Is Same-Sex Marriage Wrong?

Introduction

When it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage, what is correct? The competing goods of this difficult quandary make it less than clear what is ideal, and individuals argue. What ensues is my method of solving this moral dilemma, which is ingrained in Christian ideas and philosophical thinking.

Explicit Biblical Guidance

First, it is necessary to see if there is any explicit biblical guidance on this issue. Does the Bible speak to the contemporary notions of dedicated same-sex marriage, and is it valid for the church now? The first point of reference is God’s first model of marriage. The very first chapter of the Bible says: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”[1] Wayne Grudem points out “Differentiation of the human race into two complementary sexes (‘male and female’) is the first fact mentioned in connection with being ‘in the image of God.’”[2] The next chapter of the Bible describes the first marriage between Adam and Eve: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Emphasis mine)[3] Jesus later mentions these two verses possibly implying the prescriptive precedent God requires for all marriages (Matt. 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-8). Paul, a disciple of Jesus also fervently reverberates the same verses in Romans 1:23-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9. Grudem states: “Jesus and Paul both assume the logic of sexual intercourse implied in Genesis: a sexual bond requires two (and only two) different sexual halves (‘a man’ and ‘his wife’) being brought together into a sexual whole (‘one flesh’).”[4] Thus, with a proper understanding of theology, the logic of Jesus and Paul is valid for the church in current times.

Furthermore, there are many other sections of Scripture that impede homosexual intercourse. In order, the passages are Genesis 19; Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; 1 Timothy 1:10; and Jude 7. Starting with Genesis 19, Preston Sprinkle has this to say, “The Hebrew word for ‘know’ (yadah) almost certainly refers to sexual intercourse here. In the same passage, Lot describes his daughters as never having ‘known any man’ (19:8), which clearly means that they were virgins, not just socially awkward. Since ‘know’ refers to sex in 19:8, it probably means the same thing in 19:5.”[5] Leviticus 18 and 20 use broad dialect that contains all types of homosexual sex and are echoed in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, meaning (as stated above) they still apply today. Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan comment on 1 Timothy 10 saying, “Here Paul applies the Ten Commandments to his contemporary context, and he includes ‘immoral men’ (pornois) and ‘homosexuals’ (arsenokoitais), emphasizing the socially acceptable active (as opposed to passive) homosexuality.”[6] Finally, John M. Frame makes this comment regarding Jude 7, “Jude agrees with Lot’s assessment, stating explicitly (in Jude 7) that the sins of Sodom were ‘sexual immorality’ and ‘unnatural desire.’”[7] All of this taken together leaves no wiggle room when it comes to the Bible’s explicit guidance on same-sex marriage. It is clear the Bible gives clear direction on the topic of same-sex marriage from both the Old and New Testaments and is valid for the church now.

Competing Goods

However, there are still competing goods in this moral dilemma. One side of the choice is to trust God, His Word, and classical Christian teaching that concludes same-sex marriage is not permissible. Beyond, wanting to avoid what is a clear sin, one of the main goods of this outcome is the view that God knows what is best for our well-being even when we do not. The other side of this choice is to either not believe the Biblical passages above (or not believe the Bible at all), or to interpret them in such a way that same-sex marriage becomes permissible. The main competing good with this view is that people ought to be able to marry and have sex with who they want to. A main driver of this good is also to be able to love (maritally) whom one wants to love.

Idealistic or Pragmatic

The question now becomes whether this dilemma is a topic of idealistic or pragmatic ethics. Given the explicit biblical guidance on the issue, I assert same-sex marriage is a topic of idealistic ethics. However, culture today is already compromising when it comes to the Bible, whether one believes only some of it or none of it. Given this reading of culture, the majority would say this is a topic of pragmatic interest. Again, split directions are obvious. Idealists want to hold to the biblical guidance while pragmatists hold to the idea of letting people love and marry who they want to, partly due to the fact people are already in loving relationships with the same sex as it is. Whereas the idealists would push the application not just to marriage, but to any romantic and/or sexual relationship.

