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I’ve heard it many times. Last week was only the most recent. A pundit on the radio opined that opposing gay marriage is “Neanderthal” because he believes, “people should be able to marry whoever they want.” This was a well known talking head giving voice to a sentiment shared all across this fruited plain. On college campuses, around dining room tables, and in not a few of our churches, gay marriage marches on by the simple logic that says: what business do we have telling people who they can or can’t marry?

As impressive as the argument sounds–barreling down at us with the strong force of moral superiority and the implicit charge of intolerance–the logic is less than meets the eye.

Let’s think about what is not at stake in our culture’s debate over gay marriage.

  • The state is not threatening to criminalize homosexual behavior. Though many Americans believe the behavior is wrong (and until fairly recently homosexual acts were against the law in some states), the debate at present is not about whether homosexuality is legal or not. No one questions that it is.
  • The state is not going to prohibit homosexuals from committing themselves to each other in public ceremonies or religious celebrations.
  • The state is not going to legislate whether two adults can live together or profess love for one another.

The issue is not about controlling “what people do in their bedrooms” or “who they can love.” The issue is about what sort of union the state will recognize as “marriage” and confer all the benefits thereof. The state doesn’t tell us who we can be friends with or who we can live with. You can have one friend or three friends or a hundred. You can live with your sister, your mother, your dog, or your buddy from work. You can celebrate your relationship with your grandma or your college roommate however you want. But none of these relationships–no matter how special–are marriages. The state’s refusal to recognize these relationships as “marriage” does not keep us from pursuing them, enjoying them, or counting them as significant.

The debate is often cast as freedom (those who support anyone marrying anyone) versus oppression (those who want to tell you who you can marry). Conservatives are losing the debate because that’s the narrative being told in a thousand television episodes, in a thousand songs, and by an increasing number of politicians and educators. But in the long run, the triumph of gay marriage (should it triumph as a cultural and legal reality) will mean the restriction of freedoms for millions of Americans.

This will happen in obvious ways at first–by ostracizing those who disagree, by bullying with political correctness, and by trampling on religious liberty. Surely, Christians must realize that no matter how many caveats we issue, not matter how much we nuance our stance, no matter how much we encourage or show compassion for homosexuals, it will not be enough to ward off the charges of hatred and homophobia. We will have many opportunities in the years ahead to walk in the steps of Jesus who when reviled, did not revile in return, and when he suffered, did not threaten but continued to entrust himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23).

But gay marriage will challenge our freedoms in others way too. It’s not just Evangelicals, traditional Catholics, and Mormons who will be threatened. Once the government gains new powers, it rarely relinquishes them. There will be a soft tyranny that grows as the power of the state increases, a growth that is intrinsic to the  notion of gay marriage itself.

Marriage a Pre-Political Institution

In the traditional view, marriage is what it is. It’s the union of one man and one woman. That’s what marriage is, before the state calls it as such or confers any benefits on it. Marriage, in the traditional view, is a pre-political institution. The state doesn’t determine what defines marriage; it only recognizes marriage and privileges it in certain ways. So “gay marriage” is actually “so-called marriage” because the state does not have the authority to redefine a pre-political reality.

In the revisionist view, by contrast, there is no is to marriage. To be fair, some advocates of gay marriage would say monogamy is still essential to marriage. That is, the one person-one person relationship, for some revisionists, still constitutes the essence of marriage. But many supporters would not make this claim. In fact, many are open that their end goal to abolish all bourgeois marriage. Even the ones that do promote monogamy find it hard to maintain logical consistency. If monogamy is what marriage is, then can a brother and sister be married? What about an acquaintance you meet on the internet with no intention of ever meeting in person? Can these two be married? Surely, the revisionist won’t want to say sexual intimacy is what makes marriage marriage. For then they too would be in the business of telling adults who they can and can’t marry. If your love isn’t sexual it doesn’t count.

