Foundations: Why Should Christians Support Traditional Marriage?
Christians — especially evangelicals and Catholics — are known for opposing homosexuality in general, and gay marriage in particular. It’s almost as if we’re the “anti” group: anti-this, anti-that. The reality is that we’re actually a “pro” group: pro-marriage, pro-children, pro-community, pro-society. Believing Christians support marriage — the traditional kind, between a man and a woman. We see marriage as a distinct human good worth honoring and protecting. So naturally we oppose what threatens this good thing. As you’ll see, that’s the reason we’ve stood against gay marriage.
We have biblical reasons for our position, of course. Five basic passages speak to God’s prohibitions on homosexuality: Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10. Some have looked at that, though, and concluded, “Then I don’t think much of the Bible.” They don’t realize that God is a God of love. He isn’t looking for ways to kill our fun, but rather to enhance our lives according to the design by which He designed us. He knows us better than we know ourselves, after all. It is He who made marriage to be the good that it is. His instructions on it, including his commands regarding sex, are primarily for the purpose of keeping it the good thing He intended it to be.
Still, many would say He went too far in limiting marriage the way He has. What’s wrong with a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, enjoying the same kind of relationship that a man and a woman can enjoy?
The answer is that it’s not the same kind of relationship. It can’t be. Man-woman marriage is a unique relationship not matched by same-sex couples, and it has unique importance, too.
Marriage is a Unique Relationship
Marriage differs from all other relationships in that it is the one best setting in which to raise children, build communities, and build a stable, enduring society.
This used to be uncontroversial. There was a time when everyone knew that being married meant having kids (unless medical circumstances prevented it), and that kids need a mom and a dad. The latter fact is still true, and you don’t need tons of research to show it. Kids know. Just ask any 14-year-old, “Are your parents still married, still loving each other, still getting along?” If they say yes, ask, “Are you glad?” If they say no, ask, “Do you wish it could be that way?” You already know how they’ll answer.
But sex has now become separable from having kids, so it’s also separable from marriage, which also makes marriage separable from “having a family.” Therefore, for many people, there’s no essential connection between marriage and raising children. Marriage isn’t about the family anymore, it’s about the couple. If they decide to have kids, even that decision in many ways is about the couple, too: what they want, what they “need,” what they think they and their budgets can handle. In all these ways, marriage is about the pair; it’s a “just you ’n me, babe” affair.
What Happens With “Just You ’n Me, Babe” Marriage
That’s not what marriage was meant to be, and it’s also not a great way to keep marriage strong. “Just you ’n me, babe,” can easily turn into, “What? You and me? Still?” When the marriage no longer fulfills the function the couple thought it was meant to fulfill, many decide to end it.
So now, generations of children are reeling now from divorce. It’s confusing, painful, and harmful to them. But the effect spreads further than that. Twenty years ago, Robert Putnam observed that we were “Bowling Alone” — the title of his book on our culture’s loss of a sense of community. This, too, is an effect of our changing views on marriage and children. When marriage is about family and the next generation (as well as being for the couple, naturally), couples tend to invest in community; but not so much when home life is more about “just you ’n me, babe.”
On an even broader scale, today’s angry, polarized politics demonstrate how we’ve lost the ability to get along when we disagree — a skill people should be learning in families and neighborhoods as they grow up.
Marriage has great benefit, then, for children, for communities, and for society as a whole. And if that’s not enough reason to support it, many studies have shown the single greatest individually-controllable difference between poverty and abundance is marriage.
Marriage Needs Societal Support
Still, one might ask what all this has to do with gay marriage. Sure, it’s good for straight couples to raise families. What is there about that, though, that makes it bad for gays and lesbians to marry?
We could answer by pointing to biblical passages such as those mentioned above, or the many, many more that honor marriage as it should be honored. For those who accept the Bible’s authority, that much should be sufficient. Not everyone accepts that, though, obviously. What answer do we give them, to show that the Bible isn’t outdated on this?