Aretaic or Deontic

Now is this dilemma a question that supports a more aretaic slant or deontic slant? Aretaic means character-centered ethics, which concentrate on the development of virtues and the prevention of vices. While deontic means rule-centered ethics, which concentrates on the advancement of regulations and rules by which individuals should abide by. This entails carrying out one’s duty and preventing sin.[8] There is no consensus in the answer to this question either. Those who favor the idealistic ethic on the topic, also favor a more deontic slant because the Bible clearly gives the rule and principle applicable to the situation. Furthermore, because of the explicit guidance in the Bible, the act of same-sex marriage is viewed as a sin. Therefore, the deontic slant would be to avoid this; and it would be one’s duty to do so. A specifically biblical moral principle applicable is when you know the right thing to do, do it (James 4:17). Or in this case, when you know the wrong thing to do, do not do it. Another applicable biblical moral principle is one cannot serve two masters (Matt 6:24). This applies to this topic because the two opposing masters are the Bible and one’s own understanding (feelings, passion, etc.). Thus, the biblical moral principle to rightly apply is that the Bible must be the master one serves instead of whatever rationalization or justification one has for wanting to marry someone of the same sex. However, the pragmatist would argue for an aretaic slant, because, in their view, marrying someone of the same sex has no effect on character. They would argue love is a virtue and there is no vice in loving and marrying someone of the same sex. Yet, those in opposition to same-sex marriage can also speak to the aretaic slant in arguing sexual purity is a virtue, and sexual purity means only allowing sex in the context of a husband and wife. In the end, whether one supports a more aretaic slant or a deontic slant, same-sex marriage is not permissible judging purely in these terms.

Virtues or Vices

At this stage, it is proper to further consider what virtues or vices would be expected to be accustomed by each of the vying selections. Trying to view this in the light of virtues and vices can reflect a state of disorder. One who is against same-sex marriage may argue the choice promotes the virtue of prudence because practical wisdom (i.e., the Bible) would say same-sex marriage is not a good decision. They may also argue it promotes courage by sticking to the strength of one’s convictions, as well as the determination to stand firm in the face of the majority culture saying otherwise and even assuming things like hate and bigotry for their choice. They may also argue it promotes moderation and modesty because it avoids the extreme of the obvious issue at hand of having intercourse with someone of the same sex. Their view is this would be over-indulging and shameless because this is not how God designed intercourse or marriage to be. One could also argue the virtue of goodness is promoted in their position, because, again, same-sex marriage and intercourse are viewed as a sin. It simply cannot be good. This view would also argue it promotes the virtue of faithfulness, in that both parties would be faithful to the word of God by abstaining from something the Bible explicitly prohibits. It would also promote self-control because even if someone were attracted to the same sex, knowing it was a sin, they would practice self-control by abstaining from a romantic relationship with anyone of the same sex.

The vices that someone against same-sex marriage would argue would be those of lust, debauchery, vanity, and pride. Lust for someone of the same sex would be an inappropriate sexual desire and giving in to that lust would be debauchery. Pride and vanity would be applicable because one would argue the person who is in a same-sex relationship would be considering themself better than all the arguments said above in opposition to the idea (most importantly the Bible).

Looking at it from the opposite direction, one in favor of same-sex marriage would argue the choice promotes some of the same virtues. For example, they would have the courage to act in the strength of their convictions, as well as the determination to stand firm in the face of what has been considered conventional wisdom for most of history. They would also add it promotes the virtue of justice, implying that not allowing for same-sex marriage treats those of same-sex attraction unfairly according to what they deserve. Therefore, if same-sex marriage is allowed, they are given their due. As alluded to above, they also argue it promotes the virtue of love since people ought to be able to be married to those they love. They would also argue it promotes joy because they would have joy in getting to marry those they choose, without restriction. They would argue that it promotes peace because if heterosexuals can marry each other and homosexuals can marry each other, we can all be at peace. I think they would somehow argue for goodness and gentleness depending on how they define the terms and view marriage.

When it comes to vices, I think they would argue not allowing same-sex marriage promotes greed because heterosexuals would be focused on only their own needs and desires, to the exclusion of homosexuals. I think they would also argue the decision would promote wrath. This may be overstated, but they would say the view to not allow same-sex marriage comes out of anger or a hot temper. I think they could make the same argument for the choice promoting pride and vanity because those against same-sex marriage would consider themselves better than homosexuals.

