The Compelling Case For and Against Same-Sex Marriage

Part 2 of 3

Over the next two months, Australians will be asked by postal vote whether they believe federal law should be changed so that same-sex couples can marry.

Like most Australians, I’m concerned that any public debate around this issue is conducted with respect, given that this isn’t merely an “issue”. We’re discussing real peoples’ lives and loves.

My social pipes are already choked with views for and against, but I’m heartened: what I’ve seen so far has been overwhelmingly civil with little evidence of the homophobic Australia I’ve heard exists. Maybe I just have a lot of polite friends.

“This isn’t merely an “issue”. We’re discussing real peoples’ lives and loves.”

As a Christian, I’ve given a lot of thought to this subject. Jesus told us to love God with all our minds, and I assume he says what he means and means what he says. As such, I refuse to vote either “yes” or “no” without considering both sides. And there are compelling arguments either way you look.

Here I have summarised what I see as the three strongest reasons both for and against followers of Jesus voting to change the definition of marriage. You’ll have to keep reading to the end to find out where I land. (Scroll to the bottom now if you’re closed-minded and can only think in black and white).

For #1 | It’s not the church’s place to tell society what to do

I agree. The church once had a privileged position in the West, and while I’m convinced this enabled Jesus’ teachings to impact the world for unspeakable good (check out my series on How Jesus Shaped the West), sadly that status also seduced Christians into grave abuses of power.

Doubtless, those abuses are a big reason for the church’s waning influence on culture. That influence has been a huge loss, and it’s enough to destroy anyone’s faith completely—but only if we’ve confused Christendom with the Kingdom. Christendom has fallen, but God’s Kingdom has never ceased to be in our midst.

“The early church turned the world upside down.”

When I look back in history, the Christians I find most inspiring didn’t occupy halls of power; they spoke with a marginal but powerfully prophetic voice. In short, the Christians who impress me most looked most like Jesus.

Christianity has once again been driven to the margins of society. So it’s time to stop modelling our conduct on the Holy Roman Empire and instead, take our cues from the early church.

“Christendom has fallen, but God’s Kingdom has never ceased to be in our midst.”

For those first 300 years, the church didn’t speak with an air of entitlement. They didn’t legislate or pontificate the moral choices of their secular counterparts. But they did turn the world upside down. And they did it from their knees.

For #2 | Many same-sex relationships outshine straight marriages

The other day I saw a cartoon depicting three weddings. The first was an overnight Las Vegas fling; the second was a couple who had divorced and remarried on repeat; and the third was a loving same-sex couple. The caption read, “Guess which kind of marriage religious people are against?”

It was convicting. In many ways, the church has lost its moral authority, not only by dropping our standards on what marriage should look like, but by making people who sin differently to us feel like they’re in some ugly category all on their own. It’s hypocrisy at its worst.

“In many ways, the church has lost its moral authority.”

Happily, those cartooned examples of heterosexual marriage are the exception rather than the rule, but the illustrator has a really good point. If so much already passes for marriage that shouldn’t, isn’t it unfair to stand in the way of marriage for same-sex couples who set a far better example of love and commitment?

For #3 | Jesus showed the greatest love to the most marginalised

Jesus was a divisive figure. His claim to be God offended everyone. But in particular, he was disliked by progressives for his stuffy moral values, and by conservatives for keeping company with sex workers, white collar criminals, and blue collar dropouts.

Which is a sobering reminder to me as a follower of Jesus that if everyone who thinks I’m a jerk is further left than I am, then I’m probably so far right that I’m wrong.

“Jesus was known as a friend of the marginalised.”

If my convictions about sex are christian but my behaviour isn’t, then I’ve sawed off the branch I’m sitting on. And I must take responsibility when people quote Gandhi, saying, “I like your Christ but I do not like your Christians.”

On the contrary, in my conduct I should look something like Jesus. Religious people were often upset with him, but he was known as a friend of the marginalised. He opposed the proud, but to the humble he showed grace and unexpected love.

“If everyone who thinks I’m a jerk is further left than I am, then I’m probably so far right that I’m wrong.”

Which means that in 2017, I’m more like Jesus if I’m misunderstood as endorsing same-sex marriage than if I’m misunderstood as hating LGBT Australians. I hope I’m not misunderstood at all—but if I err in this way, may I err on the side of love.