And by what logic should marriage be restricted to two persons? Already in California a three-parent law is in the works. Multiple-person marriages will not be far behind. Why can’t three people be married? Or four or fifteen? And why should exclusivity have anything to do with it? Surely, we don’t want to stop adults from being married to whomever they want, even if they want to be married to six people at the same time.

This may sound like extreme reductio ad absurdum, but the premise behind these examples is already well on its way to being established. Once you argue that we have no right to refuse marriage to those who want their relationships to be defined as marriage, you’ve sold the definitional farm. You’ve effectively denied that marriage has any essence of its own. Marriage is whatever the state wants it to be.

What an irony: the many young people (and a growing number of young Christians) who support gay marriage on libertarian grounds are actually ceding to the state a vast amount of heretofore unknown power. No longer is marriage recognized as a pre-political entity which exists independent of the state. Now the state defines marriage and authorizes its existence.

Divine Design and the Common Good

One of the reasons gay marriage enjoys increasing support is because it doesn’t appear to harm anyone. The only threat, is seems, comes from those who defend traditional marriage and wish to force their morality on others. Our culture is fickle. It says “live and let live” when it comes to the most powerful human bonds and the most enduring institutions, but it insists on protecting the “other” with fundamentalist zeal when it comes to trans fat, cigarettes, and carbon emissions.

The unspoken secret, however, is that homosexual behavior is not harmless. Homosexuals are at a far greater risk for diseases like syphilis, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, gonorrhea, HPV, and gay bowel syndrome. The high rate of these diseases is due both to widespread promiscuity in the gay community and the nature of anal and oral intercourse itself. Homosexual relationships are usually portrayed as a slight variation on the traditional “norm” of husband-wife monogamy. But monogamy is much less common among homosexual relationships, and even for those who value monogamy the definition of fidelity is much looser.

Gay marriage will also be harmful for our society. We must consider why the state has, for all these years, bothered to recognize marriage in the first place. What’s the big deal? Why not let people have whatever relationships they choose and call it whatever they want? Why go to the trouble of sanctioning a specific relationship and giving it a unique legal standing? The reason is because the state has an interest in promoting the familial arrangement which has a mother and a father raising the children that came from their union. The state has been in the marriage business for the common good and for the well-being of the society it is supposed to protect. Kids do better with a mom and a dad. Communities do better when husbands and wives stay together. Hundreds of studies confirm both of these statements (though we all can think of individual exceptions I’m sure). Gay marriage assumes that marriage is re-definable and the moving parts replaceable.

By recognizing gay unions as marriage, just like the husband-wife relationship we’ve always called marriage, the state is engaging in (or at least codifying) a massive re-engineering of our social life. It assumes the indistinguishability of gender in parenting, the relative unimportance of procreation in marriage, and the near infinite flexibility as to what sorts of structures and habits lead to human flourishing.

It may seem Neanderthal to think the state should not confer the rights and privileges of “marriage” upon whomever it chooses by whatever definition it pleases, but give it time. Experiments in sexual freedom have a tendency to blow up in the laboratory of real life. Would anyone say the family is stronger today because of the sexual revolution and no-fault divorce laws? Human nature and divine design are not set aside as easily as our laws and traditions.

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73 thoughts on “A Few Things to Consider Before Supporting Gay Marriage”

  1. David says:

    Also, 1st Cor. 6:9 is a stern warning.

  2. Emily says:

    Patrick, I no longer wish to pick this apart- I am jaded towards westernized Christianity and know that’s not the place God wants me to come from- however, I fail constantly at being un-jaded because of the repercussions I see from it.
    I am a bible believing Christian- I know what God’s word says and take to seriously – I don’t pick and choose a you suggest- i study the context & meaning behind the word and attempt to live it as best as I am able. As for the balance of truth and love in our relation with non-believers – we don’t see eye to eye- I am not going to debate it anymore – I have said my thoughts.

  3. Carly says:

    So much of this article is incorrect. How many anyone take this seriously?

  4. K says:

    To take a step back a bit, the article appeals to a common good and the role of the state in making its case against homosexual marriage. This is, in my opinion, shortsighted because it holds to a purely republican (small “r”) view of government and society that no longer holds for the United States (if it ever did).

