About a month ago I lit a bunch of stuff on fire and then grabbed some popcorn and set up a lawn chair to watch what would happen. The next day, even as the embers were still glowing a little, I took some time to explain myself. I’m going to do that again, I think, after last week’s post, which lit a different pile of things on fire.

Primarily, I want to circle back around to a point that was alluded to in my argument but not made explicit. At one point in the essay I noted that an acceptance of same-sex marriage as a legitimate social institution necessarily commits one to a set of beliefs that necessarily redefines Christian faith in significant ways, such that it is no longer Christianity as understood by traditional believers. (In making this move, I’m simply using the same line of argumentation that the orthodox have used for a century in dealing with various species of theological liberalism. Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism is the most famous example.) None of that should be taken as a personal attack, of course. Rather, it’s simply an attempt to highlight what is actually at stake in this debate, a point that many seem slow to understand.

Of course, that can also seem a bold claim at first, perhaps much too bold, so I want to walk through the logic behind it.

In traditional Christian societies in the west, marriage is treated as a foundational social institution that precedes the authority of the magistrate. As a natural institution hard-wired into creation by God in Genesis, it is something that exists outside the authority of governments, magistrates, or local lords. All of those bodies might try to use marriage to advance their own agenda, of course. But they cannot really do anything to transform it into something other than itself for the simple reason that it is a natural institution and so is not subject to alteration by human parties.

You can also put this in more practical terms: How do we ensure that the children resulting from sexual relationships between men and women will be adequately cared for and raised up so that they will continue society as we age and die? Nature’s answer is “marriage.”

For this reason, marriage is the most fundamental of all social institutions, a fact that Christians have professed for ages and which is made explicit in much recent Christian social teaching. Marriage is not an institution created by man, but is instead something that arises out of nature, out of the way God has put reality together and caused it to work. Of course, implicit in the traditional understanding of marriage is the idea that reality works in a certain way. This, too, is a traditional Christian idea: There is this thing that exists called “nature” and it cannot be safely transgressed indefinitely. Eventually it snaps back on you. This is what Paul is describing in Romans 1 and 2.

In this understanding, marriage is not something that a powerful group of people dreamt up one day as a good idea; it is something hard-wired into the way that reality works which cannot be transformed or redefined for the same reason that gravity cannot be transformed. (“For now!” says the technocrat, no doubt.)

Now if we turn to the idea of same-sex marriage, we are talking about something quite different. Same-sex relationships by definition are not fruitful in the way that heterosexual relationships are. So there is no obvious need here for any sort of socially recognized institution to manage the consequences of couples engaging in same-sex acts. This is precisely why societies that may have allowed for same-sex acts in certain situations and circumstances nevertheless did not develop the idea of “same-sex marriage” existing alongside heterosexual marriage. Marriage is a very specific union meant to address a very specific problem arising from nature which same-sex couples by definition are not subject to.

Consequently, if we wish to have married same-sex couples that look and behave like heterosexual couples, we must necessarily introduce a third party to make that possible because that is the only way such a thing can be done. In fact, we must introduce multiple third parties. We must introduce a third party of the opposite sex of the couple that makes child-bearing possible, either via sperm donation or carrying a child to term and delivering the baby.

We must also introduce a third party that will regulate and control how the process of child-bearing will be done since such practices, which are necessary if same-sex marriage is going to exist as a real thing, are obviously open to massive abuses and create complicated legal situations. Bio-ethical questions must also be answered as scientists are now working on ways to create children who are related to both same-sex partners in the relationship. (In the time since I first drafted this essay, this happened in New York.)

How will adoptions be handled? What sort of surrogacy arrangements will be allowed? Who has custody rights to the child in the event of divorce or the death of a partner? For example, suppose a lesbian couple has a child through IVF and the woman who carried the child to term and birthed the child dies when the child is young. In that event, who is that child’s guardian? The woman’s partner who has no biological connections to the child whatsoever or the man who provided the sperm?

The state has to answer all these questions because there is literally no other mechanism for doing it. As a result, the state comes to precede the family in ways that fundamentally transform the Christian understanding of nature. Indeed, nature basically ceases to exist and is replaced by whatever the state says. This is the cost, then, of an entrenched individualism—it can only be sustained by a magisterial body which possesses a kind of absolute power over the individual. Strict individualism of the sort we have now embraced in the west necessarily requires some species of totalitarianism. (This is precisely the point Antonin Scalia spent so much time making.)

These are questions that must be answered when we are talking about same-sex families because they are questions that will arise at some point and to which there are no clear answers or even clear principles for arriving at answers.

But there’s more that needs to be said than simply that a strong magisterial body is necessary for same-sex marriage to exist. That is simply a political point. But there is an ontological aspect to the issue too. If a third party is essential for the institution to exist, that also means that some kind of other entity exists prior to that institution, which is how it derives the power to define the institution. If we need additional social bodies to provide for the existence of same-sex families through facilitating adoptions, regulating surrogacy, and so on, then the bodies that provide those services exist prior to the family and are defining what the family is or is not.

In this new understanding of marriage and family, the natural social relations established in classical reflection on the subject and that we see treated as normal and good in Genesis now become a social construction shaped and defined by the magistrate. The design of our bodies and the fact of our maternity or paternity is only as relevant as the magistrate allows it to be. This, necessarily, means that the magistrate has some sort of declarative power to define reality. To affirm same-sex marriage as a legitimate social institution is necessarily to affirm the magistrate as a social body that is given declarative power to define the most basic human institutions. This is why the question of same-sex marriage is so fundamental to how we understand all of reality, a point Dreher has been making for years.

The issues being raised in this debate cannot be limited to something like “should same-sex couples have access to legal benefits also enjoyed by heterosexual couples?” That is obviously an important question and taken by itself the answer might appear obvious. But it cannot be treated in isolation. What we’re actually asking is something more like “Are there natural norms that cannot be transgressed by the state or are moral norms simply defined and enforced via the magistrate or some other body of powerful people?” There is an inevitable power-play here being made on the part of those proponents of a more expansive idea of the state, a point made quite clearly by theologian John Milbank:

“(The creation of same-sex marriage) is a strategic move in the modern state’s drive to assume direct control over the reproduction of the population, bypassing our interpersonal encounters. This is not about natural justice, but the desire on the part of biopolitical tyranny to destroy marriage and the family as the most fundamental mediating social institution.

Heterosexual exchange and reproduction has always been the very “grammar” of social relating as such. The abandonment of this grammar would thus imply a society no longer primarily constituted by extended kinship, but rather by state control and merely monetary exchange and reproduction.”

If we grant the state the power to override nature in redefining fundamental social institutions and to insert itself into the most intimate human arenas, that necessarily implies a rejection of the idea that there are natural norms that are beyond the purview of the magistrate. Same-sex marriage assumes an expansion of state power that necessarily makes all of life subject to the state’s decree. If the state has power to define marriage, what power does it not possess?

