Firstly, I think there are two definitions of marriage to consider. What does marriage mean in religion, and what does it mean by law?
The Meaning of Christian Marriage (Ephesians 5:21-32) link
21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband.The Meaning of Legal Marriage in the US link
In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.Beyond this legal definition of marriage, what the status entails from the government is much more than a metaphysical joining of Christ and his Church. Being married in the United States entitles spouses to 1,138 federal benefits, rights and responsibilities. link
Spouses have or are entitled to:
- visitation rights and can make medical decisions, unless otherwise specified in a living will
- benefits for federal employees -- many of which are also offered by private employers -- such as sick leave, bereavement leave, days off for the birth of a child, pension and retirement benefits, family health insurance plans
- some property and inheritance rights, even in the absence of a will
- the ability to create life insurance trusts
- tax benefits, such as being able to give tax free gifts to a spouse and to file joint tax returns
- the ability to receive Medicare, Social Security, disability and veteran's benefits for a spouse
- discount or family rates for auto, health and homeowners insurance
- immigration and residency benefits, making it easier to bring a spouse to the U.S. from abroad
- visiting rights in jail link
So if you're a gay couple, legally you are not entitled to these rights. In some cases, it may even make a hospital or other organization legally liable to allow you to have these rights.
Therefore the question of gay marriage becomes one of what is the spirit of the religious doctrine? How does a religious person decide to deny the civil rights of their fellow and equal citizens of this country by claiming that the Bible has declared gay marriage to be a sin? Are we a religious nation, or are we a nation concerned with the equality of every citizen?
To look at it from a different angle, what are the legal implications of denying gay marriage? What does the Bible say about how Christians should respond to laws they disagree with?
What the laws of the United States say regarding the rights of its citizens:
Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.... link
Amendment IX: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. link
AMENDMENT XIV: Passed by Congress June 13, 1866. Ratified July 9, 1868.Section 1.All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. link
More on how the 14th Amendment has been applied and measured by the Supreme Court: link
So let's look now at what the Bible says about government's role in the lives of its followers.
Romans 13:1-7 link
13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment 3 (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. 6 For this reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants devoted to governing. 7 Pay everyone what is owed: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
I would question whether anyone believes our elected officials are appointed by a divine power anymore. Which if true, raises this question, if this passage of the Bible is no longer applicable to our current state, what other passages are no longer applicable? I will address this more later.
Romans 12:14-21 link
12:14 Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. 19 Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Paul’s teaching on subordination is no interruption of his theme or emphasis, but rather an extension of it. From verse 1 of chapter 12, Paul has been teaching the importance of subordination. We must subordinate our lives to God, presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to Him. We must subordinate our interests to the interests of others if we are to walk in love. We must also subordinate our lives to those in authority over us as civil servants.
I feel that many conservative Americans today feel a very patriotic sense of rebellion against anything that contradicts their worldview. As a country founded on rebellion, we are taught that if the authority ruling over you is wrong, it is your duty to overthrow them. I would argue that this is not, in essence, a Christian principle.
The opinion of early American Benjamin Rush link
A Christian cannot fail of being a republican . . . for every precept of the Gospel inculcates those degrees of humility, self- denial, and brotherly kindness which are directly opposed to the pride of monarchy. . . . A Christian cannot fail of being useful to the republic, for his religion teaches him that no man "liveth to himself." And lastly a Christian cannot fail of being wholly inoffensive, for his religion teaches him in all things to do to others what he would wish, in like circumstances, they should do to him.Therefore, it does not make sense that a thoughtful Christian would support enacting a law that takes away a privilege from their fellow human beings which they themselves enjoy. It would go against the very principles of loving your neighbor as yourself.
Finally, I would address the specific parts of the Bible which condemn homosexuality.
The Sin of Sodom--Genesis 19 link
19:4 Before they could lie down to sleep, all the men – both young and old, from every part of the city of Sodom – surrounded the house. 5 They shouted to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!” 6 Lot went outside to them, shutting the door behind him. 7 He said, “No, my brothers! Don’t act so wickedly! 8 Look, I have two daughters who have never had sexual relations with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do to them whatever you please. Only don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”And then God destroyed Sodom.
Several Bible scholars have debated whether the original English translation of "Bring them out to us so we can know them better!" translates to "have sex with them," but you can understand how they reached that conclusion by Lot's next lines. Which, as Lot is a God fearing man, how is THAT ok? Here guys, have at my daughters! Go to town! Just not my menfolk, please! How is the lesson of this passage homosexuality is not ok and punishable by God? The lesson should be people did a lot of stupid things back in the day, and God punished people kind of unequally.
Leviticus 18:22 link
"Do not lie with a man as one lies with a women; that is detestable."
Leviticus 20:13 link
"If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable."
Commentary on how these passages were meant to be interpretted link:
Some argue that these verses appear in the Holiness code of the Leviticus and only applies to the priests and ritual purity. Therefore, according to this perspective, these are religious prohibitions, not moral prohibitions. Others argue that these prohibitions were merely for the Old Testament theocracy and are not relevant today. They suggest that if Christians wanted to be consistent with the Old Testament law code in Leviticus, they should avoid eating rare steak, wearing mixed fabrics, and having marital intercourse during the menstrual period.I think that last passage is particularly significant, even if the author of the article was merely presenting them as alternate points of view from his own. Where does a Christian draw a line in the sand about what Biblical scriptures to follow and which ones can be discarded? Check out this letter from a professor to a conservative radio show host (click to embiggen):
So that's the Old Testament. What does the New Testament say?
1:26 For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, 27 and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.1 Corinthians 6:9
6:9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals...1 Timothy 1:10
1:10 sexually immoral people, practicing homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers – in fact, for any who live contrary to sound teaching.
These are pretty clear admonitions against a gay lifestyle, but how should a Christian apply such teachings in their lives? Is it religiously moral to condemn your neighbor and enact laws against him or her that you would not wish enacted upon yourself? Is it right to deny them equal liberties under the rule of man because the rule of God declares something a sin? The Old Testament says a myriad of things should be punishable by death, but the New Testament says to love your neighbor. Which does a religious person choose?
I believe for a religious person, Biblical doctrine is incredibly complex. There are reasons why so many "types" of Christianity and "versions" of the Bible exist today. Being a Christian isn't easy, nor is being a responsible citizen of this country. We have the privileged of being free from slavery and indentured servitude, but what follows from that is a great deal of responsibility that many citizens are not willing to accept and engage in thoughtfully. Thinking about one's faith is not a sin. Simple acceptance of every particular section of a piecemeal religious work which spans several centuries, written in different and obscure languages, is not something to be taken as a given.
As citizens of this country who come from vastly differing backgrounds and religious persuasions, we must be open to discourse. We must think! To do otherwise is to let yourself be governed without a voice.