Legality

Is it legal? Up until June 26, 2015, same-sex marriage was not legal in all fifty states of the U.S. On that day, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. The court ruled, passing by one vote, all same-sex marriages were to be recognized nationwide.[9] As it stands, to oppose same-sex marriage, the legality of the issue would need to be reversed. This is not an issue where civil disobedience would be right because people would have to somehow stop same-sex couples from getting married. I do not think that is practical or particularly beneficial to the cause. However, churches are not needed to recognize/bless/sanction same-sex marriage and are not needed to perform same-sex weddings. If that were the case, I think civil disobedience would be permissible.

Feelings or Emotions

Do feelings or emotions play a part in this predicament? I have a feeling (pun intended) philosopher David Hume would have a lot to say about this. In his opinion,

“No quality of human nature is more remarkable, both in itself and in its consequences, than that propensity we have to sympathize with others, and to receive by communication their inclinations and sentiments, however different from, or even contrary to our own.”[10]

All the reasoning above would play a secondary role to Hume because “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions…”[11] Furthermore, Hume says there is no logical connection between facts and values. I think he would argue there are no valid facts at play in the predicament of same-sex marriage because values are what is at play. In addition, he would argue religion is a personal matter and should certainly not be called to in this debate. One’s religious beliefs are predilections, not facts. A 21st-century edition of Hume’s posture would argue any report seeming to be of (ethical) fact that declares same-sex marriage as right or wrong is only a manifestation of one’s attitude on the topic. To Hume, emotions cut moral declarations from the sphere of the proposal and houses them in the sphere of outbursts. Consequently, one cannot dispute them because they are not fact-carrying.

Not only does this view refute itself[12] but it adds no value to resolving the dilemma of same-sex marriage. In addition, I do not think the American idea of separation of church and state precludes us from presenting any principles or values into this debate. It does not make sense that an entire worldview must be sequestered off when it comes to certain areas or discussions of the public. Anything of moral value is filtered through a worldview, and rightfully so. If that is not the case, it denies the very teachings and point of a worldview. In total, feelings and emotions do not help to resolve this dilemma.

Fundamental Principles

What path is given by the fundamental principles of the highly renowned theories of ethics? I will start with the three human inclinations of the natural law.[13] The first inclination is the preservation of life. There is no obvious way in which either side of this argument influences preservation of life, however, I will later address some of the issues below the surface that do affect this inclination.

The second inclination is reproduction and care for the young. Having exclusively heterosexual marriages does incline toward reproduction and care for the young because these marriages are typically reproducing. Furthermore, typical (not all) married couples have the innate wish to both have kids and love, take care of, and teach them. The same can not be said for same-sex married couples. They are not able to reproduce, but they can adopt love, take care of, and teach kids that way. However, studies show kids who live with their own two heterosexual married parents:

  1. Get greater learning accomplishment.[14]
  2. Are far more expected to appreciate a healthier financial model in their adult lives and are a lot less expected to wind up in deprivation.[15]
  3. Have improved physical and emotional wellbeing.[16]
  4. Remain significantly less apt to perpetrate crimes[17], remain less apt to take part in alcohol and substance abuse[18], and are further apt to live according to greater levels of honesty and ethical values.[19]
  5. Live less prone to suffer physical abuse and extra prone to stay in houses that offer aid, safety, and steadiness for them.[20]
  6. Are more probable to create steady families in the following generation.[21]

The third inclination is truth, knowledge, and peace. Given the above arguments about the Bible’s explicit teachings and God’s design for marriage, only a heterosexual marriage can qualify as truth. As I showed above, homosexuals would argue this. Looking at the aspect of knowledge, I do not think either side of the argument is influenced by this. Yet, peace is. It is logically impossible to maintain society, let alone a peaceful society if all marriages were same-sex. Reproduction would cease, and society would die out. So, when it comes to the three inclinations of natural law, the argument against same-sex marriages wins out.

What way is given by Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative? Kant’s categorical imperative has three formulations.[22] The first is to act out those principles which are universalizable – Universalizability implies everybody in each situation would concur to this principle without a dispute in their minds. Of course, the topic of same-sex marriage fails this formulation because not everyone can agree.