Reality is thus not defined by religious dogma, but by state decree. Regarding Christianity, it shifts Christianity away from being a set of beliefs about reality and redefines it as a set of therapeutic principles and techniques that a person may or may not find useful to deal with their own private difficulties.

All the dogma is thus washed away or sanitized so that it no longer is concerned with describing reality and is instead simply a tool for assuaging a person’s guilt, angst, or trauma in the face of personal pain or difficulty. Thus Jesus ceases to be the God-man who takes on human flesh and is joined to us at the cross, paying the penalty for our sin, so that we can then be joined with him in his resurrection. Instead, he becomes a good (possibly even very good!) moral exemplar.

To be sure, there are no shortage of people who profess to be Christian and to believe in precisely that sort of Christianity. But again, let us be clear that that is what we are doing.

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Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).


  1. So… is this a problem that can be solved within the moral and legal framework of the US Constitution?


  2. Thank you for this blog post – clear, concise, and to the point.


  3. Good thoughts Jake. Ultimately, the kind of uber-individualism that is championed by many in society today circles us all around to a totalitarian state. A related thought is the idea that I decide whether I am male or female…it is the ultimate rebellion of man. To against “nature” as you put it, and to decide whether I am male or I am female, puts man in the place of God. Gender identity is the next step beyond the idea of gay marriage.


  4. Jake, I admit I have not read Mere O in quite a while as our lives have diverged. On the subject of marriage and same-sex marriage I must express my disagreement however. Your viewpoint is ethnocentrically limited and biologically naive.

    First, in a very large portion of the world (East and Southeast Asia with a much larger population than Christendom ever had) marriage has always and only been a civil institution based entirely on the authority of the magistrate, government, or local lord. In some areas it had little to nothing to do with religion. Therefore, to claim it is not socially constructed by rather somehow ‘natural’ seems rather odd. The Christian societies where marriage precedes the magistrate are not representative of humanity’s approach to marriage as a whole.

    I would argue that marriage is not nature’s answer to child-rearing. Pair bonding and family bonding in general are. Marriage is a social and cultural overlay to a biological instinct expressed in the social pair bond. Heterosexual monogamous life-long pair bonding is only one form of pair bonding. We also see temporary pair bonding, homosexual pair bonding, and non-monogamous bonding (more than pairs) that work quite well. Homosexual pair bonding is quiet well documented in numerous animal species. It even recently enabled two male penguins at a German zoo to successfully raise an orphaned chick from an egg when it was left to die by its biological heterosexual parents.

    Marriage is not the only (or perhaps even the best) way to ensure children are raised and cared for. After all, Jewish descent is traced through the maternal line precisely to ensure that children are included in and cared for by the community even when paternity was uncertain or fathers were absent. In this case the proverbial village is literal and really does raise the child. Moreover, there is strong evolutionary evidence that grandmothers often had more to do with the survival of children than two-parent couples. Some hetero women in Africa have begun marrying each other to ensure their children have more stability. Siblings also have a biological (and therefore psycho-social) drive to protect one another’s children that is well documented in human and animal societies. Marriage is not hard wired; it’s been primarily economic for most of history. Bonding is hard wired and ensures the survival of children, but that bonding is much more flexible out of evolutionary necessity than the modern nuclear family.

    As for the potential for legal abuse from same-sex marriage, that seems tremendously overstated. Same-sex marriage is a contract between two consenting adults. If you’re not consenting or not an adult, you can’t enter into such a contact.

    Having children is not biologically tied to the legal act of marriage. Not being married doesn’t prevent children and being married doesn’t guarantee them. Nor does it answer complicated questions of adoption and custody, most of which already have lots of legal precedent heaped up from squabbling heterosexual couples.

    If ‘nature’ really were nature no amount of state intervention could replace it. Indeed, I believe that is in fact why the entire debate exists. The state tried to interfere by imposing a narrow definition of marriage that did not in fact represent the true scope of human pair bonding – forcing heterosexual marriage on naturally homosexual persons as the only option for a legal union. The fact that nature couldn’t be forced as put pressure on society to become as flexible as biology.

    Nobody has a declarative power over reality. Reality isn’t that fragile. However, I don’t think we see the same thing as ‘reality’ or ‘nature.’ The argument isn’t over reality, it’s over who gets to decide what reality is and then use that power to enforce their will on others. Some people declare that heterosexuality is ‘natural’ and try to enforce that (but it doesn’t work). Others declare that pair bonding is more flexible and try to ‘enforce’ that inasmuch as it means disallowing the people who want to limit others’ options. If these truly were natural norms that cannot be transgressed (like gravity) then they could NOT be transgressed. The fact that they are mutable suggests they are not entirely natural in that sense.

    As for entrenched individualism, that’s a concept that’s been developing since the European Enlightenment, well preceding the relatively recent debates on same-sex marriage. Nor do I see the link between individualism and totalitarianism. That kind of assumes humans are basically evil and need controlling and I don’t share that assumption. (And Antonin Scalia is not anyone whose arguments I would lend an ounce of validity.)

    Having questions without clear answers is no reason to deny people a basic right to pursue their own lives as they see fit in the absence of clear and present harm to others. I don’t think anyone has yet been able to demonstrate how their neighbors’ same-sex union directly harms them (being offended doesn’t count). It doesn’t prevent them from having or raising children or destroy their marriage in any way. It in no way bypasses interpersonal encounters – if anything it promotes them.

    Same-sex marriage is good for society, from my point of view. Personally I am sympathetic about getting the government out of the business of marriage entirely, though for very different reasons. I think all the economic values of marriage could be translated into contract law very easily. However, I cannot countenance religion (especially someone else’s religion) taking on that regulatory role based on claims about ‘nature’ and ‘reality’ that have little evidence in biology, anthropology, sociology, or psychology. I hope you will reevaluate your stance on this issue.


    1. Good thoughts. It’s also worth considering that it’s only within the past 50-100 years that marriages have enjoyed a phase that wasn’t devoted to child-rearing. At the beginning of the last century, it was still common that one or both parents died before their youngest child had reached 18. For example, my grandparents had no recollection of their grandparents whatsoever. My parents have only a faint recollection of their grandparents. But I was in my late teens before my first grandparents had even passed, and lost my last grandparent a few months ago (in my early 40s). Within a little over 100 years, we’ve gone from a situation where one or both parents died before the youngest child left home to a situation where couples will spend two-thirds or more of their married lives without any kids at home. That’s bound to have an effect on the way that people view marriage.


    2. I think you have missed the point entirely. A man and woman can make a family together with no involvement of the state. Two or more people of the same sex cannot. No one is denying that the state cannot act as if both opposite sex couples and same sex partners are in the same boat and need the state to make them a family.

