A small group of evangelicals have recently founded a curious organization, Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. I will have the pleasure (sincerely) of getting together with their leading spokesperson this week at an important conference on evangelicalism and sexual ethics. In anticipating this meeting, I want to put my thoughts down regarding my general disagreements with effort and the case they make for their work.
I have three primary concerns.
- Their basic proposition – EME states in the first line of their statement “we believe you can be a devout, Bible-believing evangelical and support the right of same-sex couples to be recognized by the government as married.” And they conclude by saying, “What we should be able to agree on is this: You can be a faithful evangelical Christian and at the same time support civil marriage equality for same-sex couples.” These are two gigantic whoppers of assumption.
It is too much to get into here, but there is simply no biblically faithful case for same-sex marriage and family, either religious or civil. Nor can one make a case that is faithful to historic Christianity belief or practice. And this is not from want of trying. Some of the theological revisionist cases seeking to square this circle are better than others, but each of them are at base the same and take tremendously novel liberties with basic biblical hermeneutics.
- Religious vs. civil marriage – They make a key and I think strategic distinction between a Christian and a civil understanding of marriage. They contend they are not asking evangelical to change their theology of marriage necessarily and therefore can seemingly avoid the whole theological debate.
But this is a weak effort at distinction, like that used by supposed “pro-life” politicians on the abortion issue where they claim the tenuously tight-rope position of being “morally opposed, but will not force their beliefs on others.” Few devout, Bible-believing evangelicals – which EME says they are – have ever seen this as a reasonable position. It’s a bendy effort to have one’s cake and enjoy it to. It is the same here on marriage.
The only problem, however, is that I didn’t see any real arguments. I saw a lot of emotion. I saw appeals to injustice and craven caricatures of Christianity, but I didn’t see any real arguments. …[T]here’s not a coherent argument about the nature of marriage. And that’s what this debate Americans are having is about, isn’t it?
I agree. Such an important and complex discussion on marriage cannot ignore the fundamental question of what marriage is, either as a theological or public and social institution. But EME ignores this question in total, a serious failing. Is there a public case for what marriage is and should be as a necessary human and social institution? Of course there is and it is quite robust. Just a few quick examples are here, here and here. Plenty of others exist and are easily found.
- “Marriage Equality” – I could not reject the use of this phrase in stronger terms. It is a carefully and literally focus-group-tested rhetorical tool that the pro-SSM marriage folks started using a few years ago. To be honest, it’s very effective, but cheap and manipulative. How? “Mr. Stanton, aren’t you for marriage equality? No, I am firmly against equality.” It puts one’s opponent in a seemingly impossible position. Smart rhetorically, but inaccurate and unprincipled.
It’s similar to how a particular parenting philosophy presented itself many years ago among evangelicals called “Growing Kids God’s Way.” When our children were little, well-meaning friends would ask, “Are you guys doing Growing Kids God’s Way?” I wanted to respond, “No, we’re doing ‘Growing Kids Satan’s Way’!” as if we that were the other option.
There’s a good measure of arrogance in absolute identification choices such as these and they lay a heavy judgment on those who take a contrary position. I prefer “marriage redefinition” as it’s more straight-forward and freer of manipulative baggage. The explanation is important.
Current marriage law simply does not discriminate against gay and lesbian people. Straight out. No civil authority anywhere issuing marriage licenses queries couples if one or both of the individuals are same-sex attracted, gay, lesbian or otherwise. As long as they meet the requirements of the law, the state simply doesn’t care what their story is. It’s not their business. They don’t even care if they actually love one another. Every story we hear about a same-sex attracted person announcing they are leaving their opposite-sex spouse proves the point. On top of this, rights are conferred upon the individual citizen, not couples. So same-sex attracted people – like everyone else – enjoy marriage equality. Under current law, they can marry as freely, easily and fully as anyone else. So let’s drop the claim that traditional marriage law is discriminatory to same-sex attracted citizen, either in intention or result.
But I see your eye-roll and what it communicates.
Obviously same-sex individuals don’t want to marry under current law, they want to marry according to their relational and sexual interests. Of course. But this means they believe the current definition of marriage under law doesn’t allow them this option. Therefore, they must press for changing the way marriage is defined under current law. And that is exactly what happens when courts demand states recognize such marriages: the state must literally amend the way marriage is defined in its legal documents. This is a not an academic point.
These are just three of the reasons I think EME’s mission is ill-conceived and unlikely to plow any ground among evangelicals.