What made marriage unique was the way it brought together in a single institution a whole series of essential human activities: sex, reproduction, companionship, love, responsibility for the welfare and nurture of those we have brought into being, and responsibility for their education.”-Rabbi Jonathan Sacks[i]
It is easy to dismiss the Christian objection to Same-Sex Marriage as the last desperate power play of a retreating theocracy. Each side of this debate views the other with suspicion and incomprehension; each fears the other is trying to stamp out their identity, to force their opponents to the margins of society through political power-plays. It is not good for Christians to evangelise and worship in such an atmosphere. This Quick Thought is a modest attempt to briefly explain why Evangelicals oppose Same-Sex Marriage. It might not convince proponents of SSM, but it might establish that rational disagreement is possible.
The case for marriage depends on the facts of life: first, it takes one man and one woman to make a child. Now, most humans naturally want to have romantic and sexual relationships with members of the opposite sex. However, and secondly, our appetites can lead us to seek sexual and romantic relationships with many partners. This creates a problem, due to the third fact of life: children feel a great attachment to the people who gave them life and identity; all other things being equal, we need our parents to be as committed to one another as they are to us.
If it takes one man and one woman to produce a child, it is best for that child if the man and woman are united emotionally as well as physically. Human infants need a great amount of nurture; we simply cannot thrive without love. Parental love is costly, demanding great sacrifice. Thankfully, the fourth fact of life is that parents are inclined to care for their offspring. More often than not, family is the place where we first learn to love unconditionally. But it is not easy to raise a family without encouragement and support.
These facts provide a strong reason for thinking that a permanent, faithful sexual and emotional bond between a man and a woman is the ideal foundation for creating and raising children. That’s why it makes sense to have some institution, some way of life, which promotes, protects and honours one kind of sexual relationship: the lifelong, exclusive union between a man and a woman. Marriage is aimed at the next generation; it does not exist simply to honour romantic love. To honour romance, you write a poem, not a law; it is best to celebrate passion with art, not ceremonies.
Marriage exists to promote the lifelong union of a man and a woman because such a union is the ideal foundation for the next generation. It asks men and women in sexual relationships to bond for life because such relationships naturally produce children. Of course, some people meet too late in life to have a child of their own; other couples will discover that they are infertile. Yet it makes sense for these couples to wish that they could conceive, or had conceived, children of their own. It is possible that had the elderly couple met while they were younger they would have had children. Clearly, this is not the case for same-sex relationships.
Friendship and loyalty can defeat loneliness, and should be promoted, but neither is enough to make a marriage. Neither is romance or passion. These could be present in an extra-marital affair, or in all of the relationships in an “open-marriage” or in a sterile, incestuous relationship. Self-giving, sacrificial love ought to be present in all human relationships, so that cannot be the basis of a marriage either. No, marriage is the union of a man and a woman, because the union of men and women can create and nurture new families.
So why oppose same-sex marriage?
First, given the level of family breakdown in the secularised West, it would be inadvisable for the law to teach that marriage exists for adult satisfaction, and not to create and sustain new families.
Second, it is a bad idea to have a law that replaces “fatherhood” and “motherhood” with “parenting.” The institution of marriage recognises the importance of sexual complementarity; we should not casually dispense with the presence of a father and mother in a child’s life.
Third marriage would be redefined as romantic attachment or companionship. This changes the meaning of every marriage by changing the meaning and function of the institution of marriage. People do not marry simply because they are lonely, or because they are romantically attracted to one another. They marry because they want to see another person’s face in the face of their children; their marriage says “together, we would be suited to make a new life, and to raise it, and everyone else is obliged to honour that fact!”
Fourth, the law would compel many people to honour and recognise a new form of relationship, no matter what their spiritual or moral convictions. This law would tell Jews, Sikhs, Muslims and Christians that they are wrong: sex is not for the creation of new families, but can have whatever meaning we attach to it. In the long run, some loss of religious liberty is inevitable. Given that same-sex partnerships can be legally protected without redefining marriage, the result will be a net loss of liberty for society as a whole.