Posted by: irreparabiletempus | May 21, 2009

The Christian(ist) Case for Gay Marriage

For the limited purpose of making the case here for gay marriage, I will assume that the traditional literal interpretation of I Corinthians 6:9-10 and the other verses condemning sodomy is correct; that is, the Bible really does condemn gay and lesbian behavior, and it is a sin (yes, my rap-battle with jadanzzy regarding the cultural meaning/absolute truth of scripture will have to be delayed, again. I’m waiting until he is sufficiently provoked to say something really rash about traditional christianity to begin it.) I will also, in a shout-out to Andy Sullivan, refer to the Christian opponents of gay marriage as “Christianists,” because I perceive them as wanting to use the state to impose Christian values on others. This is not meant as a derogatory term-I grew up among Christianists and still share many of their beliefs.

When I read discussions between Christianist opponents of gay marriage, and proponents of legalizing said marriages, I often feel that they are talking past each other. Proponents of (civil recognition of) gay marriage often make the case based upon equality; upon the inhumanity of denying hospital visits to loving couples, etc. Christianist opponents of gay marriage, when they’re not citing vague hand-wavy effects that it could have on other people’s marriages (I will extend to them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they don’t really believe these ‘arguments’) mainly rely upon the argument that the GLBT lifestyle is a sinful one, and the government should not encourage such sin by legitimizing it under the rubric of “marriage.”

So let’s suppose that GLBT sex is a sin. In fact, let’s even move it all the way up on the “sin chart” to be in the same league as the 10 Commandment sins, and look at the governmental relationship with some of those other sins. The government clearly prohibits some of the same behavior that God is not a fan of-murder, theft and bearing false witness. (There are other positive acts recommended in the 10 Commandments that the government may not explicitly mandate, like keeping the Sabbath holy, but our society with its weekends certainly is structured so as to make it easier for those who want to keep the Sabbath holy to do so.)

On the other hand, there are plenty of 10 Commandment sins that the government really doesn’t do much about. For the sake of convenience, let’s amalgamate the prohibition against adultery and coveting thy neighbor’s wife (Jesus essentially combines these two when he notes that anyone who has lusted after someone else has already committed adultery). And there’s good reason for governmental inaction here: even if we gave James Dobson full reign over the police powers of the state, it seems unlikely that people could be deterred from shooting each other lustful glances.

The distinction between criminal and non-criminal 10 Commandment seems to rest upon the tangible nature harm inflicted on others by the sin. While many marriages have been torn apart by adultery, it is not an invasion upon your person the same way a murder, or even a theft, is. In other words, the state does not really seem to be that interesting in preventing people from harming each other emotionally by committing (what Christianists would consider to be) sexual sin. fn1.

Now, Christianists naturally respond that there is a difference between not prosecuting sin, and legitimizing it by having the government allow for gay marriages. fn2. But think of how many marriages have begun with adultery? (and here I’m counting pre-marital sex as adultery, for reasons that I believe merging lanes has thoroughly hashed out here As far as I can tell, the Christianists have no problem with the government legitimizing this kind of sin.

Moreover, if we can all agree that government really should not be in the business of prosecuting sin that does not inflict tangible harm on others, then there is no reason why the government should hesitate to allow people the civil rights and protections of the state while engaging in said sin. If an adulterer is assaulted whilst in the act, he is still entitled to police protection; children that disobey their parents still are protected from excessive retaliation by Child Protective Services, and so on. Sexual sin should not (and does not) disqualify you from governmental protection. Allowing GLBTs to visit each other in hospitals if they want to seems to fall under the other categories of governmental protections.

Christianists want to use the state to signal their moral distaste for sexual sin in the form of GLBT relationships, and I understand that desire, but it just isn’t possible in a pluralistic society. Given their indifference to all of the other Biblical sins that the government doesn’t prosecute because they don’t cause harm to others, the Christianist opposition to gay marriage begins to look less like a principled Biblical stand, and more and more like a political move based upon the strong strain of discomfort with homosexuality that is still present in our society.

fn1-I know that prohibitions on prostitution are a slight hole in my theory, but I think that’s more of a class war than an actual war on sex-no one is prosecuting Spitzer as far as I can tell.

fn2-I think if Christianists were really consistent in their beliefs, they’d call for re-instatement and enforcement of the anti-sodomy laws, along with laws against premarital sex. But no one wants to live in that society, so they don’t.



