I am constantly stupefied and bewildered over the church’s opposition to gay marriage. Like many others, though still a minority of those who profess Christ, I hear echoes of what is among the most embarrassing and revealing episodes in the history of the church—its centuries of support for slavery. Clearly now the church recognizes it was on the wrong side of history then, and it’s on the wrong side of history now. The difference is that then—by the nineteenth century at least—the church was in a meaningful way at least divided on the issue. How long before the church truly divides over this? How long before the church crosses over to the side of empathy and compassion and moral defensibility? When will the church stop being a vehicle for conservative, reactionary “decency” and truly take on the challenge and mantle of Christ? And most importantly, why does it always take so long?
The church should be at the forefront of this issue. It should not lag and wait coyly. It should not wait until the real work of justice is done before it decides to jump aboard. The constant, historical reluctance of the institution to occupy the position at the forefront of history which is proper to it does incalculable damage to the gospel.
Those who wish to deny the honor of marriage to people who are not straight love to quote St. Paul in the book of Romans. I have to say that it’s not surprising that a first century Roman Jew would have an unenlightened understanding of human sexuality. I don’t think the reasons for this need to delay us. The problem, for so much of Christianity, is that the words here spoken are in the Bible and like the bible’s endorsements or seeming endorsements of slavery and patriarchy and so much that is unenlightened, it’s hard for people whose faith is in the Bible instead of the God of the Bible to let go of anything it says or seems to say. If they did, they’d have to think. They’d have to use the spirit to interpret the law. But this is of course just what the Jesus of the Bible so often castigates the religious leaders of his time for failing to do.
Moreover, in the same Bible, by the same author, we also read this: “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
Is the passion of a gay person somehow less intense, is it easier to control that the passion of a straight person? Can a homosexual find sexual satisfaction in the bed of a straight person? And is it right to ask him or her to do so? Do we really believe we are following the scripture and supporting “biblical marriage” if we say to the straight person, “if you cannot control your passion you should marry” but to the gay person, “if you cannot control your passion, good luck”? If, as the church maintains that the sexual act is only proper within the confines of marriage, then the church’s opposition to sin is tantamount to condemning a minority of God’s people to a fight it acknowledges they have not chosen and will not be able to win. The God that made them gay will not grant them the gift of celibacy merely because their society refuses to recognize their sexuality. We know this.
Gay marriage is morally and biblically the equivalent of straight marriage. The church has a religious obligation not merely to endorse but to be on the forefront of the movement to have it legalized and blessed. The failure to do so condemns not the gay people who ask for acceptance among the people of God but the church itself. It undermines the moral authority of the church—already so terribly damaged by its insistence on standing firm on the wrong side of history. And it drives good people—straight and gay—out, in search of alternative institutions or religions of greater moral authority, or way from all such voluntary institutions altogether. It is not enough that there by a few socially progressive churches that tolerate or even endorse gay marriage. Any church that wants to call itself Christian and which professes to learn its faith in any part from its scripture needs to stand foursquare behind this issue and these people, these children of God.