Skip to content

Marriage Equality

Based on the ground covered through the articles on this website, there are two questions to discuss on the topic of marriage.

  1. Should followers of Jesus support civil and social marriage equality for gay people?
  2. Should followers of Jesus support Christian marriage for gay believers?

In answering the first question, I’m addressing all Christians irrespective of their view on homosexuality. In the second, I’m addressing Christians who affirm gay believers.

If you haven’t yet, please first read 4 Reasons for Being Affirming.

Political & Social Marriage Equality

Should followers of Jesus support civil and social marriage equality for gay people?

One’s answer to this question is shaped by one’s view of the separation of Church and State.

Long before Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase, “the separation of Church and State”, Jesus taught: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

In my experience, most followers of Jesus agree that the corrupt union of Church and State, starting with Imperial Rome and continuing through monarchy-ruled religion, was a tragic deviation from God’s will. And most agree that the British Magna Carta (1215) and Bill of Rights (1689) and the United States Declaration of Independence (1776) were vital steps out of this corrupt union.

So, what is the role of the state?

According to both Paul (Romans 13:1-7) and Peter (1 Peter 2:13-17), the role of government is the protection of all its citizens and all their rights.

Yes, government is not the source of these rights—the state cannot grant or withhold these rights. The source of human rights—such as life, liberty, speech, religion, privacy and the like—is God Himself and the role of government is to uphold these rights.

Rendering unto Caesar, followers of Jesus ought to support the government in protecting all the rights of all its citizens for a free, peaceful and democratic society to thrive. This includes the social and legal benefits of marriage for all.

Religions cannot impose their religious beliefs on secular and democratic society. As Christians, we rightly balk at the idea of enforced Sharia Law. To impose our values of marriage on society amounts to much the same idea for a secular audience.

Regardless of one’s personal convictions on marriage and same-sex unions, supporting marriage equality is at the very least, a valid response for a follower of Jesus who understands the distinction between the domain of church and the domain of state.

Yes, some raise the question of whether homosexual marriage is consistent with what marriage as a Christian institution represents; that is, marriage is not just about protecting the rights of two people, but it’s materially tied to procreation and raising of children. In my opinion, followers of Jesus who conclude that a material disparity does exist have some extra homework to do.

For one, understanding the role of government to protect the rights of all its citizens, they ought to also engage proactively and lovingly, offering alternative ways for the legal protections and benefits of marriage to be afforded to same-sex couples. Simply conveying the message that “you can’t have what we have” because of our religious convictions does not model the extra-mile love of Jesus.

Now, for those who are gay-affirming, the subject gets a little more complex.

Christian Marriage for Gay Believers

Should followers of Jesus support Christian marriage for gay believers?

As discussed above, a direct application of the distinction between church and state behoves us to support government to protect all its citizens and all their rights.

However, what about in the domain of the church? What about Christian marriage for gay believers?

The Male-Female Marriage Model

Some argue from Genesis 1 and 2 that marriage as a Christian institution is solely between one man and one woman. However, it can also be argued that male-female marriage is the primary but non-exclusive model for most human beings—primary (not superior) in that it’s obviously vital for procreation and most people identify as heterosexual.

Take polygamy for instance. It was accepted and legal in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 21:15-17, Exodus 21:10-11, 2 Samuel 12:7-8, 2 Chronicles 24:2-3) and practised by some of the most notable heroes of the faith such as Abraham (Genesis 16:3, 25:1-6) and David (1 Samuel 18:3, 20:8-17, 2 Samuel 3:2-5, 5:13, 12:7-8, 15:16, 16:21, 19:5, 20:3, 1 Chronicles 14:3).

While the New Testament promotes monogamy (1 Corinthians 7:1-16; Ephesians 5:25-33; 1 Peter 3:1-7) and the problems with polygamy are many—chief of which is the way women are viewed in such an arrangement—it shows that marriage through the Scriptures wasn’t always solely between “one man and one woman”.

