Not many years ago it was unutterable, except perhaps as a schoolyard can-you-top-this, or as urban legend. Yet it is one of the most sensational issues of our time, and an almost-impossible topic to avoid. And, from what I’m hearing, it’s not always easy for people like you and me to articulate the reasons we oppose it. It’s called “same-sex marriage.”
“I know why same-sex marriage is wrong,” I often hear, “but I’m not sure how to articulate its dangers.” Christian friends are looking for a way to relate to those who may not hold the same views, and that’s wise.
To be clear, our religious beliefs do offer legitimate reasons to oppose same-sex marriage. But if we’re to win this important debate and win hearts and minds, we must be able to articulate our convictions in culturally relevant ways.
I’ve had the opportunity to take this debate into the university setting many times, this is what I hear from aggressive proponents of gay marriage:
• They’ve argued that denying them marriage is denying them the ability to have a loving commitment with another person. Frankly, that’s just not true. People love others and commit to others all the time—we just don’t always call it “marriage.”
• Advocates often argue that they are being denied a civil right. There are two problems with this. First, laws have already been established defining certain conditions under which people may marry. The would-be spouse must be an adult, cannot already be married to another, cannot be closely related to the person he or she is marrying, and they must marry another human. In other words, restrictions have always existed. No one has ever been able to marry anyone simply because they loved them. Second, many civil rights leaders, including Rev. Jesse Jackson, have rejected the comparison between the fight for same-sex marriage and the fight for civil rights. As Jackson said, “Gays were never declared 3/5 human by the Constitution, and they never needed a Voting Rights Act.”
• Others argue that it’s unfair that married couples have benefits others don’t. Well, again, there are reasons for that, and it’s tied to childrearing. But marriage is not a bundle of government benefits. It’s about something much bigger than that. If the goal is government benefits, then that should be the issue, not redefining marriage to accommodate the desires of some adults.
• More profoundly, though, one of my debate opponents has argued that moral claims must have some genuine connection with human well-being: so not just any reason is a moral reason.
I don’t disagree. In fact, the historic moral precepts of Western civilization generally—and Christianity specifically—are based on that very question: What is best for people? And I believe that the reasons for restricting marriage are, indeed, tied to human well-being and the common good.
In other words, it’s precisely because same-sex marriage is not in the best interests of society that we oppose it.
First, though, let’s be clear about what this issue is not about. This issue is not about whether homosexuals are equal citizens who deserve to be treated with dignity. They are, and they do.
The issue is about the public purpose of marriage. And, if that public purpose of marriage has served us well, can it—or should it—accommodate the desires of those espousing same-sex marriage and same-sex families as the social equivalent of natural marriage?
Private reasons for entering into marriage—or any other relationship for that matter—vary widely. But the public purpose has remained virtually unchanged throughout human history.
Humanity knows many different forms of relationships: close friendships, cousins, aunts and uncles, and nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters. Why is it that every society throughout human history has favored the relationship between a man and a woman who commit to one another? And why is it that this unique relationship is called “marriage,” and nothing else is?
For those answers, we can turn to anthropologists. They tell us that natural marriage—a union between a man and a woman—is humanly and historically universal. Never, until the last few milliseconds of human history, has any society had homosexual marriage.
Anthropologist Edward Westermarck, in his work The History of Human Marriage, explains that marriage:
1. Has always involved men and women.
2. Has existed from primitive times in all human societies.
3. Always exists to serve the family. It never exists solely for individuals or for couples. (Marriage does benefit adults—often richly—but that’s not the primary reason cultures have favored marriage.)
Westermarck and other anthropologists tell us marriage has always been about the next generation.
So, on every land mass, throughout human history, marriage between a man and a woman has been the social norm. There are simply no exceptions! And in each of those societies, the public purpose has centered on the well-being of children.
Why is this universally true? Is it merely the result of broad-scale religious indoctrination? Is this a right-wing conspiracy?
Far from it. Simply put, marriage transcends religion, politics, culture, and law. Indeed, it appears that human nature requires marriage.
