Feminism, Social Issues

Five Answers from a Christian who Believes the Bible Supports Marriage Equality

marriage equality

Kevin DeYoung has asked people like me these five questions (DoNotLink). I’m assuming he didn’t intend for them to be rhetorical.

On what basis do you still insist that marriage must be monogamous?

Considering the fact that all of the passages that have traditionally been interpreted as having to do with same-sex behavior have nothing whatsoever to do with marriage, I do not even know what this question is here for. We’re re-evaluating six passages based on information a lot of us didn’t have before. That’s it.

Kevin argues that you can only construct an argument for monogamy based on a complementarian understanding of marriage, but considering that gender complementarity is a patriarchal concept and has been used to oppress and subjugate women for 2,000 years . . . yup. Not buying it, Kevin. I have an egalitarian, monogamous marriage and I don’t need gender essentialism in order for my marriage to reflect the image depicted in Scripture.

I’m going to be honest: Kevin does not seem to understand that there are things to base a system of ethics on besides “a supernatural being told me not to do this.” And, honestly, if that is the only thing you’re basing your ethics on . . . a supernatural being told a king to commit genocide. To slaughter every single infant. Having your only criteria for whether something is moral be “God said _____” is dangerous.

Saying that the gender (and the gender roles) of the people committing to a marriage before God doesn’t matter doesn’t mean we’re not still aiming for the kind of marriage described in the New Testament.

Will you maintain the same biblical sexual ethic in the church now that you think the church should solemnize gay marriages?

Kevin’s premise for this question is that “infidelity [is] rampant in homosexual relationships.” He gets this from a book called Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, which he says references a single study that proves how unfaithful gay men are. A lot of the book can be previewed, but all I can see is the book’s summary, and not the citation. I couldn’t find the study based on the information given, which seems awfully convenient. Also, citing someone else’s citation, Kevin? That is intellectually lazy.

First of all, there is a difference between open relationships and infidelity. One is about communication, honesty, and trust, and the other one is about deceit, manipulation, and trust-breaking. Conflating these two means that Kevin is being a) dishonest, or is he is b) ignorant.

Kevin also says “biblical sexual ethic” like that means anything specific. When I read what the New Testament has to say about sexual relationships, what I consistently see portrayed is don’t exploit people who cannot consent.

Don’t think that’s what Kevin thinks a “biblical sexual ethic” is, though. Maybe he means “if you rape someone, pay her father $20 bucks and marry her.”

Are you prepared to say moms and dads are interchangeable?

People are not interchangeable based on the fact that they are human beings. I don’t need my parents to adhere to a specific set of patriarchal gender roles in order to have a “family unit.” Parents should be able to find the roles and responsibilities that works for their family, and they shouldn’t have to be judged for those decisions based on cultural constructs.

What will you say about anal intercourse?

Heterosexual couples have butt sex all the time. There are specific set of concerns, which are the following:

  • Get tested. If you have an infection, get it treated.
  • If it touches your butt, it doesn’t touch your vagina. Or your mouth.
  • Butts are a little more fragile. Take your time. Use plenty of water-based lube.
  • Wear a condom.

Kevin also makes the claim that having butt sex—all on its own, with no other factor—increases your risk for anal cancer by 4,000 percent. He bases that claim on data that is 32 years old, where a few researchers looked at a database for syphilitic patients. They only used patients with syphilis as their data points. Again, either Kevin is ignorant, or he is being deliberately misleading.

Here’s the study, by the way. Because I don’t rely on what other people cite in their bigoted books for my information, when at all possible. I also don’t make it difficult for people to find the information I’m citing because that’s, again, dishonest.

How have all Christians at all times and in all places interpreted the Bible so wrongly for so long?

I don’t know. Why don’t you ask the 12.5 million Africans sold into slavery in the Western Hemisphere? Or the 4 million people owned by Americans in 1860—whose slavery was justified by their interpretation of the Bible?

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  • I actually don’t have a big problem with polygamy – if it’s practiced in a society where it’s traditional. I don’t think that it’s the New Testament ideal for marriage, but I don’t think it’s forbidden either. But my parents were missionaries to a group that was still practicing polygamy when they were reached with the gospel. Based on what I saw growing up I wouldn’t want to be part of that kind of marriage. But I don’t think that the fact that ssm makes polygamy a logical option means that either the church has to endorse it or that we will then slide into a free-for-all where marriage is defined any way anyone wants. Society defines marriage – sometimes through religious practices, sometimes in other ways (legal, traditions, etc.).

