The Biblical Ethic on Gay Marriage
This is a moral not an ‘equality’ issue. The Bible says that homosexual acts, as implied by same-sex marriage are wrong – they break God’s absolute moral standards. Moral confusion reigns when they are broken!
If you believe that the Bible is accepting of same-sex marriage, see liberal ethics
If you reject the Bible and regard same-sex marriage as an equality issue, see no ethics
Gay Marriage around the World
The concept of ‘gay marriage’ (as opposed to gay partnerships) is hotly contested in America, Britain and Australia. Some countries have specifically banned same-sex unions e.g. Uganda. And in 2020 Russian lawmakers drafted legislation that would ban same-sex marriage [AFRICA CGTN, 2020].
But many countries have already legalised same-sex marriage. To mention a few: Netherlands (2001), Belgium (2003), Canada (2005), South Africa (2006), Norway (2009), Iceland (2010), New York State (2011), Denmark (2012), France (2013) and England and Wales (2013). Many more countries are in the process of legalising same-sex marriage and public opinion is gradually moving in favour of it e.g.
- UK: 45% in favour of gay marriage [ONS Poll, 2011], 54% in favour [YouGov poll, 2013]
- Australia: 70% in favour of gay marriage [Fairfax-Ipsos poll , 2017]
- USA: 67% in favour of gay marriage [Gallup poll, 2018]
Of course, polls can be manipulated to favour government objectives. For example, in 2012 the UK Government claimed that its (rather dubious) online consultation on gay marriage was ‘the biggest listening exercise ever’. But the UK Government ignored the Coalition for Marriage (C4M) national petition of some 600,000 signatories! And the French Government ignored a protest by over 500,000 in Paris.
Despite media, social and government pressure, in 2020 almost a quarter (24 per cent) of adults in the UK were still actively opposed to same-sex marriage. [YouGov poll, 2020]
1. The Biblical Ethic on Gay Marriage
If you adhere closely to biblical teaching, accepting what is claimed without trying to make it fit today’s culture, then this section is for you.
Ethics comes from the Greek word ‘ethos’, meaning ‘what ought to be’, and the noun ‘ethic’ refers to a system of moral standards or principles. The implication is that there is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in a particular scenario. Many believe that such a system is found in the Bible and that it is transcendent i.e. it was given to man from outside man’s thought and reasoning. In short, many claim that God has given man a set of fixed moral standards by which to live, and these embrace the institution of marriage. Whilst some claim that marriage may have evolved and so pre-dates recorded history, others look to the book of Genesis (written c1400 BC), and to the Bible in general, for firm guidance. Let’s consider some key biblical concepts relating to marriage:
- Marriage is a three-way covenant between man, his wife and God
- Marriage involves both sexes
- Marriage requires the concept of ‘one flesh’ – which includes natural intercourse
- Man’s wife is seen as his companion and helper
Here we have the biblical definition of marriage. God defines marriage as being between one man and one woman (Gen 2:24), and Jesus underscored this view (Mark 10:6-8). Since it was still between one man and one woman in Jesus’ time, the concept is time and culturally independent! Marriage is a threefold covenantal relationship between a man, his wife and their Creator (Mal 2:14); they are ‘joined together’ by God and in the sight of God in a lifelong, permanent bond:
What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate (Mark 10:9)
The ‘one flesh’ (Gen 2:24)(Mark 10:8) implies sexual union and child conception, so a primary reason for male-female bonding in marriage is to procreate and to produce ‘godly offspring’ (Gen 1:28)(Mal 2:15). Marriage is also for close friendship or companionship and mutual help (Gen 2:18-23).
If you accept these biblical statements on marriage, then you can ignore Sections 2 and 3. No where in the Bible will you find the concept of marriage as being between two people of the same sex. It is exclusively defined as between one man and one woman, and this has been the universal understanding of marriage throughout world history – until now. So you can claim that governments or the EU have no right to hijack the term and redefine marriage under the guise of anti-discrimination ‘equality law’. To do so is to defy God. For the true church, same-sex marriage is at best meaningless and at worst an abomination in the sight of God.
