July 23, 2011

The Christian case for marriage equality

Posted in Marginalization tagged , , , , at 11:01 pm by chavisory

Legal same-sex marriage begins tomorrow in New York, and I love that the Times ran this article (The Clergy Effort Behind Same-Sex Marriage in New York) spotlighting the efforts of members of the clergy on behalf of marriage equality, noting that it’s a common but erroneous belief that churches and religious people are polarized against the advancement of LGBT equality.  While some of the most conspicuous campaigns against equality have been waged by churches, in fact, there are religious believers working on both sides of this issue.

What makes this surprising or counterintuitive for a lot of people is a pair of major misconceptions, perpetrated largely by the preaching of the fundamentalist religious right wing, that moderate, liberal or progressive Christianity is just a watered down version of fundamentalist Christianity with weaker versions of the same beliefs; and that in supporting LGBT equal rights, we’re just capitulating to the permissive amorality of popular culture.

What we want people to understand is that we’re actually doing this because we truly believe it is right.  Not because it is easy or just happens to be popular at the moment.

We are not, as socially conservative preachers often accuse, saying we believe in equality for political expediency, to be popular, to duck uncomfortable criticism, because we’re insecure in our faith or because we don’t know all the same Bible verses from Leviticus and 1st Corinthians that they do.  We support LGBT equality, including in legal marriage, as an expression of our faith, not in spite of it.

We think that the narrative arc of the Bible is one of an ever-expanding conception of grace and compassion for our fellow humans.  It’s a story of each successive generation seeing a new reflection of God in the world and the people around them.  We don’t think that that story ended 2000 years ago, but that we’re asked by Christ constantly to see all people anew as creations of God.

I do take issue with one characterization of the debate from the article, when it says “Yet the passage of same-sex marriage in New York last month, just two years after its defeat here, attests to the concerted, sustained efforts by liberal Christian and Jewish clergy to advocate for it in the language of faith, to counter the language of morality voiced by foes.”

Because we absolutely believe that this is an issue of morality as well.  We believe it’s immoral for the government to create second-class citizens and second-class families.  We believe it’s immoral to withhold civil rights based on sexuality just as it would be to deny those rights on the basis of race or religion.  We think that the bigotry enshrined by the Defense of Marriage Act is immoral.  We believe that to scapegoat gays for divorce, child abuse, and a host of other cultural problems is immoral.  We believe it is a moral edict of our faith to stand up for the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our society.

We are not attempting to undermine morality, but to support a morality of compassion and respect for all of our citizens.

We believe, as Victor Hugo wrote, “to love another person is to see the face of God,” and that nothing can make that wrong.


  1. Well said!!

  2. John Barron said,

    Not to be a stickler, but you didn’t make a case for same sex marriage using an argument from Christianity as the title suggested.

    To be sure, I’m not certain how you would go about using the Bible to justify the moral benignity or goodnes of same sex sexual relationships when everytime same sex sexual encounters are mentioned, they are denounced as morally wrong.

    Isn’t it true that as a professing Christian, you would have to ignore what the Bible has to say about homosexuality in order affirm homosexual sexual behaviors as good?

    • chavisory said,

      I believe that I did make an argument from the foundational principles of Christianity in favor of marriage equality: that we should seek to propagate mercy and justice for all people; treat others as we would be treated ourselves; and as Jesus asked us to, see God in every person.

      No, I do not believe that I have to ignore what the Bible says about homosexuality in order to make this argument; rather, I read it in historical context, and in the context of the narrative structure of the Bible itself. The people at the end of the Bible don’t believe all the same things as the people at the beginning of it. They don’t follow all the same laws; they’ve learned and grown from their history and see other people as well as God in new and more loving ways.

      Rather, if you believe that we can conclude from reading isolated verses out of context of the cultural reasons for their origin, what their historical purposes were, and how they function in the story the Bible tells, that same-sex relationships should still be socially sanctioned as inherently sinful or malignant, well…I trust that you also never cut your beard, eat shellfish, or wear cotton-poly blended fabrics, and that you believe that we should still stone prostitutes and adulteresses to death.