      Also, it is entirely possible to allow people the freedom to involve themselves in various same sex relationships without recognizing any of those as marriages. This idea that not acting as if same sex relationships can be marriages somehow artificially limits people and forces “naturally homosexual” persons into “unnatural” relationships is simply false. There is no necessary connection between homosexuality and marriage, nor any connection at all. One can fully know and understand everything about marriage with no knowledge and no understanding of homosexuality and same sex relationships. This cannot at all be said about heterosexuality and opposite sex relationships.


      1. I honestly don’t understand this claim that a same-sex couple needs “the state” in order to have children. The rhetoric makes it sound as though the government is bestowing babies on people after a long application process involving graft and corruption leading to a complicated scientific miracle. The same-sex couple only needs help from at least one other person outside the couple and/or a few adoption forms to register guardianship. There are at least a few functions that the state can legitimately help people with, such as registering an adoption. I have no problem with that. With the number of children in need of adoption and foster homes, we should encourage same-sex (or any type) of adoption.

        If same-sex couples want to get married, let them get married. If they want to call it marriage, let them call it marriage. If they want to spend $50,000 on a fancy party with a big white cake, let them. If they want to spend 50 years together, raise kids together, retire together, fight together, make up together, great! It harms neither you nor me in any way whatsoever. A “civil union” in lieu of marriage, on the other hand, degrades us all because it declares to all and sundry that these folks are somehow inferior and not worthy of marriage.

        Separate but equal was disproved through a fun experiment we Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. We’re still reaping the benefits of that kind of naive thinking. If we continue to insist that their relationships are not legally “marriage,” they will continue to be treated like less than and therefore subject to abuse and discrimination. Out history and present continue to demonstrate this. Just look at the crime and abuse statistics against LGBT folks. Let’s not continue this trend when there’s no harm in ending it.


        1. It seems you answered your own confusion, two or more people of the same sex need other people to give them a child if they want to raise one. In other words, they need society or the state (which is society).

          Why on earth should we encourage same sex adoption? That does nothing at all to address the root cause for why there are children needing to be adopted in the first place. Men and women committing to faithful unions together does address the root cause. The more men and women do this, the fewer children need to be adopted, and the more mothers and fathers there are for the (fewer) that do need adoption. Same sex adoption solves nothing and only obscures and contradicts the very principles that actually work.

          Free speech has always allowed two or more people of the same sex to say they are all married. So, I am unsure where you are going with that. Same goes with having a fancy party that costs a small fortune, people have always been free to have a party for their same sex partnerships. Along with free to live together, fight and make up and retire together. Raising children together has and still is more complicated. Granted you seem to just think the state should give them children or something.

          The separate but equal principle is an issue when that which is being treated separately actually is equal. However, in no real sense are same sex partnerships equal to opposite sex unions. We *should* treat them unequally and we *should* treat homosexual partnerships equally with all other same sex relationships (i.e. like between between friends and siblings and so on).


  5. Jake, you said, “In traditional Christian societies in the west, marriage is treated as a foundational social institution that precedes the authority of the magistrate.”

    This is actually untrue. Calvinists have generally taken a rather skeptical view of marriage’s alleged spiritual significance. The New England Puritans strenuously objected to the Anglican tendency to spiritualize marriage, and therefore forbade ministers from participating in marriage ceremonies. The Puritans believed that the eschatological purpose of marriage was fulfilled in Christ, and that it is a secular institution governed by pragmatic considerations. Calvin famously compared marriage’s spiritual value to that of hair-cutting. For Christians, our adoption into Christ’s family takes primacy over biological relations. After all, could Christ’s singleness drive any point home more clearly than that?

    The emphasis on the nuclear family to the exclusion of other familial commitments is largely a feature of the 20th century, and owes far more to secular reasoning than to anything Christian. As Wes Hill has noted in his recent book, the centrality of the “nuclear family” throughout the West says far more about the influence of Freud than it does about anything Christian. The “family values” movement simply repackaged Freud in a loosely Christian wrapping, and passed it off as historic Christianity.

    Yes, same-sex marriage reduces marriage to little more than a contractual institution. As a Calvinist Christian, I see that as a positive outcome of its emergence. I’ve long suspected that our high divorce rate is the result of the fact that we have overly scripted marriage along romantic-Freudian lines. After all, the lowest divorce rates are found among the cognitive elite, who overwhelmingly view marriage as a pragmatic contractual institution not too different from the view espoused by Gary Becker in “A Theory of Marriage”. The real shame is that it took a secular Jew to explain to evangelicals what our Calvinist forbears tried to teach us.

    Oddly enough, in almost every country where same-sex marriage has emerged, the rate of same-sex coupling actually declined in its wake (despite an initial surge). The reasons for this are unclear. But most believe that it has something to do with the fact that same-sex marriage forced a more contractual view of marriage onto the culture, and thereby wrested marriage from its captivity to certain romantic-Freudian social scripts. Contrary to Milbank’s suggestion, same-sex marriage does not hand marriage over to the state. Rather, it properly wrests marriage away from self-serving religious bureaucracies and confers it onto the contracting parties, who, within limits, are free to write their own script (rather than have it be written for them by the local bishop). And that’s exactly where it should lie. And, when we leave people to write their own scripts, opposite-sex coupling ends up predominating my greater margins than when we tried to force people into opposite-sex coupling arrangements.

    Each of us is hard-wired to pursue transactionally efficient outcomes. If opposite-sex coupling is generally superior to same-sex coupling in terms of transactional efficiency, then there is no reason why we shouldn’t expect it to predominate, even without efforts to promote it. As Hayek and Rothbard have long tried to tell us, the society that runs most smoothly is the society in which bureaucratic institutions (e.g., government, church, etc.) interfere the least into people’s lives. That’s why I’d suggest that social conservatism is not *really* concerned with promoting social order; rather, it is really about promoting authoritarian rule by religious bureaucrats. And authoritarianism rarely yields good outcomes.


    1. ‘Marriage is not a thing ordained by men. We know that God is the author of it, and that it is solemnized in his name. The Scripture says that it is a holy covenant, and therefore calls it divine.’ (Sermon on Eph. 5:22-26, 31-33, quoted in John Witte, From Sacrament to Contract (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2012), 186).

      That is what John Calvin had to say about marriage. The Puritans weren’t exactly big fans of sodomy, either, you know. I can tell you which side of this debate Calvin and the Puritans would have been on, and it’s not the side you’ve chosen.


      1. This will be my only response to you, as you and DR84 have both shown yourselves to lack candor in your online engagements. I have better things to do with my time than engage with liars.

        As to your first point, that says nothing to contradict Calvin’s notion that marriage’s spiritual value for Christians is akin to that of hair-cutting. After all, at that time, contracts were generally solemnized and were often referred to using covenantal language. So, Calvin is not necessarily rejecting a contractual or pragmatic view, although he is likely suggesting that, once entered upon, Christians may not be free to breach a marriage arrangement on the same terms as a contract for the sale of goods.

        And, yes, the Puritans rejected Calvin on these points. After all, we’re not beholden to the views of our forebears in the faith. Even so, when we suggest that Christianity has had a uniform view on these matters–as Jake has done–we need to take account of those who have disagreed with us. Protestant theologians have been all over the place on theological questions concerning marriage. The record is anything but uniform.