Marriage must remain a union between a man and a woman. It is not the role of the state to redefine marriage [Archbishop of York (UK)]
2. Liberal Ethics and the Liberal Church
If you read the Bible (and even go to church), but believe that the biblical ethic on morality can be widely interpreted and may be culturally dependent, then this section is for you.
Generally speaking, in 2020 the mainstream churches were still opposed to same-sex marriage. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby has stated his opposition to the redefinition of marriage and the Church of England is committed to the traditional understanding of the institution of marriage as being between one man and one woman.
The UK Methodist Church has stated “A marriage should be a lifelong union in body, mind and spirit of one man and one woman.”
Members of Baptist churches in Australia “overwhelmingly support the current definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, and reject moves to extend the definition to include same sex relationships.”
However, even in mainstream churches there are those who would accept same-sex marriage.
The Anglican Church:
As far back as 2014 UK Bishops agreed that gay couples who get married will be able to ask for special prayers in the Church of England after their wedding [MailOnline]. As the Bible says:
Her priests have violated My law … they have not distinguished between the holy and the unholy … between the unclean and the clean (Ezek 22:26)
And leading liberal priests in the Church of England stage unofficial gay marriage ceremonies despite the Church’s official opposition to same-sex unions link.
The Methodist Church:
In the UK Methodist church there are strong moves to accept gay marriage. The 2019 Methodist Conference voted overwhelmingly in favour of homosexual marriage, together with its support for cohabitation and civil partnerships. And in 2020 the United Methodist Church (the second-largest Protestant denomination in the US), proposed to split after years of dispute over LGBTQ issues and marriage equality.
Some churches already accept same-sex marriage either in the full (legal) sense or in a limited (blessing) sense e.g. the United Church of Christ, the Quakers, the Metropolitan Community Church, the Unitarian Universalist church, the Episcopal Church, Lutheran church and the Community of Christ Church.
The Moral Stance of the True Church of Christ
At the outset, we should acknowledge the distinction between same-sex attraction and same-sex activity. There are many gay Christians who live celibate lives, link, link. The moral confusion arises when gay relationships are not celibate. In such cases, is there a ‘moral absolute’ on sexual activity, or does the moral position ‘progress’ with cultural change, only to eventually disappear?
The answer is found in God’s word and it centres around holiness. Whilst homosexual acts are endorsed by governments, they are repugnant to God and unholy in His sight, link. According to the Bible there are unseen spiritual laws laying down transcendent moral absolutes which should not be ignored! So the church would be unholy in the sight of God if it endorsed something that is morally repugnant to Him. Such immorality within the church is to be condemned by the church (1 Cor 5:9-11), but few speak out. In contrast, God calls His true church to be holy before Him:
Do not be conformed to the former lusts … but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behaviour; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY’ (1 Pet 1:14-16)
In this context, holiness means that the true church should be set apart from the world, and ‘blameless before God’ (Eph 1:4). The true church should separate itself from the world’s transient philosophy on sexual relationships and stand firm on biblical teaching. Christ sees His true church as being holy (as in Rev 3:7-13), and for this church the issue of holiness should override all aspects of humanistic equality law, political correctness and the morality of the day. The liberal and politically correct church (as in Rev 3:14-22) should take note! The Bible contrasts the two moral positions quite explicitly:
Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy, and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy (Rev 22:11, emphasis added)
Those who do not separate themselves are simply being “tossed here and there by the trickery of men” (Eph 4:14). They are members of a liberal (broad-minded) but spiritually apostate church:
In the later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Tim 4:1)
Jesus says that the liberal, immoral church has no part in the future ‘holy city’ (Rev 21:10); rather, they are left outside (Rev 22:14-15). Are you part of that liberal church?
3. A World without Ethics
If you essentially reject God and the Bible and regard gay-sex marriage as an equality and non-discrimination issue, then this section is for you.
Legalizing same-sex marriage will reduce discrimination [Klaus Jetz, Lesbian and Gay Federation, Germany]
It’s important we treat people fairly; it’s what most people want whether they are gay or whether they are straight [Maria Miller MP, UK Parliament]
Here we have the concepts of equality, non-discrimination and fairness – all biblical concepts – but morality (as in goodness, decency, integrity, godliness) is notably absent! As discussed, the noun ‘ethic’ refers to a system of moral standards or principles. It is a set of rules of conduct recognised by a particular people group or culture.
