As public support for marriage equality grows, many of the “pro-family” organizations in the United States are going into overdrive; most recently scheduling a “March for Marriage” in Washington set to take place on June 19, 2014. The conflict between evangelical Christianity and the LGBTQ community contains within it many different facets and arguments, and as we attempt to address them all, there is one that is too often overlooked. Repeated time and again by marriage equality opponents like Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, this overlooked claim is that marriage was “defined by God.” Now, there are times when ridiculous arguments like this one require a response … this is one of those times.
“Marriage was defined by God.” This is just a misguided thing to say, and there are three reasons why. The first reason is that marriage predates the religious context from which people like Mr. Perkins are making the claim. Religiously based definitions of things are dependent upon the beliefs that inform them. In Ancient Greece, a citizen of Athens may have very well said that marriage was defined by Zeus or Aphrodite. In Rome, somebody may have thought that marriage was defined by Mars or Venus. In present time, one may reasonably assert that marriage was defined by humanity as a form of familial organization. Supernatural beliefs are only given credence as long as there are people who believe in them, and the fact that the idea of marriage predates Christianity negates the claim that marriage was defined by the Christian God.
In order to make any claim about any concept, you must first have a working idea of what the concept is. This is to say that you must be able to define it. Opponents of marriage equality say that “marriage was defined by God as between one man and one woman.” In this case they have given a clear definition, but the problem is the assumption that there is but ONE Biblical definition. Anybody who has actually read the Bible knows that “one man one woman” is not the only form of marriage sanctioned by God. So which forms of Biblical marriage shall we accept as correct? Perhaps we should accept polygamous arranged marriage in which women are exchanged for years of service (Genesis 29:15-30)? How about we allow women to be taken as the spoils of war and treated in whatever way their conquerors see fit (Deuteronomy 20:10-15)? Maybe we should return to forced marriage in which a woman must marry her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)? As far as prohibition, perhaps we should re-visit banning interracial marriage (Ezra 10:16-44)? There are many more verses I could cite, but the point is that we cannot hold up the Bible and say “marriage is defined by God as between one man and one woman.” It certainly is not.
As time goes on, social organization changes to best suit the needs and ideals of a changing culture. In the Bible we see many forms of marriage in the Old Testament, and only one form in the New. This is not the least bit surprising. Times had changed, society had begun to re-organize, and monogamous marriage had become the socially accepted best practice. If we are to believe that God is un-changing (Malachi 3:6), then we must accept that God sanctions all forms of marriage sanctioned in the Bible, and that the “one man one woman” form was adopted by society as the most beneficial way to organize the family unit. Times continue to change, and the best way to organize now must include LGBTQ couples.
I will add, for the sake of full consideration, that marriage equality opponents also use the argument that the purpose of marriage is to produce children. Unfortunately for that argument, it just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Human beings are hardwired to enjoy sex, we are one of the few species who do it for pleasure. We allow infertile people to marry without contest, and we are fine with a couple’s decision to not have children. As for purpose, I tend to think that it’s more about love than a contract that produces children.
“Marriage was defined by God.” Which God? Which form of marriage? Why did marriage change with the times in scripture, but not today? This argument is just a small one in the company of many, but it is an irritant that persists and informs the views of people who viciously attack what they don’t understand. Marriage is about love and commitment. Religious belief does not justify the denial of it to some and not others.