        I don’t see how the question about sodomy is relevant to anything I wrote. Yes, the Puritans forbid anal sex, but without regard to the sex of the actors. In contrast, social conservatives reject anal sex between those of the same sex, but promote it when it comes to opposite-sex partners (see, e.g., evangelical theologian Mark Driscoll’s book on marriage).

        Lastly, I’ve not chosen a side, unless there’s a “none of my business” side. I’m asexual, so I find it intriguing that people make much of sex.

        I’ve found very few evangelical theologians who’ve had much useful to say on these topics. One exception does come to mind, however: Steve Holmes, an evangelical baptist theologian in the UK who writes at the blog Shored Fragments. Three of his pieces are particularly interesting and worthy of deeper reflection: (1) a piece entitled “Sex, Death, and Marriage” from 3 December 2015; and (2) a piece entitled “The Trouble with Normal” from 5 July 2012; and (3) a piece entitled “Queer Hippo” from 20 September 2011. I only wish that more evangelicals were as thoughtful as Steve.

        Pax Christi.


        1. If you are going to suggest I have been dishonest you better say what you think I have been dishonest about specifically.


        2. I lack candor? Bob, you really do make me laugh. I’ve reasoned with you, I’ve provided detailed explanations of where you’ve gone wrong, I’ve cited and explained scripture and Christian tradition with care and, yes, candor, and I’ve been met only by bluster, misdirection, and a childish unwillingness ever to admit that you might not actually be right about every single thing you say. You’re amusing, but you’re not nearly so impressive a logician as you imagine.

          Take your latest canards. Who ever said that Mark Driscoll spoke for ‘social conservatives’? He certainly doesn’t speak for me, as I’ve made amply clear, so your citation of him doesn’t impress me at all, and I doubt it will impress many other readers of this blog. My point in mentioning sodomy was that you think it not a sin at all, and the Puritans thought that it was–a pretty major departure in sexual morality, don’t you think? Claiming for one’s own position the support of people whom one knows would have been horrified at the conclusions one is reaching is the height of immoral mendacity, especially when those people are now dead and unable to contradict speak their part. Anyone can see that but you, I guess. It’s now amply clear that you are unable, or unwilling, to argue a coherent case (I fear for your clients at law!) Hence your totally inapposite reply to Jake, not one iota of which contradicts his basic point about marriage as a pre-legal institution. Again, you’re not being rational. You just want to be right. That’s understandable, but your total inability to argue without retreating into obscurantism or a huffy, wounded bluster only makes you look silly.

          You want Calvin and ‘the Puritans’ to have held that marriage is a purely ‘pragmatic institution’. In one sense, you are right. Calvin thought that marriage was not a sacrament and no more a means for divine grace than agriculture, hair-cutting, or any number of other things ordained by God (the actual context of the statement that you’ve so often referenced). That leaves marriage as an institution with temporal purposes. However, marriage still remains something ordained by God, not set up by the whim of man. God, Calvin said, ‘is the founder of marriage’ and ‘presides over marriage’. Marriage thus has a great deal of spiritual weight behind it, even if it doesn’t bring one closer to God. It is not just ‘contractual’ and ‘pragmatic’; it is divine, in a way that a ‘loan arrangement’ (ah, an old canard of yours!) could hardly be. This is likewise true for Puritans such as William Gouge, who believed, with Calvin and the whole of Christian tradition, that marriage was instituted by God, who imposed particular duties on husbands and wives (no unisexual ‘contracting parties’ here!). How could they believe otherwise? The words of Moses, of Paul, and of Jesus are very clear.

          You do not think that. For you, to say that marriage is a ‘pragmatic institution’ means something very different in your case than it does in the Puritans’ (another one of your equivocations). It certainly isn’t divine, and it wasn’t ordained by God for husbands and wives with particular duties. It is just an arbitrary contractual relationship, a creature of human law to be reshaped at will with the support of the state and without the moral guidance of the Bible or of Christian pastors, those whom God has called to proclaim his word (hence your mean-spirited complaints about ‘religious bureaucrats’, as if you were living in eighteenth-century France rather than the modern United States). It is neither necessary for preventing fornication (which persons of your class see to be a minor peccadillo, as you’ve repeatedly said), nor was it authored and overseen by God. In this conviction, you depart radically from the doctrine of any and every Christian church, and from Scripture itself. I wish you would at least admit that. You are free to prefer your materialist utilitarianism to the Law, the Prophets, the Apostles, and the Evangelists, but at least admit that you don’t reason as a Christian, then, and (at least on this point) don’t want to.

          You know full well, finally, what I meant by ‘choosing a side’. I’m talking about your coupling of support for same-sex ‘marriage’ with an intense hostility toward traditional Christian sexual morality and its adherents. I get that you think that the conviction that sexual purity matters, that the law of God is actually authoritative, that causing little children to stumble deserves worse than murdering one’s father (the prototypical ancient crime punished by drowning) is beneath your enlightened utilitarianism. But you have picked a side in this political and ethical debate, and trying to claim that you have not is more than just disingenuous. It is a lie, and a stupidly obvious one. The fact that you may be deceiving yourself as well as trying to deceive others changes that not one whit.


          1. I think you’ve just illustrated the exact kind of dishonesty to which I was referring. If you were submitting the above as a legal brief, most of it would be stricken as irrelevant. In my initial comment, I was simply pointing out that Jake’s averment was false. The merits of my own views are irrelevant to whether Jake is being honest or not. Also, I’ve never said that sodomy is not a sin.

            Also, I think you should ask yourself why you’re so wrapped up in this issue. It interests me because I’m a sexual minority, an asexual, who was asked to leave my evangelical Reformed church for that reason. My church believed that one must be seeking to become a heterosexual to be a Christian. I believed that that view was wrong, and that it grew out of the kind of error that jake perpetuates above. So, I write here to push back against the kind of sub-Christian theology that has forced people like me out of the church. By contrast, you’re a straight guy whose life is utterly unaffected by whether same-sex couples can get civil marriage licenses or not. You should ask yourself why it is that you gain so much pleasure from inflicting legal and social burdens onto sexual minorities.

          2. Ah, Bob, you just prove what I was saying. You can’t answer me with reason, so you retreat into personal attacks and misdirection. Why did you bring up Driscoll, for example? He isn’t relevant when you’re arguing with someone who disagrees with him fundamentally, as you already knew when you replied to me. Why did you misrepresent Calvin and the Puritans? I wasn’t writing a legal brief, but neither were you, and your reasoning was hardly up to standard. In fact, what you wrote in your first paragraph to answer Jake’s initial assertion simply had nothing to do with what he was saying. Nothing you said about traditional Calvinist thought proved that Jake’s statements about traditional Christian thinking on marriage were false, let alone that he was actually being dishonest, and an initial examination of actual Calvinist thinking actually reinforces his claims. The idea that marriage was instituted by God in the beginning is pretty much universal Christian doctrine, and (so it would seem) among Calvinists too.

