This message is a bit different from usual – it is a repeat. In August 2015, I reflected on some questions around marriage equality. I think it is timely to repeat this. My hope is that these will help you think about marriage equality biblically in a mature way that appreciates nuances and avoids vapid pot-shots (like “Leviticus says … so …”)
The central question for marriage equality is “What is the essence of marriage?” I recently heard someone assert that marriage can only be a relationship between a man and a woman on the grounds of tradition (not religious belief). In this case, the very definition rules out any discussion of same sex marriage. Once you ask what else might make up a marriage, then the way is open to wonder if those qualities can occur in a same sex relationship.
Of course, it is not possible to do justice to the complexity of the question in a short space. (In preparing this message, I benefited from a short article by US Lutheran scholar, Barbara Lundblad.)
Marriage and children
In Genesis 1, God commands the man and the woman to fill the earth with people. To what extent is this command definitive of marriage? (The extreme version of this question is to ask whether marriage should only be allowed when there is the possibility of producing children.)
One can argue that today, humanity has actually fulfilled this divine command. The earth is full of people and in many places the population exceeds the capacity of the land for reliable long-term food production, to say nothing of the delivery of clean water, medical care or shelter. In this case, what is the role of child-bearing in marriage?
On the other hand, in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) there are many examples of children born outside of a relationship that corresponds to our contemporary understanding of marriage, for example, to Jacob with the servants (slaves) of his two wives in something we might liken to surrogacy (Genesis 29, 30) or even the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. If bearing children is important, what is the difference between accepting adoption or surrogacy in the context of a traditional marriage or in a same sex marriage?
Marriage and companionship
In Genesis 2, God creates one prototype human, Adam, but soon declares that it is not good for Adam to be alone. Then God splits Adam into two, male and female, so that they are partners. What is important in this story – the removal of alone-ness or the pairing of male and female? Where you place the emphasis will influence how you think about same-sex relationships.
Is same-sex marriage unnatural?
The Uniting Church recognises that attitudes to marriage differ from culture to culture, and that we are a multicultural church. Different cultures tend to believe that their attitudes are “natural” and that others are “unnatural.” In the Bible, in some places, marriage with people outside of the covenant with Moses is forbidden and the breakup of such marriages is forced (Ezra 9, Nehemiah 13). In Australia, the protector of Aborigines denied permission for a mixed marriage (European and Indigenous) as recently as 1959. Obstacles were placed in the way of marriage between Australian servicemen in Japan after the war and Japanese women. These examples show the fluidity of the understanding of marriage in our dominant culture. What was considered deviant 60 or 70 years ago is not regarded as unnatural today. Could the same be true for same sex marriage? Or is there something about marriage that makes same sex marriage intrinsically unnatural, and if so, what?
Same sex marriage and morality
Is same sex marriage moral? Some of the examples of acceptable (Jacob) and unacceptable (racially diverse) relationships given above would not be considered moral (or immoral) anymore. What is the source of morality? What makes any relationship moral? Is any male-female relationship other than marriage moral? Your answers to these questions can be a starting point for whether you consider same sex marriage could be moral.
If you believe that marriage is by definition a relationship between male and female then same sex marriage is impossible, like a square circle. However, this shifts the question to “What recognition should be given to a same sex relationship in the Uniting Church and under Australian law?”
One of the US Supreme Court judges involved with the decision to uphold same sex marriage in the USA wrote “No union is more perfect than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideal of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family…” Do you think that a same sex relationship can embody these ideals? If so, what would you call such a relationship? What legal status should it be given?
Rev Dr Peter Trudinger
© Scots Church Adelaide Ph. 08 8223 1505