The second is to act out those principles that will treat individuals as ends in themselves and not as just means – The reason for this formulation is individuals are sensible creatures, and therefore have inherent nobility and value. Individuals are treated as means, although it is improper when they are treated as just means. In this case, I do not think either view on same-sex marriage is completely swayed because it is too difficult to measure. Because only God can know the hearts and minds of people, it is not fair to argue that either view is only using someone as means and not an ends.

The third formulation is to act in such a method that you trust principles which you have established autonomously – This formulation echoes Kant’s belief that we are not to trust outside establishments; instead, we are independent representatives who have together the aptitude to govern what must be completed and the competence to achieve those responsibilities. This is so close to moral relativism; its subjectivity does not lend any weight to the deliberation. So, unfortunately, Kant’s categorical imperative does not advance the dilemma.

What route is offered by the greatest happiness principle? The greatest happiness principle is just as the name implies – one should pursue the greatest happiness for the greatest number. What is meant by happiness in this context? According to philosopher John Stuart Mill “happiness consists of pleasure and the absence of pain.”[23] This too can be very subjective, especially when it comes to pleasure. Most in favor of same-sex marriage argue homosexual relationships are pleasurable, not painful. Yet, medical findings would suggest otherwise (and all affect preservation of life). Satinover reports:

  1. A twenty-five- to thirty-year decrease in life expectancy
  2. Chronic, potentially fatal liver disease – infectious hepatitis
  3. Inevitably fatal immune disease, including associated cancers
  4. Frequently fatal rectal cancer
  5. Multiple bowel and other infectious diseases
  6. A much higher than usual incidence of suicide[24]

These medical findings alone are enough to overturn the idea that same-sex marriage supplies the greatest happiness for the greater number. This cannot lead to happiness. I have not dealt with any of the listed harms, but I can say mere moments of back pain, stomach issues, and headaches is enough pain to reduce pleasure. I cannot imagine the true pain (masked as it may be) that homosexuals live with.

Christian Love

The last thing to consider is the at the very core of Christian ethics – love of God and love of neighbors. Which of the rival views very obviously shows the principles of Christian love? Notice, I wrote “Christian” love. Those in favor of homosexuality are very quick to say, “love is love.” Well, as ambiguous (and frankly confusing without context) as that is, Christian love is very well defined thanks to the Bible.

First, notice the use of “love of God”. What does it mean to love God? Jesus tells us “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.”[25] So to love Jesus is to have and keep his commandments. Well, what are his commandments as it pertains to same-sex marriage? That is what we discussed above. The Bible clearly condemns homosexuality. To love Jesus in this instance, we are not to practice homosexuality or allow same-sex marriage. Now, because Jesus is God, to love Jesus is to love God.

Now, what of love of neighbors? Thomas Schreiner comments, “love without commandments so easily descends into vagueness or sentimentality. We can so easily deceive ourselves into thinking that we are loving because we have warm feelings towards other people.”[26] I think this is often true of homosexuals when they argue for what they perceive as love. They often use the word “love”, but what is really meant is “affection”, “passion”, “lust”, etc. Now, those pro-same-sex marriages argue that being against same-sex marriage is unloving, even hateful, and bigoted. “How can we denounce individuals, who love each other, would like to be faithful to one another and are not harming anybody else?”, they ask. They do not understand just because one is against their view of sexuality, does not mean they do not still love them. Schreiner states, “Those who warn homosexuals about the evil of their behavior actually love them more than all those who think there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, for we inform them of God’s perspective on homosexuality.”[27] To summarize this point, surely love entails greater than the keeping of commandments, although it not once entails something fewer than keeping them. Love extends outside the keeping of God’s law, although it not once gets around the keeping of God’s law. Commandments protect us from insufficient views of love and offer us an objective standard by which we can assess our lives. If we allege to be walking in love but neglect to keep God’s commandments, then our allegation is undermined by our practice.

