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Six quick thoughts on marriage

Governor Cuomo signs a same-sex marriage bill into law late Friday in his office at the New York State Capitol

Today the State of New York voted to legalise same sex marriage, and advocates of same sex marriage in Australia are calling on Prime Minister Gillard to follow suit. Here are six thoughts on marriage that I’ve posted to Twitter today:

1.  Historically, the institution of marriage precedes both the state and the church, and both have sought to co-opt it to their advantage.

2.  Faith communities preserve social traditions that deliver security and stability to a community and facilitate human flourishing.

3.  Faith communities have a legitimate interest in ensuring that such social traditions are reflected in civil law.

4.  The state may make laws that either affirm or deny a faith community’s convictions about marriage and family.

5.  The state may not compel a faith community to act contrary to its convictions about marriage and family.

6.  Part of the problem we face today is that many Christians wrongly assume that the state exists to serve the church and its interests; and many secularists wrongly assume that the church ought to have no influence on matters of law and policy.

My personal view is that it may be preferable to formally separate the legal and religious aspects of marriage, as is already done in many countries. This would help to reduce the constant war of words between those for and against same sex marriage (in which neither side will back down), and it would allow Christians and others whose religious faith shapes their understanding of marriage to emphasise those values in a ceremony in which the state does not intrude.

Your thoughts?

Categories: Uncategorized

Rod Benson

Theologian, researcher, teacher, writer, foodie, husband, dad. Works at Moore Theological College.

4 replies

  1. Some good thoughts there.

    I find it interesting to see the way the term ‘marriage equality’ is being used for this – strictly speaking it’s begging the question, as marriage, as it is defined in Australian law already applies equally to all Australians: there is not unfettered freedom to marry whomever we love (which is also a fairly modern change in the assumption of what marriage ought to be btw), it’s just that for some, these caveats are more or less in line with their desires (e.g. two heterosexuals might also be excluded from marriage if one of them is already married – is that inequality in the law because they can’t ‘marry the person they love’?) The rhetoric of ‘right to marry whoever we love’ is floored for this reason (unless one wishes to advocate polygamy as well). The issue shouldn’t be that the right to marry is unfettered, but whether or not the caveat of ‘opposite gender’ should be upheld or not.
    So the argument isn’t about having ‘equal access’ to marriage, it’s about changing the definition of what constitutes marriage.
    My view is that the government can recognise as a marriage whatever they see fit and if they want to recognise same-sex unions as marriages, then that’s up to them. I don’t buy the religious-right rhetoric that it will undermine the traditional family unit (we’re far too complicit in not stemming the tide of divorce to have any high-ground really) however, churches should have to the freedom to act within their conscience and not be required to officiate or bless same-sex unions.
    If we think we’ve got a better model of what marriage is, the best way forward is to live them!

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with what Andrew Finden just said above and believe that the religious-right rhetoric that gay marriage will undermine the traditional family unit is not evidence-based and carries no traction among thinking young leaders today.

    With regard to the idea that churches should have to the freedom to act within their conscience and not be required to officiate or bless same-sex unions — if you read this article reporting on the decision in New York State that is almost exactly the intent of the legislation that was enacted after careful negotiation to protect the rights of those clergy and faith groups who have such convictions that don’t align with the state: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/nyregion/religious-exemptions-were-key-to-new-york-gay-marriage-vote.html

    I think its a model that can be replicated with some success everywhere – even here in AUS.

  3. I believe that Rod, Andrew and Clair have missed the point somewhat. The Bible is the fully inspired Word of God which was given to us by revelation as a basis for life and understanding both ourselves, our surroundings and our purpose. The Bible declares in Genesis that in the beginning God made us and that he made us Male and Female. It even repeats itself for emphasis immediately after saying that and says it another way. Male and Female He made them.
    It also introduces the fact that God recognised that it was not good for man to be alone and as a result God formed woman from a rib taken out of Adam. If you jump forward to the book of Romans in the New Testament it says because they (those who are ungodly) refused to accept God as the creator He gave them over to homosexuality and other unseemly things. This isn’t just a decision that people can choose to make. There are higher things involved here.
    Marriage is a Covenant first between a Man and a Woman. Further than that it is a blood covenant as is indicated when a man marries a virgin and they first have intercourse.
    Covenant is about faithfulness and there is something in what Andrew wrote to speak to the Church concerning how we have not discouraged in greater measure the practice of divorce. Jesus said to the pharisees, Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of your hearts but from the beginning it was not so. Like God each of us as Christians must love the sinner but turn away from the sin. God Himself is recorded as speaking to Caine the first murderer and said “sin is crouching at the door, but you must master it”. In the same way a man is told several times in the book of Proverbs to avert his eyes from that which would tempt him and take him away from God and godly behaviour.
    In response to Rod’s point number 4. “The state may make laws that either affirm or deny a faith community’s convictions about marriage and family.”
    This is possibly a pragmatic view and one which on the surface we could agree with however in the case of Marriage I personally say NO! based on the Bible once again.
    There is no such thing as the so called “same-sex marriage”. It is a contradiction in terms.
    That term has been introduced to sanitise and seem to make more acceptable by association with the word marriage something that is anathema to God.
    As Christians we have every right to stand up and say NO!
    Our natural laws are a reflection of the Biblical law set down by God Himself. The Apostle Paul refers to the law of God as written in the Old Testament as our “school master to bring us to Christ”.

  4. I have long believed that the church shouldn’t act as an agent of the State in respect of marriage, not only as a response to the same sex marriage issue.

    I don’t think that we can adequately critique what the State does to marriage if we are part of the system.

    While the church’s role as an agent of the State has a long history, it lacks Biblical warrant and is not, as you say, Rod, a universal state of affairs.

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