            You see, where I come from, you need actual evidence and actual logic to prove a reasoned case supported by facts incorrect. Simply accusing me of lying, like you did in the case of ‘Gnosticism’ and ‘Manichaeanism’, doesn’t actually prove my arguments wrong. It just proves you ignorant, and lazy to boot. Your whole method of argumentation, as this reply shows, is a classical example of what Nicholas Shackel has termed a ‘motte-and-bailey’ fallacy. You make sweeping assertions, then, when pressed, retreat back into the narrow confines of a more defensible and much more limited position. I realise that this is an effective rhetorical technique, and adopting it may allow you to think better of yourself, but it makes for bad reasoning.

            For the record, I know that you have said that ‘same-sex couplings’ are ‘often unwise’, but you have also denied that they cause any utilitarian harm, in principle (hence your support of same-sex ‘marriage’ on utilitarian grounds); you also claimed that ‘inherent sinfulness’ can be judged by our estimate of utilitarian harms. So no, you left open the possibility that homosexual genital activities are sometimes or often sinful, but you certainly implied that they aren’t always, just as you’ve implied (in defiance of all Christian teaching on the matter) that fornication is of small importance.

            And no, despite the nastiness to which you feel you must descend again, I don’t take pleasure ‘from inflicting legal and social burdens onto sexual minorities.’ We aren’t all utilitarians driven by our own feeling of what is nice and enjoyable for us, even if you are. I simply deny the novel idea that practitioners of any unnatural act require defence as a ‘sexual minority’ (What a Freudian notion to adopt! Again, you show yourself driven by anti-Evangelical bigotry, not by rational consistency). I don’t think that singling out particular sexual acts for a ban is a pragmatic choice in our licentious civilisation (why not ban adultery first?), but I do hold that the Church should be free to preach the truth in love to all sinners. People like you are trying to make opposition to certain kinds of sin socially unacceptable (‘hateful bigotry’) and, if possible, illegal (hence at least one court decision declaring that Christian doctrine, as a religious belief, ‘harms’ homosexuals), and that is only going to bring eternal suffering on those who do it.

          3. You have a habit of reading my writings, and then reframing them into being sweeping statements that are easier for you to argue against. Never mind that my statements regarding Calvin and the Puritans are entirely accurate. Moreover, I did not proffer that evidence to support any sweeping statements; rather, I proffered it to demonstrate that Jake’s sweeping statements were false. My own philosophical pragmatism is irrelevant to that point.

            Besides, contrary to your suggestion, I’m not trying to make a case for anything. In fact, I’m rather ambivalent about same-sex marriage; I simply see no rational reason to oppose it. I’ve felt this way ever since I read Andrew Sullivan’s TNR piece two decades ago. And I’ve not encountered a single rational argument in the ensuing years that’s persuaded me to adopt a contrary view. So, I’m often intrigued by the visceral nature of much “Christian” opposition to SSM, especially where that opposition appears to lack any rational foundation. Yes, I’ve speculated a bit–perhaps too much–about what may actually fuel that opposition. After all, the most common evangelical arguments against SSM have a certain manufactured, post hoc feel to them. Or, in the case of Jake’s argument above, the argument is so riddled with holes that it couldn’t possibly be the *real* reason why anyone opposed SSM. Besides, evangelical arguments against SSM are constantly shifting. Following you guys on this issue is like playing a game of whack-a-mole. And that’s not good when you’re the ones who bears the burden of persuasion. After all, in our society, individual liberty prevails unless there is a persuasive rational reason for restraining it.

            I don’t believe that people hold to viewpoints for irrational reasons. When they express visceral opposition to something, there’s invariably some apparent explicable basis for that opposition. And that’s what’s so confounding about evangelical opposition to SSM. The opposition is deeply visceral, but the proffered reasons for that opposition are amazingly thin. One might refer to this as a “plausibility gap,” i.e., the gap between one’s preferred policy positions and the proffered reasons supporting those positions. And, among evangelicals, there’s a lot of sensitivity around this plausibility gap. In fact, whenever I push against it in my interactions with you, you invariably respond by shifting the goalposts of the argument or by launching ad hominem attacks against me. In’s clear that there’s a lot of sensitivity around this plausibility gap, and you seem to be doing everything in your power to avoid confronting it.

            I understand that you don’t see yourself as a bigot. Even so, unless you and other evangelical opponents of SSM can start helping the rest of us understand the nature of this plausibility gap, we’re just going to assume that you’re hiding some kind of bigotry. Nature hates a vacuum. I’ve tried to suggest some reasons for that plausibility gap. You’ve indicated that I’m wrong. Fine. But perhaps you’d like to suggest an alternative explanation for the plausibility gap. That would probably help your cause a lot more than spewing ad hominem towards me.

            You’re not alone in this respect. Online commentator Rod Dreher engages in the same kinds of evasive tactics. Rod has spent the better part of the past decade railing noisily against SSM, but hasn’t provided any rational explanation for the visceral nature of his opposition. Maybe he’ll do so in his forthcoming book, but I’m not holding my breath. Rod’s and your approach loses sight of the fact that, in our country, we don’t generally withhold rights from people without requiring the government to set forth a rational reason for doing so. Whenever Rod’s commenters press him on this point, he responds with histrionic foot-stomping and hand-waiving. At some point, the broader culture can’t be faulted for assuming that such foot-stomping and hand-waiving is serving as a cover for something more sinister. After all, people aren’t comfortable with plausibility gaps. If you won’t fill it, the culture will.

          4. Plausibility gap, are you serious? It is as obvious as the sun lights the day that marriage exists because humans are male and female. It is equally obvious that this institution when broadly practiced is very good for all people. Why should we want to see it demolished and a new untried institution put in it’s place? Even more so since this new institution is disconnected, in principle, from everything that has made marriage good for all (namely commitment and fidelity).

            This idea that it is people who have been opposed to ss”m” have the burden of proof and always have is flippin’ nuts. The people who seek to change things have that burden. We know what marriage has been works very well. We also know ss”m” is nothing like marriage as it has been, and in principle, institutes every bad practice that has seeped into how people have treated their marriages (without commitment and faithfulness). SS”M” says marriage requires no commitments of any kind, which includes no commitment to sexual faithfulness. It says it’s good for a man to abandon his children and cheat on his wife if that makes him happy. Even worse, it says his wife is in the wrong if she complains, she has no right to expect anything from her husband (and she is as free as him to do whatever she wants anyway).