    • Yeah. The kind of marriage described in the NT seems to be monogamous, at least from the perspective I have right now. However, I believe that laws in America should be based on consent and not what the Christians of the day think the Bible says, so…

      • I guess my main issue with polygamy is that historically, it’s usually been about one man owning multiple women. That’s what traditional biblical marriage is, bee tee dubs. Ask those folks to find ONE example other than Adam and Eve of a “normal” “biblical” marriage in the OT and they usually start to get flustered. However, consent is the name of the game. If multiple people want to get married because that’s their thing, and their relationship is based on mutual consent and so forth, fine, whatever, as far as I’m concerned. Am I right in saying that polyamory refers to the concept of being in love with multiple people, whereas polygamy is specifically multiple marriage? Anyway, that is kind of irrelevant. I don’t think there’s really any more convincing “arguments” against polygamous marriage in the US than there are against gay marriage. My only concern would be practical: you’d have to set it up in the tax code so that marriage benefits don’t somehow “stack”, putting people married to one person at a tax disadvantage.

  • Great commentary Samantha.

    People interpret the Bible through the lens of culture, personal experience,church dogma, and societal expectations. (To name 4) It is not a timeless book with an unchanging interpretation.

    • Joy

      New Testament marriages are presumed to be monogamous because Jewish polygamy ended during the Exilic period, and polygamy was not customary to the gentile cultures that the first Christian converts lived in. Much thoug hnot all comes down to local custom…and monogamy is customary for us as well.

  • This was a good post.

    I’m honestly not sure what to believe about this stuff in a theological perspective. One of those big question marks I need to take a look at in the future, I suppose.

    Thanks. 🙂

  • Thanks for a great discussion. It is a relief to me to remember that there are some Christians still on my side who have my back. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that after you face enough cruelty and ugliness. Props to you for being able to read these things and respond to them. I just don’t have the energy… I’d lose my mind.

  • I will readily admit, ten or fifteen years ago? I’d have probably argued with you vehemently about the nature of marriage and gender roles. I was raised Mormon and I absorbed a lot of the same assumptions that you’re arguing so eloquently against. Hell, I had it out with someone in the university letters column about the existence of the (brand new at the time) Gay, Lesbian, and Bi Student Organization (I can’t actually remember any more what the official name was, twenty years’ll do a number to a person’s memory). It’s to my shame that I can no longer remember just what position I took in that argument.

    Time, and experience, changes things, though.

    I can no longer bring myself to believe that God requires us to love in any one way, as long as we do, in fact, love. Monogamy isn’t required; Love, Respect, and Honesty are. Gender roles aren’t required; bearing one another’s burdens is. To be honest, a LOT of what passes for “required theology” isn’t really that required after all. For those of us who follow Christ, what is more important than how a family is formed is the love, respect, and devotion within that family, and the freedom to accept ourselves and those around us as unique individuals who are all worthy of honor.

    I would rather see a child raised by two loving women, or two loving men, than a man and a woman who barely tolerate each other and who surround their family with suppression and hatred. I would rather see a family formed of three or four or even five adults who all care for and support each other and want to be there than see children raised by their older sisters who have no hope of a life lived for themselves.

    I’m changing so much…

  • Wow. This is good.
    And logical.
    And compassionate.
    And did I mention good?

  • My brief thought on his ‘questions’:

    1. A small thing I find ironic: He specifically requires an interpretation of Genesis 2-4 that has Adam and Eve as the literal first two humans, which he believes sets a requirement that all marriages must consist of ‘one man-one woman’. He then immediately makes the argument that people who support same-sex marriages will also support marriages between siblings, which in context he’s obviously saying is just as wrong as same-sex marriage. But his view on Genesis 2-4 requires marriage between siblings.

    2. What’s happened here is he heard ‘different interpretation of what the bible says’ as meaning ‘rejecting what the bible says’, so that his question amounts to ‘What else are you going to reject in the bible?’ That whole line of thought is an extremely common slippery slope fallacy in ‘Fundamentalism’ (with a capital-F), indicating the person ‘asking’ has deliberately shut themselves off to any real dialogue, i.e. they’re only interested in arguing against straw men.

    3. I’m a stay-at-home dad, so… guess.

    4. One, the bible doesn’t forbid it. Two, it’s none of my business. Three, my personal thought is it’s biologically unsafe and should be avoided, but in that case refer back to points one and two.

    5. Did a Protestant just ask this? Like, the pastor of a Reformed church, writing for The Gospel Coalition? Just asked how a traditional reading of the bible could possibly be wrong?

  • Cassie Chang

    Also Kevin, not all gay people have butt sex. What a fucking reactionary understanding of gay people.

    • Not even all gay MEN have anal sex. It’s silly on its face. Most people who engage in teh scary butt secks are straight, just based on sheer numbers. Has Kevin SEEN the internet?

  • Cassie Chang

    And might I add, lots of straight people have butt sex too, and enjoy it.

    • Oops, you got there first. Should have read further before commenting.