But in the absence of an absolute biblical ethic, who defines the ethic? And is it fixed? Postmodernist thinking (the realm of atheists and humanists) maintains that ethics are culturally and socially defined and so have few if any universal (absolute) values. Whatever a cultural group approves of is deemed right, and whatever the group disapproves of is wrong. This is moral and cultural relativism; that is, the ethic is set by a majority of citizens accepting that something is right or wrong.
Put more succinctly, it is moral confusion caused by man’s rebellion against God, as depicted in the Babel image.
The transient (non-absolute) nature of majority and culturally defined ethics is clearly seen in opinion polls. In the UK, 45% were in favour of same-sex marriage in 2011, but this increased to 60% in 2020 [YouGov poll]. So same-sex marriage is now seen as cultural evolution:
I think it [same-sex marriage] a natural progression for marriage, something that has evolved over centuries … in the 21st century [marriage] is an inclusive, not exclusive, institution [Maria Miller MP, UK Parliament]
So what value is such an ethic? Where does it end? Let’s consider where it may lead:
- The roles of mother and father are reduced to ‘Progenitor A’ and ‘Progenitor B’
- Why limit marriage to two people? Why not legalize polygamy?
- Why not legalize incestuous (genetically close) relationships?
- If same-sex relations (Lev 18.22) are legalized, why not also legalize human-animal relations (Lev 18.23)?
You Must Decide
If you reject the notion of God and ignore the Bible, then you probably welcome same-sex marriage as a progression towards the noble goals of equality, non-discrimination and fairness.
But suppose you are wrong about God? Suppose that God exists and that the Bible is true? Pascal’s Wager suggests that the most logical stance is to assume God exists and then to search for Him. And when we search for Him, the Bible opens up and we see that God’s laws are being replaced by humanistic law, as in same-sex marriage. The bad news is that all this culminates in total lawlessness. Prophecy says that, soon, “the lawless one will be revealed” (2 Thes 2:8) – the coming World Dictator:
He will make alterations in times and in law (Dan 7:25)
So you must decide which of the two paths in life you wish to follow: humanistic law devoid of morality, or God’s law and biblical morality. It is not the business of the church to condemn the homosexual acts of those outside of the church (non-believers): ‘those who are outside, God judges’ (1 Cor 5:13). In this case, the best the church can do is to act as ‘salt and light’ and warn society that God judges such actions. Referring to the future ‘holy city’ in the new earth, God says:
And nothing unclean, no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. And if anyone’s name is not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev 21:27, Rev 20:15)
The True Church and Same-Sex Equality Law
Does Equality Law underscore same-sex marriage? Yes, assuming such law aims to remove discrimination. For example, under EU Equality Law, if the government of an EU member state redefines marriage and legalises same-sex marriage, the European Court of Human Rights has stated [Spring 2012]:
If same-sex couples are allowed to marry, any church that refuses to offer wedding services to them will be guilty of discrimination
In other words, churches in an EU member state that wish to retain the biblical ethos on marriage will be prosecuted by the EU if same-sex marriage was legalised in that member state. It is inevitable that, eventually, all EU member states will get EU legal enforcement for same-sex marriage. EU legislation will ensure that all same-sex marriages conducted in any EU state become legally binding in all other member states [Berlinguer Report 2010, Paragraph 40]. Clearly, if this were not so, the homosexual community would be able to claim ‘discrimination’ if a state says marriage does not apply to gay couples. So the well-established institution of marriage, defined by God, is redefined by governments for some 4% of the community [Gallop Poll of the American LGBT community]!
How should the true church react? For the true church, same-sex marriage is at best meaningless and at worst an abomination in the sight of God. But, in time, as in other homosexuality discrimination law, it seems the church will be legally obliged to accept the term. But for those churches who see same-sex marriage as morally wrong from a biblical standpoint, a way forward might be to opt out of legal marriages. Then, after a brief legal ceremony at a state office, a Christian couple could be married in the traditional biblical sense in church, but without any legal implications. After all, it is God who joins a man and woman together (Mat 19:6), not the State:
A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife … what therefore God has joined together, let no man separate (Matthew 19:5-6)