          5. You can say what you like, Bob, but you neither persuade me that you are not just another irrational anti-Evangelical bigot (hence your repeated double-speak on Freudianism, which you’ve neither explained nor defended) nor that you are trying to argue honestly. You’ve got to use facts, not your own wishes, to build a case. I’ve provided concrete evidence that your view of Calvin and the Puritans is incomplete, and that trying to claim them for a narrowly neoliberal, contractual view of marriage is not going to work. You can tell me all you want that you are correct regardless, but you’re not going to sway anyone who believes that historical argumentation has to be based in fact, unless you bring facts to bear. And in this matter, as in the discussion over ‘Gnosticism’ and ‘Manichaeanism’, you’ve not done that. I’m open to being refuted, of course, but it has to be by evidence and argument, not by simple accusations of falsehood or assurances that you are right, regardless of the evidence. Granted that you’ve not produced any, now or then, I must assume that you aren’t the realist you claim–you’re a realist when it suits you so as to seize the intellectual and moral high-ground, but not when your own pet ideas are challenged.

            I’ll let Jake defend himself further if he wishes, but I think you should rethink your own argumentation, because it doesn’t do what you think it does. Answering someone who says ‘Christians traditionally believe that marriage precedes the state’ by saying ‘but the Calvinist tradition thinks marriage is contractual!’ is nothing to the point, even if it is true. Obviously, one can hold both. Jake’s argument may be inconvenient for you, but it still stands unshaken, at least on that score. Granted, however, that the Calvinist thinks that marriage is a covenant in firmly biblical terms and you that it is a contract of autonomous, neoliberal capitalist agents, it’s doubtful whether you and the Puritan are even talking about the same things, anyway. Regardless, the Calvinist tradition (so far as I can see) does hold that marriage precedes governments–it was, after all, established by God in the garden of Eden before the fall of man, something that implies that it has a real, divinely ordained character in a way that you deny. Do you dispute this, or do you simply think that it is unnecessary to defend an idea, once you have come to hold it with sufficient conviction?

            Finally, I simply do not see why same-sex ‘marriage’ ought to be made legal, as soon as one has recognised that ‘sexual orientation’ is an artificial construct of (post-)Freudian psychology, as you have. Homosexuals have always had the right to marry, the same as anyone else, to bear or beget children, and to take part in all the familial aspects of human life in society. Their marriage just has to be to a person of the opposite sex, which is what human custom and the natural law demand. Sodomy (and other such acts) are unnatural misuses of the human body, and same-sex desire a perversion of friendship and of the natural sexual impulses. Human law should not condone immorality, except by necessity, and, when so, accommodation should be granted with the clear-sighted recognition that what is wrong remains wrong. Needless to say, this is not how legalisation of same-sex ‘marriage’ has proceeded.

            Why invent a novel right, therefore? Homosexuals could marry before, after all, and so were not deprived of any civil right, just the license to follow their own immoral desires with the approval of all. You may think granting that license a small harm, but I disagree, as I think that condoning immorality is always harmful, to those who condone it and to those who practice it alike. To call same-sex liaisons ‘marriage’ is to alter marriage fundamentally–not just ‘civil marriage’ (not a separate thing from religious marriage in American law, unlike in many European countries), but the whole totality of the social institution. And mark well, it is severe, destructive alteration. Replacing ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ with unisexual ‘spouse A’ and ‘spouse B’ is not a cosmetic change; it is making marriage into something else entirely, a kind of carnalised homosexual friendship, in which sexual difference (the basis of marriage according to Scripture, natural law theory back to the Stoics, and the custom of nearly every human society, whatever the precise shape of its marital customs) and the reproduction of the human race are rendered irrelevant. To legalise same-sex ‘marriage’, therefore, is not to grant a few legal rights to a ‘sexual minority’, not least because there is no such thing; it is to reshape a fundamental institution of human society, in defiance of the law of God and of nature, and to impose heavy burdens on those who still bear witness to the commandments of God. Now, you may not agree, but can you deny that this is, in principle, a rational objection for someone to make?

          6. P.S. For an example of pragmatic permission of moral wrongs, I would point to the legality of prostitution in much of Europe, which was defended by no less a Christian thinker than Thomas Aquinas. Allowing prostitution may be a prudent step for a government to take, both because it is impossible to restrict all vices (and unwise to try) and so that it can regulate public health, ensure at least the physical safety of the women, and (ideally) prevent pimps from gaining wealth and power. All this can be done and has been done, however, without anyone, until very recently, trying to claim that we should see the life of a prostitute as a good thing or defend the ‘right’ to enter that life. Likewise, a Christian in our society can recognise that divorce is a reality, but a deeply unfortunate one, and seek to work against it in ordinary life. Both approaches, to divorce and to prostitution, remain open to us, with only a few radicals trying to claim that either one is a good thing as such.

            The invention of same-sex ‘marriage’, by contrast, has been accompanied by brazen demands for universal celebration and by open assaults on Christian teaching as religious doctrine. It is an attempt to remake the human moral order from the ground up, and to silence all dissent, relegating it solely to a single hour in church on Sunday, for now, and, eventually, not even that. And then people like you come along and ask why Evangelicals are so worked up about the issue, as if same-sex unions had always been marriage and everyone else had just been minding his own business all along! The absurdity of the accusation is patent, and makes it very difficult for a rational person to accept your claim to be defending Christian orthodoxy, justice, or anything else.

          7. I had been wanting to point out that even if we just ignored everything else, that a pragmatic/utilitarian argument that CIVIL marriage should just be two person relationships between unrelated people who sexually stimulate each other somehow is going to be a difficult argument to make. That conclusion is absurd on it’s face. Granted, CIVIL marriage really isn’t some separate institution from marriage anyway. It is not as if CIVIL marriage came into existence independently of marriage after all.

            “It is an attempt to remake the human moral order from the ground up, and to silence all dissent, relegating it solely to a single hour in church on Sunday, for now, and, eventually, not even that.”

            Exactly, this is an existential issue. We cannot ignore the claims that we are hateful bigots (with blood of LGBT people on our hands according to some). People who believe that is true are not going to just let us be free to continue being hateful, bigoted, and apparently murderous (i.e. Orlando). Bob does not seem to realize what his words mean. They are not neutral, they are effectively a battle cry to eliminate Christian orthodoxy.

          8. Right. I don’t think this is an existential issue for everyone who comments on it (and maybe it genuinely is not for you, Bob, I don’t know), but that is very much how it has been cast in the wider culture. I suppose that’s what bothers me most about your posts, Bob (and has led me sometimes to be harsher in my tone than I ought, for which I do apologise): there’s no recognition anywhere of the intensity of anti-Christian feeling involved in this debate, and a too-ready tendency to adopt the anti-Christian nostrums so common in your own class, even when you ought to know better (I mean, ideas on the roles of husbands and wives and a focus on the ‘nuclear family’ are already evident in the New Testament, for example; simply repeating other people’s inaccurate summaries of Christian history doesn’t change that). Sure, you may think that this is a justified answer to the nastiness of some ‘Evangelicals’, but we are all going to find pretty quickly that any Christian, Catholic, Orthodox, or, yes, magisterial Protestant, who does not change his sexual morality to suit the culture’s is going to come under fire. This is an issue of religious liberty, of the extent to which religion will be allowed in the public sphere, and trying to claim that it is only a matter of weighing utilitarian costs and benefits flies in the face of the real terms on which the public debate has been, and is being, conducted.