  • Here’s a blog post my pastor wrote which addresses a little about how people have interpreted the Bible wrongly for so long. It has a bigger over-arching theme, but does tie into the concept, & I thought you might enjoy. 🙂 http://outlookcolumbus.com/2014/06/matthew-snark-luke-and-john/

  • I was thinking about this post this morning, and for some reason, the lyrics to “The Mess Inside” by The Mountain Goats kept cropping up in my head. Specifically, the verse that goes like this:

    We went down to New Orleans
    One weekend in the spring
    Looked hard for what we’d lost
    It was painful to admit it, we couldn’t find a thing
    I wanted you to love me like you used to do

    I’ve always heard that song as one about two people in a struggling marriage, attempting to reignite the spark by visiting places that should have been invigorating and instead finding that both parties in the relationship had changed, and they couldn’t and never would reignite the spark.

    In that way, I think the narrator in the song is a perfect stand in for Evangelical Christianity, especially the kind espoused by groups like The Gospel Coalition and the Southern Baptist Conference. They tried to fight the creeping sense of dread with temporal things – with their organizations and their titles and their money and their control over the lives of others. Like the narrator of this song, they’re wandering the American wilderness, looking hard for what they’ve lost. They can’t find it, perhaps because they’d never lost anything at all, but rather its they who have been lost, or perhaps because what they’re truly looking for is the past – their youth, their heady days when they were the masters of the world and no one could tell them otherwise. And like the narrator of the song, they can’t run nor hide from the mess inside the house they’ve built.

    It’s a wonderful song. You can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YRWzxYS_nM

  • You did spectacularly well. Thank you for this one.

  • Patrick Prescott

    There’s no mention of monogamy in the old testament and many examples of multiple marriages usually by kings, Paul admonition to Timothy to be the husband of one wife wasn’t a new commandment from God, it was advice to stay within the bounds of Roman Law. When Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire Roman law became dominant within the Church cementing monogamy for marriage. Emperor Justinian codified the law which was updated by Napoleon and is used throughout Europe and many parts of the world its called Civil Code today. Louisiana has elements of civil code left over from being founded by the French.
    At the founding of Rome men outnumbered women and someone with more of something than what others have causes problems. We still have a tradition of carrying the bride over the threshold carried over from the abduction of Sabine women to rectify this shortage of females. The Twelve Tables established marriages as one man, one woman, but allowed for easy divorce (husband’s right, not woman’s) There were three types of marriage with only a full marriage allowing conjugal relationships, Romans saw marriage as a signature on a contract between father-in-law and husband. It was Caesar’s daughter dying in childbirth married to Pompey that ended the triumvirate and started the civil war between the two generals.

    • You’re right that the Romans had several forms of legal marriage, however the distinction wasn’t conjugal relations but rather whose authority the woman was under. If she was fully transferred to the husband’s authority (married cum manus) she was no longer under her father’s authority. This form of marriage was required for some religious positions but was not the most common in the early Empire. The other form of marriage, sine manu, meant the father kept authority over his daughter and seems to have been most common. She was required to spend three days a year (consecutive, I believe) at her father’s to maintain this state of marriage. This form of marriage could have advantages for the woman, as she still had her father ‘looking out for her,’ so to speak. (Personally, I believe that this is what Paul is referring to when he tells women to leave their parents and cleave to their husbands– i.e., commit fully to their spouses.) Divorce and remarriage were common particularly in the upper classes (where most of our sources come from) for political alliances and advantages.

      I think it’s also important to note that Roman law was not interested in regulating marriages in the same way we are– Roman law is concerned primarily with property and inheritance (who can own what), and so laws about marriage are focussed on this respect, rather than legislating for the sake of legislating who can marry whom.While there was certainly ritual associated with each type of marriage, there were no marriage licenses or state records as we have today. In addition to the religious aspect of the marriage ritual, the ritual also served as a public announcement that the two people would now be living as husband and wife. Marriage was a private agreement that two people would be living together as a married couple. As you rightly point out, marriage was a contract between the husband and the father-in-law; the mother’s or daughter’s influence in the decision-making process would depend on family dynamics.

      • I’m learning a lot of history reading these comments…

  • I’m someone who transitioned from a strict, conservative point of view on this topic to a very progressive one. The journey went something like this: Being gay is a sin>Actually just gay sex is a sin>Oh, gay people should probably be able to express their love for people, so maybe gay sex isn’t actually a sin>There’s nothing wrong with being gay>OH LOOK! Dad came out of the closet! It’s a good thing I’m no longer seeing orientation as sinful!

    Anyway, for a long time, I was able to easily empathize with those who viewed being gay as a sin, because I had just left that point of view. I could understand where people were coming from, even though I disagreed with them very strongly.

    It’s getting harder for me to see where people were coming from. I don’t know if it’s because I’m so far removed from believing the anti-gay arguments that now they just seem completely ridiculous and silly, or if it’s because the arguments have actually gotten more ridiculous. They used to be just really hateful and mean–now they have this weird, forced, twisted logic behind them. I think the twisted logic is actually more insidious, because it masquerades as compassionate instead of just coming across as bigoted.