    To speak of the common good assumes that representative government is accountable to the people only in making the best decisions (as opposed to fulfilling the expressed wishes of the people). In other words, in a republican society, citizens relinquish their individual choice in exchange for the [better] judgment of the state (via representatives) in determining what is best for all people. Additionally, the state is viewed primarily as a means to preserve society and culture and tradition, again based on the common good. Perhaps I’m wrong, but this seems to be the perspective on government that is in view (and lines up with conservative Christian theological views on the divinely ordained role of government).

    Again, this boils down to a difference in worldview that needs to be clearly articulated, because liberal democratic government is not based on the same principles. Instead, in democratic government, representatives carry out the will of the people, rather than act on their behalf. What this means, of course, is that discussion of the “common good” doesn’t happen on the representative level, but between citizens. In democratic society, the common good is not determined by philosophy or theology, but by common consensus. And in the present culture, there is no common good at all; individual good, or at most collective good, is all that exists.

    All this is to say that the article doesn’t do itself justice in attempting to make its argument from republican principles (especially without addressing this difference in how government is viewed). Very few people today, even among Christians, view government in such a way (unless they have been taught a conservative view on government).

  5. internet says:

    This interesting article addresses the formal and material causes of today’s sexual revolution:

    “Heterosexuals will be quick to blame the [Supreme Court of the United States] same-sex marriage victory on the alliance between homosexual activists, liberal politicians, and the media but the actual battle was lost long ago.

    “It was actually lost the moment American heterosexuals succeeded in formally disconnecting sex from marriage. The idea that anyone would be able to limit the sexual revolution to heterosexual adultery and fornication was like saying, “Don’t worry, we’re only going to let one or two evils out of Pandora’s box.””

    Andy Webb is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church America and serves as Pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, NC, “The Impending Reality of the Nationwide Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage,” Monday, December 10, 2012

    Pastor Webb correctly identifies the ‘big bang’ of the sexual revolution as “the moment American heterosexuals succeeded in formally disconnecting sex from marriage.” The 1960s (and ever since) were rocked by the Pill and all of its siblings: contraception, abortion and sterilization.

    How can a pastor ever slam Gay Marriage yet allow his members to take the Pill for the last 50 years? You must either allow or reject both evils. Only a hypocrite is silent about the evil he does while railing against the evil he does not.

  6. Scott says:

    “There will be a soft tyranny that grows as the power of the state increases…”

    True. So why is the solution to fix a bad policy with another bad policy? Why not take the state out of the marriage license business? That will be hard.

    Historical research and current demographics will not support your argument that, “The reason is because the state has an interest in promoting the familial arrangement which has a mother and a father raising the children that came from their union.” First, we do not live for the State. Second, there may be a case made that supports your argument for the present day. However, marriage licenses began in post-Civil War America to prohibit whites from marrying blacks, mulattoes, and the Chinese (their words, not mine).

    The Banns of Marriage were sufficient for centuries. Marriage licensure is a relatively recent phenomenon. And once you make it a State issue, then you subject it to the Equal Protection Clause. You won’t win on a moral argument. You have to take the right back.

    Recommended reading:

    Our Enemy the State – Albert J. Nock
    From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in the Western Tradition – John Witte, Jr.

  7. Launa says:

    “Marriage licensure is a relatively recent phenomenon. And once you make it a State issue, then you subject it to the Equal Protection Clause. You won’t win on a moral argument.”

    EXACTLY. This is why these articles are so nonsensical. It is not right for the government to deny actual legal and monetary benefits based on genitalia regardless of any theological argument you can dish out. This is how they will rule because it is the most consistent with our Constitution and previous Supreme Court rulings. People that think otherwise are daydreaming. Why would you WANT the government to have that power anyways? Federal marriage is a travesty.

  8. Caleb W says:

    Two things trouble me here: the dishonest and/or ignorant scare tactics about the expansion of state power/restriction of religious freedom in this issue. And the fact that so many Christians seem to think that libertarianism is compatible with Christianity. Yikes.

