Same-sex Marriage: Contending in the Public Square (Part 4)

February 15, 2013

Part 4
by Jenny Abel

Discussing and contending for traditional marriage within the church is one thing, but contending for it in the public square can be quite a different matter altogether. For the purpose of this post, I’m focusing primarily on the issue of the legal definition of marriage, although there are a host of related issues of which to be aware—such as how marriage (and homosexuality) are handled in school classrooms and curricula, and whether sexual orientation should be a protected “class” under hiring laws (in Virginia, our legislature just defeated a bill to this effect).

In Part 2, I laid out a few questions at the heart of this civil debate. Lengthy articles and whole books have been written on those questions—the full explanations of which are beyond the scope of this blog. For helpful overviews, check out this brief video, this article, and also this resource. To dig deeper, check out the new book by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense; even this review of the book is enlightening on its own. And if you are looking for more resources, here are many more. For those short on time, I’ve included at the bottom of this post a few brief responses to some of the most common challenges to one-man/one-woman marriage.

Full of Grace and Truth

I think it goes without saying that contending for any issue in the public square must always be done first and foremost out of a desire to glorify God. Flowing from that goal, our purpose should be concern for others and for society as a whole. 1 Corinthians: If I have all knowledge, but no love, I’m a cacophonous gong.

Our conversation should be “full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:3), and we should not become pompous, prideful, contentious, or argumentative (2 Timothy 2:23–25). That does not mean, however, that we should not become passionate about issues, especially those with serious moral and long-range impact.

In America, where our government is “of the people, by the people, for the people,” we have a great gift that we too often take for granted—the opportunity to be involved in the shaping of our laws. Christians should absolutely seek office, if they are called to do so, and those who don’t should look for other ways, within their personal everyday spheres, to aid political officials in restraining evil and propagating good. Charles Colson once wrote: “If our culture is to be transformed, it will happen from the bottom up—from ordinary believers practicing apologetics over the backyard fence or around the barbecue grill. … from transforming the habits and dispositions of ordinary people.”[1]

Abandonment of Reason

Today, Christian engagement in the public square can be a frightening task. That’s not just because traditional biblical values are under attack. Perhaps worse, and even more frustrating, is we as a society have lost the art of—and patience for—true debate and reasoning. This was noted by commentators during the presidential debates of 2012, when candidates were not debating the ideas so much as posturing, using the power of words to leverage themselves. This is the true modernist spirit at work.

In the realm of same-sex marriage and homosexuality, consider this new “campaign,” called “Straight Up Love is Louder.” Watch the video and then ask yourself: For what did this video contend? Your answer might be “for support for homosexuals.” Sure, but did it ever make the case for why we should do so? Did it define how that support should look—and why? Is there any solid reasoning given in the video to refute the fact that I view the best “support” for a homosexual to be something other than affirming his/her behavior? By implication, this campaign is saying, “If you don’t affirm homosexual behavior as normative, then you are not loving that person.” But where did that view of love come from, and why should I believe it over my own, biblically rooted view? The video doesn’t answer these questions.

The point in highlighting this particular advocacy campaign is that what is winning the day in today’s cultural debates seems to be a pervasive and impassioned “spirit,” which people are getting swept up into, largely without thinking—or at least without thinking very deeply.

As Christians, we must become better thinkers so we can “demolish” these types of “arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Our minds are to be transformed just like as our hearts are. In Isaiah 1:18, God says, “Come now, let us reason together,” and in Acts 17, Paul “reasoned” not only in the synagogue but “in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.” His starting point was not the Scriptures but a secular poem from their own culture, which he then used to point to unchanging truth.

We, too, should learn to use our audience’s own questions, assumptions, and traditions to “proclaim” what is true, about God and about the things of His making—marriage included. Of course, reason and truth alone don’t suffice—we can and should still also appeal to emotions, testifying to what God has done in our own lives (as this former “leftist lesbian professor” does) and asking the Holy Spirit to help us demonstrate real love and compassion in our actions and words.


Common Challenges & Possible Responses

Challenge: All homosexuals/same-sex couples want are equal rights. Same-sex couples who love each other and want to marry should be allowed to do so.

Response: We, too, advocate for equal civil rights and equal treatment for all individuals, regardless of how they live. Marriage, however, is not a constitutional right—any more than forming a business partnership is a “civil right.” Somewhere, a boundary must be drawn. Same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples are, by definition, not equal entities. Thus, the crux of the issue still goes back to, “What constitutes (or should constitute) a marriage?”

Marriage is more than a societal recognition/validation of a strong emotional bond. Same-sex couples are free to engage in those bonds, and in any (legal) behavior, without a marriage license. Marriage is more than an emotional attachment—it involves a solemn commitment, and as the basic building block for our society today and in the future (through rearing of children), its definition and accompanying implications and responsibilities automatically impact everyone—if not directly today, then indirectly tomorrow.

Challenge: Traditional marriage is based on an antiquated understanding of the two sexes. We’ve progressed beyond that.

Response: Both men and women have equal value and worth. However, “reverse gifting” in a couple (e.g., the woman may have greater leadership tendencies than her husband) and other challenges still cannot overcome the basic, unchanging natural laws governing human nature. Each sex is unavoidably different, anatomically and in other ways. Each brings a complementary quality to a marital relationship (and to parenting) that cannot be replicated by couples of the same gender. These differences have been affirmed by many nonreligious people and through science, relating not just to learned behavior but also genetic “wiring” differences that influence brain functioning and innate emotional needs/instincts.

Challenge: Even if the sexes are different, there’s no proof that two men or two women committed to each other can’t raise children equally well.
Response: Studies have affirmed that lifelong marriage between one man and one woman is the gold standard for childrearing—children do better with the distinct role models and kinds of care that can only be provided by the complementary influence of both a father and a mother. Do you want to risk children’s futures on the absence of evidence—merely because not enough time has passed to conclusively prove long-term consequences? (Many people object to animal testing because of possible harm inflicted on subjects—why would we want to conduct social experiments on our own progeny, even if the outcome is only potentially devastating? This is where the self-focused nature of the same-sex agenda argument starts to shine through.)  In addition, the fact remains that biologically, the two sexes are clearly meant to complement one another in a way that couples of the same sex were not. (Even in infertile couples, the potential—the hardware—necessary for reproduction still exists.)


[1] From How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1999), 32.

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