“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right” ~ Justice Anthony Kennedy.
With these words, Justice Kennedy voiced his support of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States. Before some of us go off on a rant of opposition, it would be wise to be reminded that similar words were penned almost 50 years ago by another Supreme Court Justice; Chief Justice Earl Warren. In Loving v. Virginia, in which the Supreme Court threw out a Virginia law banning interracial marriage, Chief Justice Warren wrote, “Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival”.
Without a doubt, some will quote scripture in voicing their opposition to gay marriage. Why not? Folks did it 50 years ago in expressing similar opposition to interracial marriage and the ordination of women. They did it as well 150 years ago around the issue of slavery. But as was the case then, so it is now, literal interpretation of scripture from centuries ago, does not speak to the issues of today.
“Traditional marriage” is almost impossible to find in scripture. Don’t look to Abraham for that, who fathered sons from two different women, one of whom was a slave woman who had no choice in the matter. His son Jacob had two wives and two concubines having children with all four and apparently with God’s approval. The ancient Torah took for granted that a man may have two wives. Many of the kings of Israel were known to have large harems. Oh and lest we somehow believe that Biblical marriage involved two consenting adults, an unmarried woman living in her father’s house, was transferred into her husband’s possession by his payment of the “bride price”. Marriages in the Old Testament were arranged. They were property transactions. Does that sound familiar to us today? Of course not.
What about Old Testament prohibitions against homosexuality? Well, Genesis 19 specifically speaks to the issue of gang rape, not love between two consenting adults. Likewise Deuteronomy 23:17-18 likely speaks to the issue of heterosexual prostitutes of other religions infiltrating Jewish worship; whether “gay” or “straight”, a committed same-sex relationship of love is not what’s being described here.
Certainly in the New Testament Paul must have something to say about gay marriage. Don’t go looking at Romans 1 for any help here. Throughout the first chapter of Romans, Paul gives us a lengthy litany of all those who stand condemned by God; In addition to those who are “consumed” with de-humanizing passions toward others, the condemned also include those who gossip, slander, covet, envy, are boastful, as well as those who are rebellious against parents. Has Paul missed anybody? Certainly not me!
But just in case any one of us believes that we don’t fall into any of these condemned categories, Paul nails the coffin shut in Romans 2:1. “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” Paul goes on to say “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”. In other words all of us have seats in the sin boat. But so too are we all recipients of God’s saving grace through the Jesus life raft.
Speaking of Jesus, surely he must have something to say about gay marriage. Nothing. Not a thing. What we do know of Jesus is that in addition to being poured out on the cross in love for the world, he is always siding with those who are oppressed. He eats with prostitutes and tax collectors; he blesses children who, by the way, are the most marginalized in Jesus’ world; he speaks blessings to the poor; he challenges dehumanizing institutions, and when pressed by the religious know-it-alls, obsessed with determining who’s in and who’s out, he says that loving God and loving neighbor are the only two things that matter.
Whether Scripture informs your worldview or not, let’s take a step back. Gays and lesbians who choose to marry, like their heterosexual counterparts, are affirming the goodness of marriage. They are affirming the desire to enter into relationships of covenantal faithfulness. They are willingly binding themselves to one another in lifelong commitments of fidelity and love. Love and faithfulness: Two words that abound in God’s vocabulary. If they’re good enough for God, maybe they’re good enough for all of us.
Peace and Love,