    Anyway, it’s harder and harder for me to look at an article like this one from TGC and not just shout, “YOU SOUND SO STUPID! THE QUESTIONS YOU’RE ASKING ARE SO STUPID!” I know that’s not a useful response, so I keep it in…but anyway, that’s what I end up feeling these days.

    • Funnily enough, “KEVIN SOUNDS SO STUPID! THE QUESTIONS HE’S ASKING ARE SO STUPID!” is exactly what I shouted at my husband last night, ha.

      • Cassie Chang

        I still cannot get over the butt sex question. Like, what business is it of yours unless you’re about to offer advice on how to do it safely?

        On a more serious note, I think that revulsion to anal sex, and the particular way that white evangelism like TGC associate gay people with anal sex shows an ugly, ugly side to that thinking. It’s a revulsion that borders on hate, that stems from an age old prejudice of seeing homosexuals as subhuman.

        • On a more serious note, I think that revulsion to anal sex

          In so many cases the reality is that it’s just a case of “They dost protest too much” (to borrow from Shakespeare). To use a relatable example for many people: they’re like the girls/boys just on the cusp of puberty arguing that “No way, girls/boys are still totally gross!”, even though in reality they’re starting to see the attraction.

          Except in this case, many of the people shouting the loudest saw the attraction decades ago, and they’re still furiously trying to convince themselves that it doesn’t exist.

      • Ha! Well, I’m glad to know I’m not alone.

    • I love how you summarize your journey! It’s easy for me to see where people are coming from when they make anti-gay arguments. They’re just believing in the Bible. In order to be pro-equality, you have to either recognize that the Bible is wrong, or twist your theology to the point where you don’t notice the Bible is wrong. Most conservatives will never do this, so it is necessary for them to pass judgment on who has sex with whom.

    • Haha, my journey was pretty similar except more like “OH LOOK! I came out of the closet! It’s a good thing I’m no longer seeing orientation as sinful!” (I was literally that surprised.) 🙂 And I can totally relate to the weird journey toward not even being able to see where they’re coming from, even though I used to think that way too.

  • Adele

    Very good answers – reasonable, thoughtful, rational and well-articulated. A side note to the last question that I think is interesting. Maybe all Christians in all places at all times (before now) haven’t actually gotten it wrong on this issue. There is some evidence (although perhaps not conclusive) that some form of same sex marriages were performed in the early Christian church: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/31/ancient-christian-church-gay-marriages_n_3678315.html

  • Beroli

    Considering the fact that all of the passages that have traditionally been interpreted as having to do with same-sex behavior have nothing whatsoever to do with marriage, I do not even know what this question is here for.

    I suspect the answer relates to Libby Anne’s Two Boxes theory: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2012/08/so-you-say-you-dont-hate-gay-people-part-iv.html .

  • Allison

    “Will you exercise church discipline when gay marriages fall apart?” What does that even mean? No, because divorced people need friends to be there for them while they build new lives, not Bible-whacking or shunning from church leaders who probably know next to nothing about what the couple’s relationship was really like.

  • Brilliant post, Sam! Thank you for writing it!

    First of all, there is a difference between open relationships and infidelity.

    THANK YOU. It’s beautiful to hear that coming from a Christian.

    Kevin asked, How have all Christians at all times and in all places interpreted the Bible so wrongly for so long?

    This is actually the question that occurs to me any time the church reforms itself. I was a Christian in a reformed denomination, which broke off from the Catholic church in the 16th Century. Furthermore, my denomination broke with many other mainstream denominations in pushing for religious freedom before it was cool, opposing the apparent "worship" of the state by many mainstream evangelicals, and standing for nonviolent resistance instead of war.

    I believed my church was right in preaching those things. I thought we were based on the Bible. But what did that mean for all the other denominations? Was everyone else following God, but just getting big parts of it wrong? Were we the only denomination that was Biblically correct (and isn’t it cult-ish to think that)? Were our important beliefs really just not that important?

    The only way I ever found to deal with this tension was to ignore it. Until one day I became convinced that god wasn’t real; then all the misunderstanding made sense.

    I’m also glad you have an egalitarian, happy marriage. I think patriarchy and "gender complementarianism" are, as you say, morally reprehensible tools to oppress women. But I would humbly suggest that they are also clearly mandated by the Bible. The Bible declares women and men are unequal, not just because of the sensibilities of a particular time, but because they were created that way by God. I think anyone who believes men and women are equal but also believes in the Bible is fooling herself. Just my opinion.

  • I fail to understand how butt sex is a theological question. Or anyone’s business other than the people (consensually) involved in it. Seriously. It’s a pretty desperate argument on his part.