  9. Rich says:

    This article is based on much misinformation. There are just a few items I’d like to point out. First, the “pre-political” institution of marriage was never pre-political. It was pre-US-political, yes, but the church and politics were intertwined for centuries. And if you look back at the most ancient marriage logs in the Catholic church, you will find same-sex unions. Also, you say homosexuals are at greater risk for STDs. Wow. It’s actually people who have unprotected sex and are promiscuous that are at greater risk, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender or their partner. Also, you say that gay marriage is harmful to society and that children do better with a mom and dad. Actually, they do better with two moms. And they do much better with two parents of any gender than with divorced or single parents. So, I would argue, the greatest risk to society regarding marriage is divorce, not same-sex marriage. And we don’t have to speculate. Look at countries that have legalized same-sex marriage. We do have a moral issue in this country. And gay marriage is not a part of it.

  10. Robert Jones says:

    In reply to K. This government is a republic. The founders conceived it as such. What you take the “common man’s view” of government today to be is Rawlsian egalitarian liberalism. Therefore, when offering the public view you have simply said, “this is what we believe.” This doesn’t help your case, because what we all believe could be completely wrong, more on this below. Before I expound, I would also like to point out that you engage in a bit of ad hominem by demeaning what you are calling “conservative view” of government. I’d like to correct you. It’s actually a “perfectionist” form of government. The founders were natural law theorists, which is highly teleological. They perceived the role of government not to simply affirm a valueless freedom that just affirmed what we conceived of as the good. Rather, the government was justified just because it did select a view of what actually had value; human dignity conferred by the imago Dei, that secured all of the goods that we today still think are worth securing.

    Let’s look at the other picture. Rawlsian contract theory says that autonomy and fairness are the rights government should secure. Rawls himself rejected that these were intrinsic values. As Nicholas Wolterstorff and Francis Beckwith have argued, egalitarian liberalism fails to justify why we should select it over any other form of government. Why do you prefer it? Because it’s what we all happen to like. This sort of liberalism cannot answer the question. On the contrary, a perfectionist liberalism rooted in natural law has rich resources to both justify why liberalism is a better form of government, but actually contributes to all the forms of limited government that we take to be intuitively liberty-promoting.

  11. Robert Jones says:

    Rich, your “facts” are falsehoods. There is not a single study out there that shows two mothers are better for children. Homosexuals are at greater risk for std’s….as evidenced by statistics. Finally, your entire argument supposes that our nature is not fixed or defined. From that I can understand that you would give preference to a genderless identification of human nature.

    Given that you are arguing with people who do believe that it’s apparent both from observation and reason as well as scripture that we all have a purpose and a function, and one of those functions is families, which can only be fulfilled in a marriage, then your position is a non-starter. I did not clarify the “type” of marriage, because marriage is a natural kind, of which only a man and woman can participate. You would do better to supply arguments on behalf of your position regarding human ontology rather than just assuming your preferred conception, and then making arguments as if we agree with those. Unfortunately, you’d be hard-pressed to defend such a conception of human nature. We do have an essence, and it is accurately described by scripture,therefore it is impossible, in principle, that two mothers could be better for the development of a child; or that it would be good for a government to confer new rights on a homosexual pairing that has no relationship to actual marriage.

  12. Robert Jones says:

    Correction. In my post above I wrote, “Therefore, when offering the public view you have simply said, “this is what we believe.” This doesn’t help your case, because what we all believe could be completely wrong, more on this below.”

    That should say …because what we all believe could be completely wrong. Both in that our definition of what our government is really is what our government is. Also, in whether not our conception of government is the way that government should be. On the first account, it is false. Our government is a perfectionist liberal state and was founded as such. While there are leaders, and many in the population, who prefer Rawlsian liberalism and think that’s what we are, they’re misguided. Their views are not consistent with what we actually are, and in order for them to secure their conception they will necessarily have to *change* what we are…which hearkens back to President Obama’s promise to “fundamentally change” this government.

