In June this year, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that same-sex marriage is legal in all US states. This means that the 14 states that ban same-sex marriage must now not only recognise same sex marriages that have taken place in other states; they must also grant marriage licences to gay and lesbian couples.
In his speech after the historic decision was announced, US President Barack Obama declared that the ruling was a “victory for America”. Equating the legalisation of same-sex marriage with the triumph of equality and freedom, two of the most cherished values of the West, he added: “When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.”
The responses from many Christians in America have been swift and clear, with some describing the decision as “profoundly immoral and unjust” and others calling it a “tragic error”.
Christians can never endorse or embrace same-sex marriage for at least two reasons.
Firstly, Scripture clearly, categorically and consistently condemns homosexual behaviour as a sin (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9).
Secondly, God has ordained marriage as the permanent union between a man and a woman, the fruit of which is the procreation of new human life (Genesis 1:28). Therefore, Christians believe that marriage is not a social construct that can be subjected to changes and revisions depending on the mood and fancies of the prevailing culture.
Not only has God ordained marriage to be the intimate partnership between a man and a woman, he has also established it in human nature. Therefore, it is only in the context of real or natural marriage – i.e., marriage as God has ordained it to be – that children can benefit from the nurture provided by their father and mother in their distinctive and unique ways.
The structure of marriage and family ordained by God is critical to the wellbeing not just of the individual and his family, but that of society as a whole. As the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, promulgated in 1965, has so eloquently put it: “The wellbeing of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and family.”
Seen in this way, although marriage has to do with love and commitment, it is much more than these things. Marriage must be distinguished from all other forms of relationships because of its comprehensive nature. It is a union of minds and wills as well as an organic bodily union, which the Bible describes as the becoming of ‘one flesh’ of the husband and his wife (Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:6-8).
Maleness, femaleness and their complementarity are central to marriage. Built upon the paradox of humanity as male and female, marriage co-ordinates the similarities and differences between the two genders in such a way that each contributes what the other lacks.
As the Catholic and Protestant authors of a recent document put it: “Marriage creates ‘one body’, a new reality, ennobling the sexual union of a man and a woman by ordering it toward a common life that promotes the good of the couple, the family, and the community as a whole.” Understood in this way, marriage as God had ordained is a primordial institution of human society.
Despite President Obama’s rhetoric, marriage is not about equality. Rather, as we have seen, it is about how sexual relationships should be ordered. It is about how the family should be structured for the raising of children.
As I have argued elsewhere, if marriage is only about equality, then we should by no means stop at the legalisation of same-sex marriage. We should also allow open, temporary, polygynous, polyandrous, polyamorous and incestuous unions as long as they are between or among consenting adults who love each other.
In the wake of such a radical shift in culture, the Church will no doubt be faced with a difficult challenge because her rejection of same-sex marriage will be seen as bigoted. As some Christian writers have put it, “the Gospel itself will eventually be declared as an enemy of society”.
Amidst this sea change, the Church must remain steadfast; it must continue to uphold and promote real marriage and reject its distortions.
Obedience to God’s Word is the Church’s best witness and most compassionate service to society
“Soundings” is a series of essays that, like the waves of a sonogram, explore issues in society, culture and the church in light of the Gospel and Christian understanding.
Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the ETHOS Institute™ for Public Christianity (http://ethosinstitute.sg/).