In discussing the issue of same sex unions (henceforth SSU) we find ourselves coming to the question of marriage – the holy union. Now when it comes to the legalities of marriage vs. civil unions vs. domestic partnerships/registered partnerships we enter into different realms of liberty. The rights of same sex couples through registrations like Civil Unions (recognized in Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey) or domestic partnerships (California, DC, Connecticut, Washington) or registered partnerships (the remaining US) legitimize some (and sometimes all) privileges awarded to married couples. Civil unions grant generally all the rights of marriage save marriage itself. Domestic partnerships grant contractual similarities to marriage and some representative similarities. Registered partnerships essentially allow for a name change and a shared mortgage.
Obviously the discussion in the church has little to do with rights, in a sense of legality, concerning SSU but raises the issue of equality and spirituality. In my opinion, this discussion is for the church not the secular world. Christians attempting to determine proper societal structures through legislation is a slap in the face to our US constitution. Taking the moral objectives of christian theology, tying an argument about the ‘definition of marriage’ to it and attempting to package the entire thought as a moral dilemma is convoluted. I do believe that faith should be a part of politics – our ethics should prepare us to deal with social situations. I do not believe our religion should be legislating arguments, our beliefs about issues (rather than god) should not be held as candid consideration for a common view. As christians we hold our faith in god, not perceived righteousness.
This discussion has breached the frustrating phrase, “the question of biblical marriage”. Now ADJ, you may have been correct citing these practices in marriage relationships throughout the origins of the Christian Tradition as a thought provoking act but I believe you fail to grasp the point. The reason these practices seem odd is because they have changed. Unfortunately no one actually means ‘biblical marriage’ when they say ‘biblical marriage’. This is mostly because the adjective “biblical” really doesn’t mean anything outside of worldview*. Thus we enter into the (more appropriate) territory of Christian Marriage – a marriage considering god, the church and the effervescent relationship between these and the two marrying. Is this concept (christian marriage) stagnant? Have Christians from the first century and onward considered marriage as we do now? How is marriage as an institution good and pleasing in the eyes of the creator?
We must begin by admitting, the joining of two persons of the same sex in holy matrimony was not practiced in early christianity. We should also admit, marriages between differing races, namely Jew and Gentile, was also considered unacceptable; remarriage after divorce was grounds for excommunication; Roman Catholics did not accept ‘mixed marriages’ in their churches until the Council of Trent. In these arenas an evolution of ‘belief’ has taken place. Though the practice of polygamy has dwindled in most forms since our hebraic heritage (save some more primal eccentricities) it would be fair to say marriage has evolved throughout Christendom.
Roman Catholics have made a few developments in their theology of marriage concerning its faculty. Before vatican two (henceforth V2) the primary function of marriage was procreation, after V2 marriage was the expression of love, for “the good of the spouses”.
In the Encyclical “Humanae Vitae” by Paul VI. They write,
Married love particularly reveals its true nature and nobility when we realize that it takes its origin from God, who “is love,” the Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”
Marriage, then, is far from being the effect of chance or the result of the blind evolution of natural forces. It is in reality the wise and provident institution of God the Creator, whose purpose was to effect in man His loving design. As a consequence, husband and wife, through that mutual gift of themselves, which is specific and exclusive to them alone, develop that union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives.
they go on,
The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, “noble and worthy.” It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse.
Admittedly no consideration in these dialogues took credence to SSUs but the essence of the change, marriage as the expression of love, pertains to the gay couple.
Along with the See of the 1960s, I align this evolution with the developing view of equality women have had inside the church. They exist for more than just child bearing – women are now able to communicate fully their confessions of faith, even teach men these confessions. In Protestantism further steps have been taken, churches allow Christians to marry non-christians without fuss*, a couple that desires to marry, though previously wed, may do so with the consent of a minister. These rights were not afforded to christians in the earlier church. An evolution of belief – of marriage – has taken place.
Why then do Christians hold to a ‘traditional view’ of marriage if the ground for such an argument is so shaky? The Archbishop, Rowan Williams made this statement in his treatises for gay christianity, “The Body’s Grace”
In fact, of course, in a church which accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts, or on a problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures.
Is such a view characterized by the life produced from heterosexual marriages? Is it the propensity to produce life an argument for what makes a marriage valid, even right? Such a clear distinction is lacking in the scriptures. If one were to apply a basic hermeneutic to passages relating to relationship, take a recently used passage in Matthew 19. One can clearly see the point of the passage in context: we were made to commune – to love one another. “Therefore what god has joined together, let man not separate!”
Let me attempt to argue for the gay christian marriage. Take two individuals, both male. Let us attest these men to separately being christ-followers. They live confessing, worshipping and communing as faithful church attendees. The two meet, fall in love and develop a desire to consummate their union with the blessing of the church. What the two lived out separately, they will continue to live out together. This is the model of the Christian marriage. Their love for one another is god’s doing. I write again, “Therefore what god has joined together, let man not separate”.
Again, this is less about legalization than it is about civil rights and equality. If only one goal is reached it should be the protection of the gay christian as a valid member of the communion. If indeed it is sin, let us fight for the sinner, that grace may convict him. If indeed it is not, let us pray that same grace convict us. If we fight against injustices done against him, we have stepped into an all together holier ground.
*In saying “worldview” I hold regard to communities who practice exegetical methods of biblical interpretation as well as those who fly liberally and conservatively on a whim of cultural normativity**. Thus biblical means ‘correct’ or ‘accepted’, as scripture is inevitably interpreted through the lens of partiality.
**Yes, Jeremy there are cultural norms.
*Though already permitted the in the Pauline corpus this was later outlawed in early practice.