Every human being is made in the image of God and has inestimable worth: any convictions I have about sex must come second to that.

So am I voting yes? Well there are a few things I haven’t mentioned yet.

Against #1 | Social moods are an unstable foundation for legal change

Every definition of marriage discriminates. I’m confused by the term “marriage equality” because even if Australia passes it, certain people will still be excluded—namely children and those already married.

I’m not trying to incite fear; I’m not suggesting same-sex marriage will lead to pederastic or polyamorous marriage; I’m not drawing moral equivalence between any of these camps; I’m not assuming any overlap in their agendas.

I’m simply pointing out that zeitgeist is a shaky reason to tamper with a very ancient institution. Those who would like children to marry, or marriage to include three or more members, are today rightly considered odd—even dangerous. But they also make their case in terms of human rights, discrimination, and love.

Zeitgeist, n. the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history.

I’m not fearful that such arrangements are “coming next”. But in seeking to be like Jesus, I care about my civilisation, and I’m concerned about us breaking our moral compass.

If feelings of love and attraction are the overriding rationale for same-sex marriage, then at best, in the future we will be guilty of unfair discrimination towards other “marriage” configurations where those same feelings are present. At worst, we will have convinced ourselves that this, too, is progress.

It seems so unlikely. But as we’ve seen with the current debate, social moods change quickly, even on a global scale.

Against #2 | The rights of adults shouldn’t trump those of children

Many who marry don’t want to have children. Some who want to have children can’t. Medical advances and adoption provide choices—including for same-sex couples. But none of these scenarios annul one simple observation.

The human race will only progress towards its unfolding history through the bonding of male and female. Marriage has existed through time and culture to honour and protect this profoundly unique reality.

“The human race will only progress towards its unfolding history through the bonding of male and female.”

Same-sex couples now raise families—and many do a better job than married heterosexuals. But to call such a union marriage is for me and many others a definitional oxymoron (kind of like a square circle or a married bachelor), for the simple fact that it lacks the most basic attribute (and therefore potential) of marriage.

To others, this might all sound like semantics. But if marriage is this destiny-shaping institution that same-sex couples want access to, and same-sex marriage enters the fray, there is another considerable problem.

Every child conceived in such a family will be deprived in advance of one of their biological parents. Their natural-born right (recognised even by the U.N.) to be brought up by their mum and dad will have been taken away before they ever got a say in the matter.

“It may be no one’s intention to turn kids into commodities, but the result is the same.”

Irresponsible dads can inflict the same wound, as can sexual abuse, or the death of a parent. But we universally acknowledge these as unwanted scenarios. To enshrine same-sex marriage in law is to bless this absence and call it desirable—in our society’s bedrock institution, no less.

It may be no one’s intention to turn kids into commodities, but the result is the same—all because the rights of adults have been put before the rights of children. To me, that doesn’t seem much like Jesus.

(And ironically, while our society fights for equal representation of the sexes in every sphere of life, same-sex marriages will lack that too).

Against #3 | Human histories and cultures aren’t so easily dismissed

You might have noticed that I’m yet to quote Scripture in discussing the against case. That’s because I don’t assume everyone reading this views the Bible as a legitimate authority.

Jesus certainly did quote Genesis to teach that marriage is between a man and a woman—and considering he was a Jew in first century Israel, if he was radical in approving of same-sex relationships, we’d need radical evidence for it. And that does seem to be missing from the gospel accounts.

I don’t expect much praise for it, but even in my convictions on human sexuality, I hope to be like Jesus. (I’ve written about the views that Jesus and other biblical authors held on sexuality here).

“Jesus taught that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

But whether it’s Judaism or Christianity; Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism; cults or schisms or other isms, almost every human culture through almost all of human history has understood marriage to be the union of sexually complementary spouses.

This deep history is why I’m shocked that classical marriage is now being framed as controversial, or even intolerant. (I have a few thoughts on this unusual new morality). Those who believe in it are only agreeing with almost every one of the tens of billions of people who have ever lived.