Reams of social science, as well as medical and psychological research, makes this case and scream “caution” in proceeding with any dramatic change regarding marriage.
An Untested Social Experiment
Remember what’s being proposed here: same-sex marriage advocates are asking all of us to commit our society and coming generations to an untested social experiment where gender—shown in the irreplaceable value of male and female—is not essential to the family.
How do we know if this will be good for children, adults, and the community? No society has ever reared a generation of children in same-sex homes, so we can’t really know how it will affect children.
Paul Nathanson, a professor at McGill University in Canada and a practicing homosexual, says that “advocates of gay marriage have made no serious attempt to consider the possible harms, and object to those who want more time to assess the evidence from other periods or other cultures.”
Nathanson is right. In fact, though humanity has not considered homosexual marriage until very recently, there is a culture we can examine for understanding this issue. Scandinavian countries approved same-sex marriage about 10 years ago and the impact on marriage has been devastating.
Since legalization, the out-of-wedlock birthrates and the divorce rates have risen sharply. In Sweden, the divorce rate among gay men is 50 percent higher than the heterosexual divorce rate. For lesbian women, the divorce rate is 170 percent higher. The effect of these divorces is significant. These high rates of divorce lower cultural esteem for marriage. Worse, gay marriage separates marriage from parenting. It says that marriage is about adult desires, not the needs of children. Scandinavians are buying that message, and marriage is in a steep decline, as is child well-being.
Here in the United States we have had experience with two of the things same-sex marriage advocates are asking us to consider. Specifically, a generation ago, we were asked to redefine marriage and family, at least subtly; and to believe that gender does not matter to the family.
More than 30 years ago, Americans created “no-fault divorce” (NFD). This was a redefinition of marriage, an untested social experiment with the family, though much more subtle than what we’re being asked to consider today. The no-fault divorce experiment said marriage should only last as long as one partner wanted it to last, and implicitly said that it was almost exclusively about adult happiness, not child well-being. That was a dramatic shift in thinking, and society has paid the price.
Glenn Stanton, a sociologist and marriage expert, puts it this way: “NFD advocates told us that it was simply love, and not family structure, that made a family. And even though we didn’t have any experience with widespread divorce, NFD advocates assured us it would all work out fine.”
Thirty years of experience with millions of divorced families indicate it wasn’t such good idea.
Every major study since then—and there have been thousands—shows that the divorce experiment hurt children and adults. Badly. Worse than anyone ever imagined.
What we know, beyond any doubt, is that children from single-gender homes are much more likely to commit crimes, go to jail, have children out of wedlock, drop out of school, abuse drugs, experience emotional trouble, commit suicide, and live in poverty. Name the social problem, and it’s tied to family dissolution.
Judith Wallerstein, a University of California–Berkeley professor, has studied children of divorce for 30 years. Looking back on her life’s work and the no-fault divorce experiment, she laments:
“In our rush to improve the lives of adults … we made radical changes in the family without realizing how it would change the experience of growing up. We embarked on a gigantic social experiment without any idea of how the next generation would be affected. If the truth be told, and if we are able to face it, the history of divorce in our society is replete with unwarranted assumptions that adults have made about children simply because such assumptions are congenial to adult needs and wishes.”
The same-sex marriage experiment follows this same path. It asks us to redefine marriage based on huge, unproven assumptions driven largely by the wishes of adults rather than the needs of children.
And, like the no-fault divorce advocates of the ’60s and ’70s, same-sex marriage advocates are telling us that parental gender does not matter for the family and for children.
Does Gender Matter?
But we don’t have to wonder how a one-gender family will impact children. We know from 40 years of experience with the explosive growth of “intentionally fatherless families.”
Thousands of conclusive social science, medical, and psychological investigations published in hundreds of professional journals have shown that: children without fathers are half as likely to do well in and graduate from school; they are more likely to require professional attention for physical or emotional problems; they are at an elevated risk for physical abuse or death; they are less likely to develop empathy for others; they are less confident; and they are more likely to spend time in jail and have children out of wedlock.
All things being equal, children raised apart from their fathers—even if that father is replaced by another loving parent figure—suffer serious declines in every important measure of well-being.
