After the same sex marriage ruling in the US, James Walsh finds several objections to modern day Christianity’s use of the Bible as a defence.
In the wake of the Supreme Court of America’s historical 5-4 ruling, declaring same sex marriage legal in all 50 states of the union, Facebook is awash with rainbows, people showing their support for same sex marriage in Australia, reactionary straight pride pics and God’s imminent judgement memes.
The debate on whether or not same sex marriage should be legalised in Australia will only heat up from here, as it seems in the Western world (e.g. New Zealand, Ireland and the United States) is changing and redefining marriage.
I have heard many arguments regarding the pros and cons of same sex marriage and it all seems to boil down to an individual’s religious stance. Basically, anti-same sex advocates claim that marriage is ordained by God and is an unchanging, finite social structure with a strict definition that cannot be altered.
I am not educated enough on the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist perspectives so I will mainly focus on the Christian theology. I would like to offer a different perspective to the debate about why I don’t think religion can re-enforce an individual’s stance on same sex marriage. Firstly, the main argument against same sex marriage isn’t a spiritual prerogative, but a legal matter. Secondly we have all heard the bible verses against same sex relationships regularly quoted, but often they are quoted without acknowledgment of the hypocrisy of organised religion ignoring other scriptures.
Throughout social media, I often see statuses saying “Marriage = one man + one woman” and mostly they’re in memes or articles from religious websites. This is the main point that I would like to address and it relates explicitly to why people are unwilling to legalise same sex marriage. Marriage wasn’t just between one man and one woman from the dawn of time, you may be surprised to know that the core of the argument dates back to 1961, when Australia created a legal definition to categorise marriage (this was two years before Aboriginal people were defined as people).
This definition is summarised as “The union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”
This definition echoes the modern day Christian perspective of marriage; never is it actually defined in the scriptures this way. The earliest verse that relates to marriage is Gen 2:24, that states, “… a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” – basically the crux of the religious stance on marriage. The problem with this verse is that biblical examples don’t support one man and one woman. It does suggest marriage can only be between people of different genders, but my argument is that even the biblical definition is an ever developing and evolving ideal, subject to change.
There are many examples in the Bible of the iterations that we in the modern era have collectively agreed to be things we don’t want in marriage.
The Bible begins with incestuous marriage between siblings. Either that, or Adam and Eve’s children lived in sin outside of the sanctity of marriage and engaged in pre-martial sex. We don’t condone incest in our society, but the Bible supports it, right up until you get to around Leviticus. Polygamy is also a marriage structure that is Biblically re-enforced, but the same enthusiasm for legalising polygamy isn’t as fervently prominent in the religious communities. Bible characters routinely had more than one wife without the Bible explicitly condemning their actions. Abraham = two wives, David = two wives + concubines and Solomon = seven hundred wives + three hundred concubines. God even promises David more wives if he wishes (2 Sam 12:8).
We view these stories through our modern day, Western perspectives and say to ourselves “It was a different time, we’ve learned since then.”
To which I say “YES EXACTLY” and show that the Christian definition of marriage is not a finite structure and open to change and evolution. If the corporate church can change its opinion in contrast to biblical teaching, why can’t it continue to do so with this issue?
Now this brings us to the specific Bible verses against homosexuality. Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 are the main verses quoted against homosexuality. The argument against these commandments are that in the same book the Bible tells us not to have tattoos, wear cloth made from different fabric, eat seafood and pork etc.
We habitually ignore what we consider to be “rules of the age” in contemporary religion. To those who adopt stance that the modern church does not waver in its acceptance of sin, I would draw to their attention Leviticus 20:10 “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.” Christians would probably say they don’t condone adultery, but what does that have to do with the definition of marriage? In Matthew 19:9, Jesus says “… anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Churches around the world have no problem marrying men and women who have been divorced in the past for a number of reasons and in our modern day we don’t condemn divorcees in the same way the church condemns homosexuals.
Are Christian institutions trying to stop divorced people from getting remarried? No, it is a social norm these days, demonstrating the ever-changing social influences. Are there double standards on marriage based on sexuality in organised religion? Yes there is. We can see that the definition and perceptions of marriage have changed throughout history and our cultural and personal biases influence the way we see the world. I am left with the thought that when slavery was abolished, it didn’t make white people less free; when women were allowed to vote a man’s vote didn’t count for less; with the inclusion of same sex marriage into society heterosexual marriage will not be made any less special. We have been defining and redefining our social structures since the dawn of time and we will continue to do so until the end.
This is a legal issue not a religious one, and laws can be changed.
It is only a matter of time.