Resolution

In conclusion, to trust God, His Word, and classical Christian teaching that same-sex marriage is not permissible is the higher competing good. Furthermore, wishing to avoid what is a clear sin, the higher good of this outcome is the view that God knows what is best for our well-being even when we do not. To restrict marriage to two heterosexuals signifies the righteousness of God’s character. Marriage is just between one man and one woman, after the model formed by God in creation. The church must constantly behave with love and compassion for homosexuals, but not ever acknowledge homosexual behavior as ethically correct. I close with the words of Wayne Grudem: “The gospel of Jesus Christ offers the ‘good news’ of forgiveness of sins and real hope for a transformed life to homosexuals, just as it does for all sinners.”[28]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 1:27.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 845.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 2:24.

[4] Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 846.

[5] Preston Sprinkle, People to Be Loved (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 43.

[6] Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics: Walking in the Way of Wisdom (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 295.

[7] John M. Frame, A Theology of Lordship: The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2008), 758.

[8] Timothy Yoder, The Nature of the Good and the Nature of Ethics, ST5615 (2021)

[9] History.com Editors, “Same-sex marriage is made legal nationwide with Obergefell v. Hodges decision,” A&E Television Networks, Last modified June 24, 2020, accessed April 24, 2021, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/obergefell-v-hodges-ruling-same-sex-marriage-legalized-nationwide.

[10] David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, 2.1.11.

[11] Ibid., 2.3.3.

[12] Did Hume not use reasoning to come to these rational conclusions? Even if he did not, using his own view, he is only interjecting his attitude and has not asserted facts we ought to consider.

[13] Thomas Aquinas, Treatise on Law (94.2)

[14] Parke, “Are Married Parents Really Better for Children?” 2-3.

[15] Robert I. Lerman, “How Do Marriage, Cohabitation, and Single Parenthood Affect the Material Hardships of Families with Children?” July 2002, and Robert I. Lerman, “Married and Unmarried Parenthood and Economic Well-Being: A Dynamic Analysis of a Recent Cohort,” July 2002, https://apse.hhs.gov/system/files/pdf/73496/parenthood.pdf.

[16] Frank F. Furstenburg Jr. and Andrew J. Cherlin, Divided Families: What Happens to Children When Parents Part (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 56; and Paul R. Amato, “Children’s Adjustment to Divorce: Theories, Hypothesis, and Empirical Support,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 23 (1993)

[17] Cynthia Harper and Sarah McClanahan, “Father Absence and Youth Incarceration,” Journal of Research on Adolescence 14 (2004): 369-97, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10/1111/j.1532-7795.2004.00079.x/abstract.

[18] “Family Matters: Substance Abuse and the American Family,” The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, March 2005, 17, https://www.centeronaddiction.org/sites/defual/files/family-matters-substance-abuse-and-the-american-family_0.pdf; and Robert L. Flewelling and Karl E. Bauman, “Family Structure as a Predictor of Initial Substance Abuse and Sexual Intercourse in Adolescence,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 52 (1990): 171-81.

[19] Furstenburg and Cherlin, Divided Families, and Amato, “Children’s Adjustment to Divorce”

[20] Patrick F. Fagan, “The Child Abuse Crisis: The Disintegration of Marriage, Family, and the American Community,” Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder #115, May 15, 1997, http://www.heritage.org/marriage-and-family-report/the-child-abuse-crisis-the-disintegration-marriage-family-and-the, E. Thompson, T.L. Hanson, and S.S. McLanahan, “Family Structure and Child Well-Being: Economic Resources versus Parental Behaviors,” Social Forces 73: 221-42

[21] Patrick F. Fagan, “How Broken Families Rob Children of Their Chances for Future Prosperity,” Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder #1283, June 11 1999, http://www.heritage.org/marriage-and-family/report/how-broken-families-rob-children-their-chances-future-prosperity.

[22] Adapted from Dr. Timothy Yoder, Immanuel Kant and Deontology, ST6515 Notes (2021).

[23] Dr. Timothy Yoder, Bentham, Mill and Utilitarianism, ST5615 (2021).

[24] Satinover, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, 51.

[25] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 14:21.

[26] Thomas R. Schreiner, “Sermon: Loving One Another Fulfills the Law: Romans 13:8–10,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology Volume 11 11, no. 3 (2007): 105.

[27] Ibid., 106.

[28] Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 871.

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