There are many answers, actually. We only have space to focus on one here. It’s about protecting marriage from further destruction. Marriage needs social support. It’s difficult staying married. What starts as starry-eyed romance quickly devolves into the hard realities of living in close quarters with a flawed human partner. (Your spouse’s spouse is flawed, too.)
Where marriage is honored and supported, couples tend to work through these problems. Where marriage is devalued, spouses are far more likely to see the relationship as tentative throw-away. If it works, it works; if not, then, “Oh, well.” And that is a far cry from, “We’re committed to making this work.”
Strong Families, Strong People
The strength of a marriage is partly a function of the couple, the depth of their personal commitments, and their own emotional and relational health. It’s also a function of their local circle of support or non-support, as well as the broader culture’s effects on marriage. That last item, the broader culture, has become virtually indifferent to marriage. But indifference amounts to toxicity in this case, because where support for marriage is weak, marriages tend to suffer for it.
All of this contributes to a cycle of weak, short, painful marriages, leading to adults who haven’t discovered what it really means to grow up in loving, responsible relationships. It also helps address the other answer that 14-year-old might give: “Oh, you don’t know my dad. I can’t imagine being around him.” Or even the answer, “But I don’t know my dad.” There’s no quick, easy answer to that kind of loss, but the eventual, long-term answer must include stronger families for boys and men to grow up in.
Gay Marriage Puts a Stamp of Approval on the Death of Marriage
But still, what does this have to do with gay marriage? We’re getting there, don’t worry, but we had to lay some groundwork first, for a culture that’s forgotten what marriage was meant to be.
Today’s rampant marriage problems began 50 to 70 years ago in the heterosexual community. Gay marriage isn’t primarily to blame for starting us down that road. But since gay marriage is inherently “just you ’n me, babe” — where children can never be an intrinsic effect of the relationship — it represents a legal and social stamp of hearty approval on everything our culture has been doing to undermine real marriage. Gay couples can adopt, but if they do, it’s a decision made by and for “you ‘n me,” too; and it’s certainly not inherent to the kind of relationship they have.
And the best research to date by far shows that kids do better with a mom and dad than with same-sex parents. I say “to date,” because anyone who tells you the research is finished and settled is wrong. We have reams of research on the good that a mom and a dad can do for their kids, but it’ll take decades to discover how gay parenting really works out for children. (How our society agreed it was okay to experiment on kids this way in the meantime is beyond imagining. It’s appallingly unethical — especially since the early results are not encouraging.)
When the U.S. Supreme Court approved of same-sex marriage, it said in effect, marriage isn’t for children, and it’s not really so much for future generations, either. It’s for the satisfaction of the couple, and some legal benefits besides. The state decreed that the next generation wasn’t all that important anymore.
This is just one negative effect of gay marriage. Others may be found in the recommended resources below.
Speaking of “Hearty Approval”
For our choices in support of marriage that builds the next generation, Christians have a reputation as haters. There’s more than a little stereotyping going on there, and perhaps some projection, too. When we look at how gays have targeted Jack Phillips and his bakery in Colorado, for example, it’s hard to see that as anything but hate in action. They don’t need him to supply the services they’ve demanded. These activists just want to see him buckle, or be forced into either compliance or massive penalties. They want him serving as an example to the rest of us. Similar things could also be said about forced compliance with transgender demands.
The Christian answer is to stand firm with the truth, speaking it in love (Ephesians 4:15), letting our speech be both wise and gracious (Col 4:6-7); and especially avoiding stereotyping gays and lesbians. Our greatest pushback — the worst anti-Christian hatred — comes from activists, and they’re a minority of homosexual and transgender persons. In any event, we’re to seek to follow Jesus’ example of truth and grace (John 1:14, 18). For the good of both today’s generation and the future, though, we must continue to support traditional marriage.
Critical Conversations: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Discussing Homosexuality With Teens by Tom Gilson
Can You Be Gay and Christian?: Responding With Love and Truth to Questions About Homosexuality by Michael Brown
Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage by Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet
What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George
Speaking of Homosexuality: Discussing the Issues with Kindness and Clarity by Joe Dallas