  1. What I don’t understand is why the Christianists can’t just get behind the idea of removing the state from the equation altogether. If marriage is so sacred, why allow the state the power of final arbitration? Why not have civil unions for gay and straight, and reserve marriage as a sacrament to be administered by the church? All churches can be allowed to exclude people from that sacrament as they see fit. Of course, some churches will choose to marry gay couples.

    Incidentally, I find it interesting that extending the “benefit of the doubt” to gay marriage opponents means assuming that they’re flat out lying in an attempt to fearmonger.

  2. I agree that the optimal solution would be the government withdrawing from civil marriage, but I doubt that’s really on the political table; even non-Christianists like governmental affirmation of marriage.

    And, hey, I guess since God decided that lying merited a mention in the 10 Commandments while omitting any prohibition against “making ludicrously silly arguments,” maybe I am not really giving them the benefit of the doubt by assuming that they’re dissembling in their claims that gay marriages affect straight couples…

  3. I agree that my proposed solution is not politically workable at this time. I think that the refusal on the part of the Christianists to consider it, however, belies their hypocrisy. Their arguments often make the case that allowing gay marriage will lead to increasing government encroachment on religious liberties. However, when one attempts to neutralize that argument by suggesting the government remove itself from the regulation of what is at core a religious sacrament, it’s a non-starter. Which suggests to me that this is not really about religious liberty, but rather about a desire to keep homosexuals from full participation in society.

    Of course, many will admit that this is their goal and you address them in your post. There are many, however, such as the NOM-ies and Rod Dreher who proclaim this is about defending religious liberty while insisting they are not homophobic. Their refusal to consider eliminating the category of civil marriage suggests to me they are at best, unconsciously lying to themselves and at worst, deliberately lying to the rest of us.

  4. I have thought about this issue, but not to this depth.

    I never considered myself as much of a “Christianist” but after reading this, I must admit that my views align against gay marriage and perhaps at a harsher degree than the writer of this post…

    I find that the writer’s logic is sound. His understanding of the sides nuanced and pretty evenly weighed. However, I cannot help but note that it would not change my vote one bit. I would still vote against gay marriage.

    I believe that laws are there to discourage bad behavior, but I know of no law that can encourage truly good behavior. And maybe that’s the bind I find myself in… I cannot, in good conscience, vote for a measure that will encourage bad behavior. Not to say that those who engage in GLBT behavior are bad, but perhaps an attempt to say as clear as possible, we cannot condone or encourage this as good.

    That being said, if there was someway to un-polarize this issue… to provide protection and care for those who insist upon living GLBT lifestyles without encouraging it… to hate the sin and love the sinner, I’d love to hear it. Maybe it’s just me, but until we go from who’s-right-who’s-wrong mentality to how-shall-we-love mentality, we’re still in the same quandary.

    As an aside, we could look at this debate as a snapshot of the mindset of the overall population. Part of the population thinks: “GLBTs are going to hell”. Another part of the population thinks: “Who cares?”. Last two parts? “We want our way of life to be protected and validated.” & “God loves and wants us to love.” I wish more of us would be of the last mindset……

  5. @ha256-I think we differ on what the state’s role is in discouraging bad behavior. I think the state should only regulate sins that have direct negative effects on others. If the state is not allowed to “encourage or condone” sinful GLBT behavior, then the state also should not “encourage or condone” pre-marital sex, perhaps by making all couples swear an oath that they have not engaged in any sexual relations before marriage, or ban bikinis (and speedos!) since by all accounts, these types of swimwear only encourage lustful glances. (ok, maybe not speedos, but you get the point.)

    The important distinction here seems to be between “condoning” a practice, which I take to mean legalizing it-since GLBT behavior is now legal in all 50 states, that ship has sailed. The battle is now over whether allowing GLBTs the protection of civil marriage will “encourage” them to engage in more sin. I agree that such protection may eventually normalize “sinful” GLBT behavior in our society so that more of it occurs. I am at peace with that outcome because I do not believe it is the role of the state to prevent private behavior that does not directly harm 3rd parties.

    Finally, I think the Christianists’ single minded focus on banning gay marriage certainly does not appear to outsiders as a case of “hating the sin but loving the sinner.” Instead, it honestly appears as straight homophobia to most people. Being raised a Christianist and still rather sympathetic to their viewpoint, I can testify that for the most part this is not the case, but that’s how it looks to GLBTs. If we really wanted to love the sinner, I think we would allow them to have hospital visits, inheritance rights, and all the other civil protection of marriage while at the same time trying to persuade them in love that their lifestyle is sinful. It’s hard to persuade someone that you love them when you won’t let them visit their loved on in a hospital.

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