And while many turn to Matthew 19 to make the case for the male-female marriage model, Jesus Himself offered three exceptions to the model (Matthew 19:12). His affirmation of “sexual minorities”, and specifically natural eunuchs, offers hope. While natural eunuchs were legally allowed to marry, provided there was no hint of infertility, some did not want to marry. Instead, they found sanctuary in the status and societal role played by the eunuch class, as the ancient world offered no alternative.

Why? Because marriage was primarily about procreation and legacy building. But does that mean we’re similarly obliged today?

Marriage Blessing

When we oversee the marriage of a man and a woman, what are we blessing today? Primarily, we’re blessing their covenant love, their commitment to faithful, lifelong love and service. Yes, the expectation is more than likely that they’ll have children but it’s secondary and often not even stated in most ceremonies today. (And why is this? Why are celebrants increasingly careful about placing any child bearing expectations on married couples? One reason is sensitivity to the reality that so many struggle to have children. And without modern medicine, infertility would be an even bigger problem.)

Yes, there is no Biblical commission to bless any other way of living together, sexually. However, are we saying that what is not directly commissioned must be prohibited? 

And why come to that conclusion? Why not instead take the liberty we have in Jesus and conclude that what is not directly commissioned is permissible? (Which of the two conclusions sound more New Testament like?)

The church has revised its view on things like slavery, women in leadership, the use of contraception and fertility treatment … and has even gone so far as revising its view on remarriage—even when the previous marriage was not dissolved through death or sexual immorality. In this latter case, we’ve chosen the higher law of love over technical adherence to what is a clear New Testament prohibition to our Biblical marriage commission (Matthew 19:9).

How can we not choose the higher law of love in marrying same-sex couples simply because we have no direct Biblical commission for it?

Ephesians 5

But what of Paul’s teaching of marriage in Ephesians 5:22-33, comparing it to Christ and the church?

Paul used several metaphors in his letter to the Ephesians to speak of Jesus’ relationship to His church. And that’s what they are, metaphors.

Metaphors are wonderful literary tools, but they’re limited.

Paul spoke about being pregnant, labouring that Christ be formed in the Galatian believers (Galatians 4:19). We understand that gendered metaphor. Jesus likened Himself to a mother hen as He grieved over the Jewish people (Matthew 23:37). Again, we get the gendered metaphor.

They’re powerful metaphors, but they have limitations.

Some fail to get the marriage metaphor and stretch it too far, going so far as to claim that the male-female marriage model was designed intentionally to display the relationship between Jesus and His people. And thus, they conclude, same-sex unions besmirch this revelation.

Paul, as mentioned, used several metaphors in Ephesians. Another one was that of an army (Ephesians 6:10-18): Jesus is our Commander and we’re His soldiers. Are they suggesting God designed the concept of an army(!) for this purpose, too?

The logic is inconsistent. And an overstretch.

Paul used male-female marriage as a beautiful metaphor for Jesus relationship to His people, but using it as a chokehold to exclude gay believers from a covenant of lifelong love is clearly not the intention of Ephesians 5.

Conscience & Practicalities

Therefore, I think the answer to whether we should promote Christian marriage for gay believers comes down to conscience and practicality.

IF we affirm gay believers, to deny them the opportunity to express a lifelong love relationship in the covenant bonds of marriage provides no “marriage bed” (Hebrews 13:4).

Since we discourage promiscuity (correctly so), we then give same-sex couples no way forward.

In this, we’re guilty of closed-loop prejudice. We deny them the spiritual benefits of expressing a lifelong covenant bond through Christian marriage, but then imply they’re promiscuous because weve denied them the “marriage bed”.

And what are we suggesting by withholding Christian marriage from gay believers?

That they must live a single life? 

Unless they have the grace for this (1 Corinthians 7:7), this requires them to deny the God-given desire for lifelong love, a requirement that kicks up against God’s own before-the-fall admission: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

That they must get married in secular court? 

That their marriage is right unto Caesar but not as unto God? In this case, withholding marriage conveys the message, “we affirm you, but God doesn’t”—which is surely not what we intend to imply.

In the liberty and love of Jesus, let’s bless the covenant making of two people in marriage and celebrate their commitment to a faithful, lifelong love regardless of whether the couple is straight or gay.

For me, to not do so would be prejudiced and hypocritical.