Traditional doesn’t always equal true. But I pay attention to what cultures have done en masse from the dawn of civilisation to the present. And as a Christian, Jesus’ views on sexuality must be my views on sexuality.

How I’ll Vote on Same-Sex Marriage

When I look at the relationships Jesus had, what strikes me most of all is his ability, in the words of John Dickson, to flex both the muscle of ethical conviction and the muscle of compassion. To profoundly disagree with people, yet befriend and love them all the same.

As I weigh up my options, I’m struck that a vote for same-sex marriage won’t allow me the opportunity to flex both of those muscles. To do this—to be like Jesus—I have only one option: I must vote for the ideal of marriage that Jesus upheld.

When I cast my vote, like in any election, I’ll vote not as a representative of the institutional church, but as me. Sure, I’m a Christian, but my conscience and opinion counts like any other Australian. And I’ll also vote with humility, aware of the past failures of many who said they represented Christ.

“I’ll vote not as a representative of the institutional church, but as me.”

If that doesn’t sound progressive enough, consider C. S. Lewis: “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

~

If the opinion polls are right, by November same-sex marriage will be law in Australia. The media pack, led by the ABC, seems to have all but ensured that. (I tend to think the media is at its best when it’s trying to inform, rather than form public opinion—especially when it’s taxpayer funded).

In the midst of this, some of us need reminding that if same-sex marriage does pass as law, the sun will actually rise the next day and life will go on as usual.

If I’m honest, in the years to come, I’m concerned about what that might look like for my freedoms, particularly as a pastor. But what concerns me more in the present is being the kind of voice and hands and feet that society will miss—and wish they hadn’t suppressed—if it ever comes to that.

“If I err, may I err on the side of love.”

There’s no point in winning the battle but losing the war. I don’t want to go down fighting. I want to go down loving. In that too, I want to be like Jesus.

If you enjoyed reading this, please like and share it on social media, and scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe to my blog by email.

Read the rest of the series on Same-Sex Marriage:  PART 1  |  PART 2  |  PART 3

19 comments

  1. Pingback: Same-Sex Marriage Might Set the Church Straight | Culture, Worldview and Life with Jesus
  2. Peter C · August 15, 2017

    A very good article with lot’s of good consideration.I am baffled however because I actually do not think your first three points are very good arguments for “Same sex marriage” at all.

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    • kmahlburg · August 15, 2017

      Thanks Peter. They are the three best I’ve heard. I obviously don’t find them compelling enough to ultimately vote “yes” but I have empathy for people who do and who don’t share my Christian worldview.

      Like

  3. Peter C · August 15, 2017

    “I am now a supporter of marriage equality, not despite my faith but precisely because my Christian faith demands that I treat others with compassion, justice, and love. I believe that love and marriage are God’s gifts to us. Why would we not want those gifts to be available to every consenting adult? ” These words were a quote from a christian minister in the Sydney Morning Herald a week ago. What do you think??

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    • kmahlburg · August 16, 2017

      What I think is already in the blog you’re commenting on 🙂

      Like

  4. Karina · August 16, 2017

    Hi Kurt
    I’m really interested to know whether you have close friends in the LGBTI community, and if so, whether these friends have children? I’m also interested to know whether you have friends who have grown up within this family structure.

    Like

    • kmahlburg · August 16, 2017

      Hi Karina, thanks for your comment. Yes, I have friends in the LGBTI community – but I don’t know anyone who has grown up with same-sex parents. In my blog, I chose not to engage in the case for or against same-sex parenting – I’ll let someone else argue that. My point as it relates to kids is that SSM will inevitably lead to children being deprived of one of their biological parents before they have a say. Hope this helps!

      Like

  5. Anthony · August 18, 2017

    Amen brother. Really enjoyed reading this article. Thanks for taking the time to think about your views and express them in a thoughtful and loving way. My sister is in a same sex relationship, with one daughter and another on the way. My wife and I love my sister and her partner, we make a lot of effort with them, as Jesus would have us do. I am just trying to love her as my sister, and am patiently waiting for God to open a door to share Jesus with her. Like you said, the days will tick on, the sun will continue to rise and God will still be sovereign over every moment.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. David · August 20, 2017

    It strikes me that you fail to consider how your position will affect children struggling with their sexuality. As a moral leader, they may look to you for support and guidance but will receive more reasons to hide, shame and hate themselves. It’s particularly sad because you are otherwise well reasoned and seemingly trying to live a life informed by love. I hope you consider what a destructive force your views may be to the already marginalized and afraid.