          9. You and DR84 still seem to be falling victim to the false assumption that all ethical systems must inherently rest on some kind of epistemological idealism. Thus, you’re seeking to impose a burden onto me to proffer some kind of counter-metanarrative that’s more persuasive to you than Jake’s proposed metanarrative. I’ve repeatedly stated that that’s NOT what I’m seeking to do. So, either you’re incredibly dense, or being intentionally obtuse. So, I’ll try to make one final explanation.

            First, same-sex couples don’t bear the burden here. In our fair Republic, the burden always lies on those who are seeking to restrain another’s individual liberty. Those who would seek to restrain that liberty–whether directly or indirectly–bear the burden of establishing a persuasive, rational (non-sectarian) reason to support the proposed restraint. Sure, we’ve not always lived up to that in our past. But our past failures hardly require us to keep failing. Otherwise, we’d still have race-based slavery, spousal rape, and coverture laws. Whether you like it or not, in America, liberty trumps authority unless there are really good reason why it shouldn’t.

            Second, for Protestants, an analogous principle–Christian liberty–carries over into the ecclesial realm. Under that principle, the party seeking to bind the conscience of another on an ethical question bears the burden of establishing that Scripture clearly and unambiguously sets forth an ethical norm (and not merely a description of what was normal at the time of its writing) consistent in scope with the proposed binding. Again, we’ve often failed in that stead. But past failure is not an excuse for continued failure. In that sense, Protestantism opens itself to a certain embrace of creative destruction.

            Third, truth need not be deductive, and does not depend on its conformity to some ideal (synthetic or otherwise). This is the genius of the Scottish Enlightenment, which also went a long way toward giving us the two preceding principles. The theory of Christian epistemological realism was set forth most clearly by Thomas Reid. Reid’s notions have been worked out within our current context by Charles Sanders Pierce, G.E. Moore, Nicholas Wolterstorff, William Alston, etc. Such theories have broadly come to be known as philosophical pragmatism, which, in their realist form, are broadly consistent with Protestant ethical reasoning. Such reasoning doesn’t deny that absolute truth may exist; it simply rejects it as a useful concept in ethical reasoning. That’s because we’re fallen creatures who live in a fallen world, who are often too prone to construe “absolute truth” in self-serving ways. Pragmatism recognizes that God’s truth still flows to us in the world around us, such that we can often judge the relative truth of two propositions, even if we can’t know absolute truth. We can do this because the world around us reflects–albeit dimly at times–that otherwise-unknowable absolute truth. In that sense, I don’t promote pragmatic reasoning as the end-all and be-all for discovering absolute truth. To the contrary, I promote it as the method that is least likely to lead us astray and into the problems that arise when any party believes that it has discovered “absolute truth” and thereby seeks to oppress others on that account. For the Christian, pragmatic reasoning should feel somewhat unsatisfying, even if it’s the best that we can do east of Eden. That’s because we’re not made to live east of Eden, and are wired to desire life in God’s presence. Even so, the Christian response to that dissatisfaction is not to reject pragmatism and set out on some idealist effort to immanentize the eschaton by our own power–a task that, more often than not, leads us to claim divine aegis for self-serving political programs that offend God, e.g., Apartheid. To the contrary, the Christian response to that dissatisfaction is to recognize that we still await the eschaton, and, therefore, to place our hope in our faithful Savior’s return in glory.

            Fourth, this means that we ought to live with a godly respect for diversity. I don’t mean a respect for diversity in some oppressive politically correct sense. Rather, I mean a genuine respect for the diversity of creation and an intellectual openness that recognizes that we and our forebears do not and did not have all the answers. It’s not entirely open-ended; there are certain practices upon which we’ll reasonably agree lie beyond the scope of societal ethics and/or Christian ethics. And, in drawing such lines, we’ll likely draw them in the wrong places, and have to readjust them later. That’s fine. The goal of the Christian life is not moral perfection, but to come to a devoted faith in our risen Savior. In fact, it is in having such faith in Christ that we can experience the freedom to recognize the inherent contingency of this life and to take ourselves and others less seriously. The error of late-20th-century conservative Protestantism is that it has forsaken faith in the person of Christ for faith in ideas about Christ, and has thereby forfeited the freedom that Christ intended for us to enjoy as Christians in this life. It set out on a fool’s errand of trying to discover some absolute ordering life principle in an eschatological age that is purposefully wired to frustrate such efforts. Why is that? As a Christian, I believe that it’s probably because God wants to draw us to the person of Christ; forcing us to struggle with the inherent contingency of this eschatological age is God’s way of ensuring that we don’t forsake Christ for the comforts of this life. In that sense, forcing ourselves to settle for pragmatism is part of the ascesis of the Christian life in this eschatological age.

            Fifth, what of same-sex marriage? I don’t know. Narratives for same-sex coupling are still evolving, and it’s unclear what range of stable social narratives may emerge. But one thing I do know: Based on what we know today (and irrespective of what we thought we knew yesterday), I see no rational basis to support the government’s direct (via anti-sodomy laws) or indirect (via the withholding of civil marriage licenses) restriction of such social arrangements. In that sense, I would disagree with progressive efforts to proclaim same-sex coupling as some kind of moral good or moral ideal. For the reasons I stated above, I have a healthy Christian skepticism about proclaiming any institution of this eschatological age as a normative good or as an ideal to be emulated. And, for that same same reason, I would disagree with social conservative (i.e., anti-progressive) efforts to proclaim same-sex coupling as some kind of grave evil that fails to conform to some more limited notion of what constitutes a normative good. Instead, I’m content to accept the contingent (and often comfort-less) nature of this eschatological age, to rest my faith in the person of Christ, and to await his glorious return.

          10. There is glaring flaw in what you wrote here. What exact restriction on freedom and individual liberty do you think we arguing for? I certainly have not, and I do not believe Philipp has either, argued that the freedom of people to form homosexual or same sex life partnerships should be restricted in any sense at all. So, again, what liberty/freedom are you thinking we are wanting restricted?

            Getting a “marriage license” grants no freedoms and no liberties. It might get you some benefits and a bit of legal protection. These are not freedoms and liberties; though. Nor must they be legally constrained to just marital recognition. It certainly is possible, for example, for a law that would let siblings file taxes jointly or share a health plan.

            Also, in real life…whereas not a single freedom has been gained by people forming homosexual relationships by the state (wrongly) calling them marriages, actual freedoms of Christians and other traditional believers are being infringed upon. It is really you who has the burden of proof here to explain why the freedoms of religious people to run businesses, be employed, operate charities, schools, hospitals, and even churches should be restricted.

            PS The “hateful/bigot/murderous” rhetoric can be found expressed by major media, academics, and government officials. There is a case in Wyoming where the standard Lutheran beliefs of a municipal judge have been called (i believe) “disgusting” by a higher court in that state.