Let us be clear: A good, compassionate and just society always comes to the aid of fatherless or motherless children. But a good, compassionate, and just society never intentionally creates fatherless and motherless children.
Fathers matter as male parents, not just as a second set of unisex hands to chip in with the housework and childrearing.
Child psychologists for 40 years have been telling us how mothers and fathers parent differently, and how healthy child development demands this difference.
• Fathering scholar Dr. Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School says dads matter simply because “fathers do not mother.”
• Psychology Today explains, “Fatherhood turns out to be a complex and unique phenomenon with huge consequences for the emotional and intellectual growth of children.”
• A scientific review of more than 100 published studies on the benefits of child-parent relationships found that “overall, father love appears to be as heavily implicated as mother love in offspring’s psychological well-being and health.”
Very simply, the same-sex family is problematic because same-sex families intentionally deprive a child of either a mother or a father just because adults want it that way.
But this is not about the value of homosexuals as human beings. Indeed, their value is beyond dispute. They are loved by God as we all are.
But if we go the route of same-sex marriage, it means we will be subjecting our children to another state-sanctioned social experiment on the family, fueled largely by adult wishes.
The public purpose of marriage is primarily to take children from childhood to healthy adulthood. Its purpose is legitimate. It is tied to human well-being and the common good … and it thrives when men and women join together to parent children.
Any time we intentionally remove an essential part of humanity from the family—be it male or female—we have a family that will fail to function as society and children need it to. If we allow this shift to occur, we will fail our children and coming generations.
Randy Hicks is president of the Georgia Family Council, a non-profit organization that works to strengthen and defend the family in Georgia by impacting communities, shaping laws, and influencing culture. For more information, go to www.georgiafamily.org, call (770) 242-0001, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
GOD’S GIFT TO MAN: The Biblical View of Marriage
It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true: Eve really was God’s gift to Man. The story in Genesis 2 is the bedrock of biblical marriage. After naming the animals and finding no suitable helper for himself, Adam encounters his newly—and perfectly—created wife, God’s gift to him. He greets her with joy and relief, uttering the first recorded human words in poetic verse:
“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.”
Adam rejoices! He is no longer alone. The author of Genesis explains: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” God creates this first woman from the first man’s bone and flesh, his very body, the author reasons, so human marriage is a “one flesh” union. Those two words are central to the biblical definition of marriage.
First, he says, a marrying man is to leave his father and his mother. Although his parents have given him his very life out of themselves, and although his early attachment is to them, his primary loyalty is to be elsewhere.
Second, a married man is to cling to his wife. This is the positive complement of leaving his parents, and suggests a profound union of husband with wife, so that his primary identification in all of life is with her. The outcome? They become “one flesh.”
This is a fully shared life. Overriding even blood relationships, marriage is the most profound bond that exists between two human beings; within it nothing can be withheld.
In Genesis 2, God creates marriage when he makes the first woman out of the flesh of the first man, so that the bond of marriage reunites man and woman as “one flesh.” All other relational claims are subordinate to those of marriage. “One flesh” entails a lifelong, exclusive clinging of one man to one woman, one life fully shared. Marriage puts a barrier around the two and destroys all barriers between them; they belong fully to one another, and to one another only.
In Ephesians 5:22–33, Paul calls marriage a “mystery” that reveals Jesus Christ and the church, drawing parallels between the Christian marriage of a man and a wife and the ultimate marriage of Christ and His church. The betrothal of the Church to Christ and the union of the believer with Christ are not mere metaphors; they are the reality to which a Christian marriage points.
In Jonathan Edwards’ lofty prose: “Then the church shall be brought to the full enjoyment of her bridegroom, having all tears wiped away from her eyes; and there shall be no more distance or absence. She shall then be brought to the entertainments of an eternal wedding-feast, and to dwell forever with her bridegroom; yea, to dwell eternally in his embraces. Then Christ will give her his loves; and she shall drink her fill, yea, she shall swim in the ocean of his love.”
Inspired by and adapted from R. C. Ortlund, Jr. in The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology.