With all the wrangling over same-sex marriage within both secular and religious circles, the debate seems stalemated. And one reason Christian debaters have not succeeded is that they overlook one simple fact: Biblical love is not based on romance.
For the most part, Christians have raised obvious objections — man and woman are made for each other, children need a father and a mother, sodomites are notoriously promiscuous, they seduce underage youth at a disproportionate rate, the queer lifestyle is disease-ridden, and so on.
All of these are common sense objections, grounded in the nature of things and the consequences of flouting the creation mandates. All are valid objections, and well worth repeating.1
But if sodomites can draw a conclusion from the Christian’s starting-point, utilizing things which homosexuals and heterosexuals have in common, and unspoken and unquestioned assumptions, then they can bring the Christian on board. The Christian will be made to feel hypocritical if he appears to play by a double standard. This has a lot of emotional as well as logical force.
The Romantic Model of Marriage
What is the primary argument that you hear for same-sex marriage? In a word — love.
Sodomites proclaim a romantic model of marriage. If two people fall in love, they have the right to marry. And if they fall out of love, they have the right to divorce. Love is what validates a marriage, and the absence of love is what invalidates a marriage.
This has enormous popular appeal in the general culture. What is more, it has a hook in the contemporary church.
If you accept the premise, then it builds a natural bridge between heterosexual and homosexual marriage. It builds on an assumption that many on both sides of the debate share. This is what makes it both so plausible and insidious.
It has all the power of a half-truth. For the romantic ideal is just that — an ideal. It is something we should aim for. And you can find this ideal in Scripture. Jacob falls in love with Rachel and ties the knot. Husbands are commanded to love their wives. So you find folks in Scripture who fall in love and seal their love by the bond of matrimony. You find marital love held up as a marital duty. So far, so good. But where does the analogy break down?
Marriage as Covenant
In Scripture, marriage is a covenant (Pr. 2:17; Ez. 16:8; Mal. 2:14). As such, it is possible for one or both of the parties to breach the contract through infidelity or desertion.
By the same token, a covenant is not a matter of mere feeling. Love is not the glue that seals the deal. The absence of love does not dissolve the deal. To be a covenant-keeper is to honor the terms of the contract; to be a covenant-breaker is to dishonor the terms of the contract. No one is released from a binding contract just because he no longer feels like keeping up his end of the bargain.
This may sound dry and cold-blooded, even legalistic. But honoring one’s word is the basis of any social bond, whether between God and man, man and man, or man and woman. Without trust and truth, love is the first casualty. So even at an emotional level, this forms the framework of a loving relationship. Love is, at best, the flower, not the flowerbed. The covenant supplies the potting soil.
Although Scripture is never against romantic love in its proper context, it never makes romantic love a condition of a valid marriage. Yes, the story of Rachel and Jacob is love at first sight. But Jacob was also wedded to Leah, whom he did not love — and did not even seek to be his lawfully wedded wife. Yet Scripture treats his union with Leah as just as valid as his union with Rachel — his true love. For better or worse, he was stuck with Leah.
In general, marriages in Scripture were arranged. A classic case is the marriage between Isaac and Rebecca. Although she consented to the proposal, romantic love had nothing to do with it; they never even met until she became his bride. Isaac didn’t even pop the question. Abraham’s old servant handled everything.
So even if queer “couples”2 were truly loving and committed to each other, romance would not at all justify same-sex marriage as the Bible defines matrimony. What makes love vicious or virtuous is not the affection, but the object of affection. Love of sin and commitment to evil are hardly virtues.
We sinners are hard to live with. We don’t get through a marriage without hurt feelings and disappointed expectations. And we cannot survive that level of emotional exposure and scrutiny unless our marriages are glued together by God’s promise to us and our promise to God. In this respect, the covenantal character of marriage is of a piece with the other doctrines of grace.
The Beginning of True Love
So true love begins with a promise, not a passion. Only in the promise of God can we be honest with ourselves and one another. Only in the promise of God can we grow in grace and holiness. Only as the Lord’s betrothed can we betroth another, for God’s good promise to us is what redeems our promise to one another. Yahweh’s marriage to Israel (Is. 54), and our Lord’s marriage to the church (Rev. 19-22), are exemplary of a man’s marriage to a woman (Eph. 5:22-33).
Nature and grace, type and token, sign and seal go together. God made man male and female, and made the woman for the man (Gen. 1-2; 2 Cor. 11:7-9). The Son of God became a man, and in relation to the groom, the church — as the bride of Christ — is feminine, not masculine.
God didn’t love us because we were lovable; and we don’t love God because we are loving (1 Jn. 4:19). The covenant of marriage, between a man and a woman, is an earthly emblem of the heavenly covenant — in which the Father gave the Son a people to redeem and make His own (Lk. 22:29; Jn. 17).
1. There’s also an internal contradiction between the argument for queer rights and the argument for transgender rights; the former contends that homosexual orientation is innate and involuntary while the latter contends that sexual identity is a socially assigned cultural construct. If the latter, then folks are free to choose their orientation. In that case, why treat them as a special class? And even if the former were true, how does that argue for equal or special rights? A rattlesnake can’t help being a rattlesnake, but I wouldn’t want one anywhere near my kids!
2. The media constantly refers to two boyfriends as “couples.” To begin with, even a homosexual activist like Andrew Sullivan admits that monogamy is not a characteristic of the homosexual lifestyle. Hence, any same-sex marriage would be an open marriage. Since infidelity is a traditional ground of divorce, the average queer “couple” is pre-annulled before they ever exchange vows. Furthermore, while two boyfriends may sodomize each other, they cannot couple.
- Stephen Hays
Stephen Hays doubled-majored in history and classics at Seattle Pacific University and is currently both a student and teacher's assistant at Reformed Theological Seminary. He resides in Charleston, SC.