        3. If you regard Driscoll as any kind of Christian theologian then you haven’t been paying attention.


          1. The fact is that a large segment of American Christianity does, or for a time did, consider Driscoll a serious theologian. I think that’s quite unfortunate, but his shtick appeals to many people.

          2. “Used to appeal” would be a better description.

          3. Bear in mind that Driscoll’s marginalization had little to do with his views on women, marriage, and sexuality. In fact, it was precisely those views that led mainstream evangelical groups like the Gospel Coalition to embrace him. His demise resulted from his abusive treatment of male staff members.

          4. You are wrong. Driscoll made misogynistic comments under a pseudonym and complaints were filed by both men and women on the Mars Hill staff that he was abusive. Combined with plagiarism and the fact that church funds were used to boost sales of his book all contributed to his downfall. He was roundly criticized for his marriage book by Tim Challies and the TGC and Acts 29 washed their hands of him before he quit.

  6. […] Meador, “More on sex after Christianity” at Mere Orthodoxy = https://mereorthodoxy.com/more-on-sex-after-christianity/. Meador brings it again with a follow up to his earlier piece about David Gushee and his stance on […]


  7. **If we grant the state the power to override nature in redefining
    fundamental social institutions and to insert itself into the most
    intimate human arenas, that necessarily implies a rejection of the idea
    that there are natural norms that are beyond the purview of the

    I don’t know that this argument works. The state has possessed both a vested interest in and interaction with marriage qua civil institution for centuries. That is, the state has been outlining and defining the institution of marriage with respect to consanguinity, consent, divorce, mental capacity, dowries, etc., for years. Thus, someone who supports the state’s recent redefinition of marriage is not thereby necessarily also committed to the proposition that there are no natural norms that are beyond the purview of the magistrate. That is, they may be gravely mistaken as to the licitness of the state’s decision, but they are not necessarily adopting a position with respect to the state’s ability to define or redefine the tenets of natural law.

    Indeed, the argument seems to misconstrue the position of a Christian supporter of same-sex marriage. The supporter of same-sex marriage presumably does not believe that the state is superior to natural law, such that the state should be given power to redefine its tenets. Rather, the supporter of same-sex marriage most likely believes that the state is merely responding to and conforming itself to the dictates of justice. In other words, it can be safely assumed that no Christians chose to support same-sex marriage only following the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell. Rather, supporters of same-sex marriage presumably advocated and supported the Supreme Court’s decision with the intent of conforming the state’s position on marriage with their own. Moreover, such positions can fairly be described as “religious dogma.” It may be deeply misguided religious dogma, but it’s religious dogma nonetheless.


    1. Exactly. The purpose of property and contract law–of which civil marriage law is a part–is to establish default rules that reflect people’s settled expectations. The goal is to effectuate transactional efficiency not to enshrine certain socio-cultural ideals. Moreover, in many jurisdictions, civil marriage laws afford certain rights to parties that are otherwise unavailable to them, such as the right to insulate the property of the marital estate from tort judgments against one of the two parties (i.e., under the doctrine of tenancy by the entirety).

      In that sense, civil marriage laws generally reflect situations that have become usual. Over the course of several decades, we came to see that certain same-sex couples entered into committed relationships and did so with expectations that were similar to those of married opposite-sex couples. Moreover, in 2-3 decades of experience with such arrangements, it became apparent, despite their novelty, that they imposed no harm or burden onto society as a whole. So, it only made sense to extend civil marriage laws to include same-sex couples. This also explains why we don’t have laws recognizing plural marriages. It’s not because we’re opposed to them morally. Rather, it’s because there is little consistency from one such arrangement to another, thereby making it difficult to create any list of default rules that would be generally acceptable to those who adopt such arrangements. Therefore, there’s no gain in transactional efficiency that would result from creating civil marriage laws to address plural marriages. It is more efficient to leave the nature of such relationships up to the contracting parties.

      As for religious dogma, I don’t see the question as having much relevance to my religious beliefs. We live in a country where individual liberty trumps government authority. I expect my government to stay out of people’s lives unless it’s clear that they are causing material harm to others. I don’t, for the life of me, see how affording civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples harms me or anyone else. So, I see no reason to oppose it. For that same reason, I see no reason for the government to oppose all manner of religious activity that I see as utterly nonsensical. If people voluntarily want to head for the hills and devote all of their belongings to some would-be messianic leader, it’s fine by me.


  8. The basic premise of the article is no more true than allowing freedom of religion redefines Christianity. The basic issue not being discussed is how we share society with others. Now if we seek privileged and superior place in society to others, we will try to force various views on them and our view of marriage is one such view. But then, from that superior position, why just pick on the homosexual when discussing what compromises we can or cannot make in this fundamental institution of society? Why note work to make remarriage limited to the conditions set by the Scriptures?

    The basic idea that if one more libertarian in society approach to marriage then one must be compromising their Christian standards of marriage is arrived deductively from a basis that includes more than just teachings of the Scriptures. What was Paul’s view of the sexuality that surrounded the Church in Corinth (see I Cor 5:12-13).

    This freedom to arrive at conclusions using deduction without bothering to use an inductive approach to see if the connection is true is what is most disturbing. Did the writer here take a poll to see how Christians who think that same-sex marriage should be allowed in society define marriage for the Christian? This free use of deduction to determine the connection between different views or practices can cause us to wrongfully look down on those with whom we disagree about what society, not the Church, should allow. Who gains there?


  9. I agree strongly with the author.

    Much could be said against gay “marriage” and industrial reproduction. Inter alia, re: gay “marriage,” I found it odd and disturbing how quickly the public opinion polls changed about this, and how quickly the politicians, incl. Obama and Clinton, fell quickly into line behind the idea that a relationship between two men or two women is the moral and functional equivalent of a man marrying a woman.

    We live in a culture without strong convictions. People want to be liked, they have a consumeristic sense of entitlement, and they don’t think very broadly or very far ahead. And the media, from which most people form opinions, is very partisan.

    Many Christians support or use IVF, not thinking about why there is so much contemporary market demand for it, or about what IVF entails/facilitates.


    I see a dark future. I see a dark present. But on a personal and family level I feel very fortunate. Above all, I have a great wife.


    1. Public opinion has changed rather steadily on this issue; there’s been no big shift. What has changed is that, since 2008, the “favor” crowd has outnumbered the “oppose” crowd. It stands to reason that people are more vocal about their views when they perceive those views to be shared by the majority of the population. If you live in something of a socio-cultural bubble (as most evangelicals do), then it may seem that things have changed quickly. But all that’s changed is that the “favor” crowd feels less of a need today to keep quiet.


      1. Rachelthemillenial September 6, 2016 at 9:08 pm

        In other words, lots of people have a herd instinct, and in this case the herd is dumb enough to think that two guys living in the same place constitute “marriage.”


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