  3. Sue said,

    I love your reply to the previous comment. You are so right in pointing this out. I do not believe God condemns homosexuals; man does and while the Bible is supposed to be God’s word, it has been transcribed too many times over the centuries by too many men for it to be straight from the lips of God.

    I have gotten to know two same sex families over a number of years because they have children my children’s age. I have to say that their children are more tolerant and kind than many children of the religious parents who demonstrate against same sex marriages. I think that speaks volumes!

    • chavisory said,

      Yup, it’s actually been found more than once that children of same-sex couples are just as healthy in every way, as well as more tolerant and justice-minded than others. The sad part is that not everyone sees that as a good thing….

      • Sue said,

        Thank you for speaking up. You are doing a good thing!

        I am replying here to avoid getting in the middle of the dialogue between you and Chavisory. First I need to explain that my statements above came directly from a Jesuit Priest who taught a class I attended in college not from the Internet or any other source. I did look up some information this morning and realize that you and Chavisory are right on the lack of concrete evidence regarding changes in the Bible. I still do not believe God condemns homosexuality although I will agree to disagree on this one since I am one of those liberal Christians.

        Re: criticism of those who support the efforts
        I can see where you get that. I need to clarify that the statement about the children of same sex couples verses children of the religious parents who demonstrate against same sex marriages is based on my personal observations of the children at the two schools my children have attended. I would think as a Christian that you would agree that prejudice certainly does not teach tolerance.

  4. John Barron said,

    Do you know what textual criticism is? it is the field of biblical study that investigates how much and if the Bible has changed over time. The fact of the matter is it has not changed. What we have are variations in some words and phrases in some of the manuscripts. Key word being some. Because there are so many hand written copies, we can discern what the original said.

    For example, 30 early manuscripts may in one verse say something like “God loves Sue” and 1 or 2 later ones might say “Sue loves God”.

    It is a myth designed to discredit the Bible to say it has been changed and mistranslated over time to the point where it is not clear.

    Having re-read the post here, I still do not see a defense for same sex marriage from a Christian perspective. This appears to be a criticism of those who do not support the efforts.

    Perhaps you could just make it a bit more obvious for me and give me just an argument or two in a summary sentence so I can see the case you are making.

    • chavisory said,


      My defense from a Christian perspective is that ending social sanctions on same-sex relationships and LGBT people is in fact consistent with the major themes and narrative arcs of the Bible. If you read it for the story as a whole, and not just for superficially authoritative, isolated verses out of context, it’s a story of humanity’s ever-widening perspective on what God wants from us in terms of compassion and love for each other.

      If you’re wanting me to quote you chapter and verse from the Bible how I see this supported, I’m not going to play that game, because you and I both know that we both could pick out whatever isolated verses we want to support what we want, and that’s the method of reading the Bible I’m specifically arguing against.

      While Sue’s opinion is one I respect on a great many things, I too disagree with the theory of introduction of textual/translation errors through the ages; I know that it has been largely discredited. Rather, I think it’s clear from the rather eclectic writing and diverse viewpoints of the narrators of the Bible that it was not transcribed from God; it was written by men, with all of their prejudices, personal faults, ignorance, and ulterior motives. It’s an attempt by people to understand their own relationships with God and what God wants from them–not an autograph of God himself.

      I think it’s clear that I am not criticizing people who disagree with the legalization of same-sex marriage here; I’m seeking to undermine the stance (by some on the left as well as the right) that religious opposition to same-sex marriage is the only truly religious position on the issue. My position is that it is not. We believe sincerely, no less than you do, that this is morally right–because of our faith and because of the way we read the Bible and not in opposition to it.

  5. John Barron said,

    That position leaves you with two flawed options. The first is that you are selectively taking from the Bible passages you consider as authentic and what you don’t. Anf in this case id have to ask how you know what is a reliable description of God’s character and what is not. What is your standard for discernment?

    Second, if you want to hold to the position that men in their limitations fail to report the correct character of God, in order to draw from that that therefore X is true about God’s character, you are arguing from silence. Arguments from silence are inherently flawed. Since every

    • chavisory said,

      Everyone reads the Bible selectively–the difference is that progressives are honest about it, why we do it and how. The Bible is so internally inconsistent that it’s not possible not to be selective in one way or another. The standard for discernment is what Jesus said and how he treated people. What Jesus said is the ultimate standard is “love the lord God with your whole heart and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Every other law and edict and verse is subordinate to that one.

