Same Sex Marriage and the Chalkboard Line

It would be hard to imagine any topic more hotly debated and more widely reviewed than this one.  It is repeatedly in the news, is the subject of many blogs, and a continued topic in the social media outlets.  It is hard to turn to any form of media these days and not hear something about it.

Because this is such a sensitive and divisive issue, I had initially been reluctant to become expressive.  But, I decided that remaining silent doesn’t serve any good.  Therefore, I felt it would be appropriate to voice my views.

Let me first begin with a disclaimer: I do not hate gays and lesbians. ( I couldn’t even imagine hating another person; that’s not the way of Jesus.)  I have friends who are homosexual and do not hate or judge them (how could one hate their own friends?).  I make this disclaimer because it seems whenever anyone on either side of this argument makes a statement they immediately become branded as some sort of hate-monger or hateful mongrel.  I hope to think that I am neither.  Therefore, my opinion is not based on any emotional investment.  Rather, it is based upon my understanding of truth.  Although I have given this no small amount of consideration, I will admit that I am not the arbitrator of truth and I don’t hold any corner of the market on it.  As well, if I am incorrect and voice my thoughts perhaps someone will be able to correct me, resulting in a very good end for me. Therefore, take this for what it’s worth.

Now, to the topic…

Clearly this is the question at hand: how will we as a people define the word “marriage?”  Do we define it to include same-sex partners, or do we deny them the privileges associated with this term?

Let me begin by pointing out that state-recognized marriage excludes many parties – not just same-sex marriages.  For example, a man cannot marry a woman in Pennsylvania while at the same time be married to a woman in Maryland – this is denied.  Likewise, a woman cannot marry her brother or other close blood relative – this type of marriage is also denied.  The state also denies children from marrying each other or adults.  And the list goes on.  As a matter of fact, I think it would be safe to say that there are more sets of imaginable combinations that are discriminated against, than those that are allowed.  This is just reality.

It is easy to see, therefore, that marriage has come to be strictly defined.  Many – not just a few – are denied the right to be “married.”

Let me provide with an illustration which will lead me to my point. Imagine a list being made on a chalkboard.  On the left side of the chalkboard we write men and women.  Then we draw a vertical line and on the right side we write same-sex, blood relatives, children, and all other sets of marriages that the state does not recognize.  Obviously, the list on the right will be much longer than on the left.

Those who are petitioning for same-sex couples to have the right to marry are in affect saying, “we would like to erase the vertical line that keeps same-sex couples out, and draw it on the other side so that they are in.”

At first blush this might seem like a reasonable request.  Someone might even think, well, who am I to say that they CANNOT marry?

But think for a moment about what is being done. To erase the line and redraw it is still to say that some types of marriages are unacceptable.  Whether they will admit it or not, on one side they will still have right marriages and on the other side they will still have wrong marriages.  Clearly, those who wish to re-draw the line are making a moral judgment between right and wrong.

This leads to the obvious question, and the only point of this short article, to what do they appeal to make this moral determination? How can they say that it is right for same-sex couples, but still wrong for blood relatives, children, or polygamists to marry? To what standard are they appealing? (I will deal with some obvious objections a bit later.)

Someone might say we can appeal to “common sense.”  But that’s a huge problem because the sense of what is wrong and right is anything BUT common among people today.  That is why this is such a hotly debated topic – no one agrees.  And whose common sense do we use?  Mine? Theirs?  Obviously, this cannot be decided by a sense that is common.

In a recent letter to the editor in our local newspaper someone wrote that marriage should be between “any two consenting adults.”  This tells us where they believe the line should be drawn, but it does nothing to tell us from what standard this person is appealing.  For example, why does he limit it to just two?  Why not three, four, or six, consenting adults?  And why must they be consenting?  Why would it be wrong for a person to force a non-consenting person to marry them?  What makes this wrong?  And what makes their idea of marriage right?  And does the standard that they are appealing to have anything to say about same-sex marriages?

I recently listened to a debate on this subject.  A professor of law gave a passionate speech in favor of same-sex marriage.  However, to my surprise he presented only one reason why same-sex marriages should be legalized: because people who contribute to society should not be denied the legal benefits of society.

Imagine if that became our standard.  On what basis could we then restrict polygamy? If all the parties are contributors to society, then we would have no legal standing to prohibit this.  And what of incest?  If two people who are related by blood desire to be married – and they pass the “contribution test” – they could not be denied. As well, if a person wanted to compel a non-consenting person to marry him, he could not be denied based on this new reasoning.  Obviously, this standard would create havoc.

I believe that the moral dilemma of this issue is quite obvious. If you are going to redefine a word you should be able to point to some type of external standard that gives guidance.  To date, I have not heard of a single compelling argument that includes an acceptable standard to which is appealed.

Now, the objector will say, “but what gives the right to draw the line where it currently is?  To what do YOU appeal to, saying that one type is right and another is wrong?”

Excellent objection and one that can be reasonably addressed in my opinion. I will appeal to Jesus’ teaching since He makes reference to the design of marriage, from which Christians get its sense of meaning and definition.

In Matthew 19 Jesus was questioned on whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife.  He responded by describing what marriage was from the very beginning – a man and woman leaving their parents to be joined throughout this life.  In other words, He told us how God purposed marriage from the beginning of creation.

“But,” someone might object, “if God wanted one man and one woman to come together, why did He allow polygamy in the Old Testament?”

Let me go back to Matthew 19.  In this same discourse, Jesus provided that although a husband and wife were to remain together, a divorce could be granted as a way of concession because of sin.  However, He added that from “the beginning it was not so.”  In other words, God allowed for divorce although it fell short of His perfect plan.

In the same way it seems that God allowed for polygamy.  It was not in His perfect plan, but because women could not be taken care of without being married in the Middle East, and because there was often a shortage of men due to war, God allowed a man to take several wives.  This gave women an acceptable social standing, and provided for their care (see Isa. 4:1).  However, in every detailed instance of polygamy in the Old Testament there was always strife in the household.  It is easy to see that it did not work well.

The New Testament writers, having been enlightened by Jesus, showed us that marriage was a symbol of Christ and His Church (Eph. 5:32).  Just as Jesus is joined only to one bride (the Church), so man is to be joined to only one wife.  It is clear then, that there is good reason to place polygamy on the other side of our chalkboard.

“But,” someone might object, “the Church and State are separate, and you cannot expect the State to follow the Church.”

This is a good objection.  However, it only serves to identify the weakness of the State.  If the State is going to delineate between right and wrong, how will it make that determination? To what standard will it appeal?  It will either become a god to itself – declaring what is right and wrong – or it will recognize an external standard to which it compares all behavior.  The first of these two choices removes the obvious standard, and will only lead to anarchy, chaos, and destruction.

In summary, I believe that we all must challenge ourselves to think soberly about the standard we use to determine acceptable from unacceptable behavior, and right from wrong.  If that standard is an internal standard, based on how we feel, then we must admit it is no standard at all.  However, if that standard can be demonstrated to be objectively from without, then we must busy ourselves with the task of understanding and interpreting this standard for our lives.





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