    Also, to add another item in response to K in my conclusion above. I wrote, “This sort of liberalism cannot answer the question.” Because we all have the intuition that life and human dignity are intrinsically valuable and that government is only doing well if it affirms those facts. The process of securing rights, or comparing a monarchy with a democracy, would be uninteresting if we didn’t believe there was intrinsic and objective value. Natural law presents a comprehensive ontology of moral value that does affirm those facts. It also defines freedom in accordance with what we are and what we need for our well-being. Surprisingly, it turns out that many of those freedoms are consistent with our modern intuitions that have been shaped by liberal definitions of freedom. Rawlsian egalitarian liberalism is inconsistent with our deepest intuitions about political goodness. This makes it untenable and fatally flawed.
    Given that freedom on natural law affirms our freedom to pursue what the good life is actually, and not what we take it to be, the government is warranted in affirming what marriage is and in protecting the flourishing of children.

  13. K says:


    Two things.

    1) My point was not to argue what government is, or what it was conceived as. My only point in the statements that I did make (criticizing this article’s argument) was that this particular view of government, as espoused by the founders, does not reflect the present view of government and society. That is precisely my point. What follows from that is that the argument is unconvincing. It’s ineffective. Even for most Christians (to whom this article is directed), who have no background in political philosophy, much less republicanism. Furthermore, it makes for an ineffective argument to the advocates of homosexual marriage (who as equal citizens should be addressed). As much as this article argues the opposite, society shapes government, not the other way around. That is clear by the ways in which popular movements have brought societal change. This isn’t to say that government action isn’t a catalyst or enabler. But government, by nature representative, is responsive to the will of the people. That’s all I’m arguing with this point. The article (and if I read it correctly, your above argument) fails to take into account (whether its “right” or not) that American views on representative government have changed since its founding. As a result, the article’s argument is weak against this view of government. And therefore it doesn’t hold up.

    Secondly, don’t take my statements about the reality of American society as support for it. As I stated at the outset, my stance on homosexuality is that is runs counter to God’s purpose for mankind. My opposition, however, is entirely biblical.

    So why do I say all this? Rev. Mohler, among others, has suggested that we need to find better ways in which to persuade people of our views on government and the social ills of legalizing homosexual marriage (he said this after the election and the legalization of gay marriage in several states). My problem with that, as with this article, is that it makes the Christian’s task the waging of a culture war, when no such precedent exists in Scripture. And the means by which this war is waged is through philosophy (and non-biblical philosophy at that). The statement that I made above was that the only legitimate argument against homosexuality and homosexual marriage is the purely biblical argument that says that God created human beings for a purpose, and they are accountable to him for the lives that they live. Arguments from philosophy and the tools of political action are limited and carnal. We aren’t called to wage a culture war. We are called to call out the lost. None of the disciples preoccupied themselves with changing Jerusalem or Rome. They preached the gospel.

  14. Launa says:

    “The statement that I made above was that the only legitimate argument against homosexuality and homosexual marriage is the purely biblical argument that says that God created human beings for a purpose”

    This is what the anti-gay marriage movement refuses to acknowledge or admit in a legal sense. This is why banning gay marriage is inherently theocratical and why the courts will always favor gay marriage. And rightly so. I do not want to live in a country that takes purely religious arguments seriously in a court of law.

    Mohler and co. like to spin the argument to make it seem like secularists (as far as the government is concerned) and libertarians are saying that religion or religious conviction should not influence politicians or lawmakers. Uh no, it just so happens that the anti-gay marriage arguments are nothing BUT religious. There is a clear difference that they cleverly avoid.

  15. Matt says:

    “[Gay Marriage] will mean the restriction of freedoms for millions of Americans…by ostracizing those who disagree, by bullying with political correctness, and by trampling on religious liberty”


    What an absolute load of crap.

    I am a Christian and I am begging you to get out of your bubble. That statement is one of the worst things I’ve ever read, and couldn’t be further from the truth. Man oh man, to think that there are hundreds of people relying on your opinion and you give them this is super super scary.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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