      With the standard in mind of how Jesus treated people, how he valued people, how he asked us to see himself in every person and especially in the most reviled and marginalized; I cannot possibly justify it, in my reading of what the entire point of Christianity is, as correct for society to legally create a permanent class of outcasts.

      If you’re claiming that you yourself are NOT reading the Bible selectively in some way, then explain to me why it’s okay that we no longer burn witches. Unless you truly think that we should still burn witches….

  6. John Barron said,

    Sorry, accidently clicked the post button.

    Any religious position could be justified as christian and biblical by citing mans flawed recording. For example, I could make a christian case for adultery by claiming all the explicit passages condemning adultery were just written by flawed men and god really does endorse a man being in as many relationships with women as possible. Are you ok with that?

    • chavisory said,

      But see, adultery is wrong because it’s intrinsically dishonest, and because of the potential for harm to the deceived partner–not because the Bible says it’s wrong. Murder is wrong because it deprives a person of their right to their own life, not because the Bible says it’s wrong.

      Wearing blended fabrics is wrong because…oh wait…why is wearing blended fabrics wrong? But the Bible calls it an “abomination.”

      You’re only demonstrating my point that by choosing verses out of context, you can make the Bible appear to say pretty much whatever you want. I don’t believe that that’s what supporters of full inclusion of LGBT people in society are doing.

  7. John Barron said,

    Honestly, the fact that you even ask why we wouldn’t burn witches now is just an advertisement of how little priority you have made understanding theology. As insulting as that sounds, I don’t mean it as an insult. It it a testimony of your lack of differentiation between the old and new covenents. And in my experience that is a common factor in self professing “progressive” or “liberal” christians.

    • chavisory said,

      Okay, explain to me how, in new covenant theology, it’s okay for society to legislate a permanent class of outcasts based on an inborn personal attribute…to effectively say “this category of human shall always be considered inherently defective, undesirable, a threat to decency and morality, and incapable and undeserving of stable, loving partnerships that the rest of us take for granted.”

      Because actually, it’s my understanding of new covenant theology that we no longer see people as classes of undesirables, but as each and every one creations of God.

  8. John Barron said,

    Perhaps you could reword your question in such a way that doesn’t mischaracterize and demonize those who oppose same sex marriage. I think it is telling that those who support it always attempt to parse the debate in such a way that does not actually address what those who oppose it are actually saying.

    On my site I argue against aame sex marriage in many different posts. Perhaps you can reat throufh a few and cite where my view can be described the way you just did. If not, maybe we can address the actual issue.

    • chavisory said,

      That’s not what I’m accusing you of saying; that’s what I’m accusing supporters of discriminatory marriage laws of *doing.* While it may not be your individual intent, and I’ll believe you that it isn’t, it is indeed the *effect* of laws like the Defense of Marriage Act and the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy, proposed Constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, and laws that bar same-sex partners from fostering and adopting children. That is what those laws do. Whatever your arguments are, that is their human impact. And I cannot, as a professing Christian, condone that impact.

      Look, clearly we do not and will not agree, on scriptural grounds, whether same-sex marriage is acceptable. That’s not what I’m asking of you and never was in my original post. What is not and has never been in doubt, including by myself, is that YOUR position as a religious position is a truly and sincerely held conviction. I think it’s wrong, I think it’s insupportable in any number of ways, but I’m not doubting the truth of your conviction in holding it or your right to do so as an identifying Christian. The same is true of my side’s position on this issue. We are not compromising or twisting our faith to get to this position–it is a truly held conviction of our faith. Can you believe that?

    • chavisory said,

      Here, for example, is what denial of legal marriage benefits DOES to same-sex partners:


      Whatever anybody’s intent in defending the illegality of same-sex marriage may be, whatever your moral/religious stance on homosexual relationships, this is the EFFECT of those laws, and as a Christian, I can’t countenance it.

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