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    • kmahlburg · August 20, 2017

      Thanks David. It’s interesting to hear you write about this as a hypothetical. As it is there are people you’ve described struggling with their sexuality who do look to me and the church community I’m part of and have found a safe place where they are known and loved. The key for them (and anyone seeking to follow Jesus) has been seeing their identity as something far more all-encompassing than just their sexual desires. I’ve written about this in various other blogs which I’d encourage you to check out. Holding to Jesus’ views on human sexuality while at the same time being a safe place for people wrestling with their own sexuality is not an abstract theory. It’s reality in many Christian communities throughout the world.

      Like

      • David · August 21, 2017

        It’s never too late to ask Jesus to enter ones heart (as opposed to abstract pontification) for clarity and forgiveness of one’s role in perpetuating suffering. And to choose love. God bless.

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  7. Mykolas · August 21, 2017

    Id be interested to hear your thoughts. Given you have summed up the For and Against you have actually considered it. When you say your reasons that you will be voting No, they were much more based on the personal rather than the societal reasons.

    By extension, would you also admit that that your reasons are inherently selfish? In as much that you stated the reasons you will be voting No is that you want to flex your muscles like Jesus, because you are a Christian etc, to the exclusion of any argument about social function that you outlined above your decision.

    If you can make this leap (and Im not saying selfish is a bad thing, like all traits it has its place and time) then have you given consideration to the biblical teachings of being cautious about selfishness and considering society as a whole? I’m thinking such passages as Philippians 2:3-4, even the nature of the crucifixion itself shows one should act for the betterment of all rather than focused on one self.

    Hopefully food for thought anyway and would appreciate your opinion. As someone that grew up a Roman Catholic, but moved away from its doctrine and now have a much more personal relationship with God. I read the bible and, taken as a whole, find an overwhelming case to vote Yes, than to vote No.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kmahlburg · August 21, 2017

      Hi Mykolas, thanks for commenting. I’m surprised to hear your assessment of the three against arguments I’ve used as selfish. #1 is about future generations, not me. #2 is about the rights of children, not me. And #3 is about imitating Jesus, which is at the heart of the Philippians passage you mention. The flexing muscles analogy has nothing to do with impressing anyone – it’s all about acting with both conviction and compassion, as Jesus did.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Ben · August 21, 2017

    Thanks for writing such a balanced article. I disagree with your conclusion but appreciate the tone and respectful way it’s put. I would disagree about the rights of the child in point #2 against. Same sex couples can already adopt, use donor sperm or surrogate children legally and be listed as parents. The whole idea that same sex marriage will change the structure of a family is a myth. That horse has already bolted. The only real change (give same sex couples are recognised as defacto under current law) is the rights of the living partner if the other dies.

    Liked by 3 people

    • kmahlburg · September 5, 2017

      Thanks Ben, I appreciate your feedback and your respectful tone as well. While I am a big fan of adoption, I am concerned about any child conceived into a family where ipso facto they don’t have the choice to be raised by both of their own biological parents (which is part of Article 7 in the UN Conventions on the Rights of a Child). That might already be the case in de facto relationships but enshrining this situation in marriage is another step in that (in my view, wrong) direction, which is why I’ve expressed my reservations as I have.

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  9. Pingback: Marriage Rites & Rights – The Open Table
  10. Pingback: We’re Not Debating Same-Sex Marriage—We Just Think We Are | Culture, Worldview and Life with Jesus
  11. Peter B · August 29, 2017

    How will children be affected? Specifically, how will “their natural-born right to be brought up by their mum and dad will have been taken away before they ever got a say in the matter”. Same sex adoption is already legal, and same sex marriage will have no effect on custody disputes, so how will children be affected?

    Like

    • kmahlburg · September 5, 2017

      Thanks Peter for your question. Children who are conceived into same-sex marriages will by definition not be able to be raised by at least one of their biological parents. This needs to be considered when we as a society are considering a change to the shape of the institution of marriage.

      Like

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