is based on the nonnegotiable conviction that marriage defined as the bond of man and woman is inherently malignant. What God named and created very good, which depicts our relationship to Christ, and is a foreshadowing and expression of our deepest hope is regarded as an evil to be rejected and an oppression from which to be liberated.
The ideas set forth to advance a cause matter and are inseparable from the cause itself. As we see daily, ideas have consequences. Advocacy for same-sex marriage as a public institution while also maintaining the belief that God has ordained marriage as the union of man and woman is a contradiction. These are two beliefs that cannot viably and credibly coexist.
John Hanna is New Jersey State Capitol Minister with Ministry to State, a ministry of the PCA to those serving in government. He has an M. Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary and a J.D. from The Washington College of Law at American University.