What’s wrong with same-sex ‘marriage’?

Recently I read of a church that fell into serious error. Apparently this happened under the influence of a newly arrived pastor whose predecessor—a godly man—had, for more than three decades, “never preached anything but the gospel truth”. How could this falling away happen so quickly? A friend of the church observed of the former pastor, “He told them the truth all those years. What he didn’t tell them was what wasn’t the truth”.1

I found myself thinking about this provocative comment as I considered the pressure that is building in certain parts of the Western world, especially in North America and Western Europe, for us to accept same-sex ‘marriage’ as having the same legal status and social acceptance as heterosexual marriage.2

Many people are instinctively uncomfortable with, if not hostile to, such an idea. For example, opinion polls in the United States (where this is a live issue) confirm clear public opposition to the idea of same-sex ‘marriage’.3 There is something about it that is ‘not quite right’, but many people would have difficulty in putting their finger on what exactly was their objection. When people do try and explain their position, it is usually along the lines of support for ‘the traditional family’, or the belief that ‘marriage is about having children’ (or, more baldly, about ‘the survival of the species’).

These lines of argument can be countered. One could ask why, in an enlightened, liberal, secular society, public policy on marriage should be decided by appeals to tradition. And if marriage is about children and ‘survival of the species’, why does society permit heterosexual marriages where the couples either choose not to have children or are unable to do so?

In light of these questions, I want to look at what isn’t the truth when it comes to the idea of same-sex ‘marriage’.

Back to basics

Matthew 19 gives an account of the Pharisees testing Jesus with a question about permissible grounds for divorce. Jesus doesn’t answer their question directly at first, but instead shifts the debate back to the basic issues of why marriage exists in the first place, and how God always intended marriage to operate (Matt 19:4-6). Once these matters are established, it becomes easier to see the issue of divorce more clearly and consider it from the right perspective.

We can apply a similar approach to the question of same-sex ‘marriage’. When we go back to the basics of marriage in Genesis 1 and 2, we can see that, from God’s perspective, marriage is intended to be an exclusive, life-long relationship between a man and a woman. This design for marriage is reiterated in Matthew 19 and in numerous other places in the Bible. The Bible is also uncompromising in its condemnation of sexual relations between people of the same sex. It follows that the idea of marriage consisting of a relationship between two persons of the same sex is completely at odds with God’s idea of marriage.

Unfortunately, this clear teaching of Scripture does not always hold sway in Christian circles. Alarmingly, some churches and church leaders in the Western world are flirting with the idea of giving legitimacy to same-sex ‘marriage’ by devising, or wanting to devise, liturgies to ‘bless’ same-sex ‘unions’ or ‘friendships’. Undoubtedly this would also extend to ‘marriages’, if they became legal. A key argument used to justify their position is that the Bible is silent on the existence of ‘loving, faithful, monogamous’ same-sex relationships and that we should therefore show loving acceptance of such relationships.

This argument is simply a variant of the “Did God really say?” argument, which goes back as far as Genesis 3. As far as I can tell, the Bible is also silent on the morality of chopping someone up into little pieces using a machete. Arguments on the basis of the Bible’s silence can be very dangerous. The Bible doesn’t set out to prescribe action on every imaginable contingency in life. What it gives is clear direction about right and wrong, often expressed in terms of general principles that can then be applied to specific situations. That is the case here. Machetes don’t get a mention in the Bible, but the rightness or otherwise of this grisly example can easily be determined by reference to general principles and commands in the Bible—for example, the command not to commit murder (Exodus 20:13). And if that doesn’t persuade you, there is always the command to do to others as you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12).

Same-sex ‘marriage’, whether involving persons in a loving, faithful and monogamous relationship or otherwise, is contrary to the teachings of Scripture. There is simply no room to manoeuvre on this issue, regardless of what some churches and church leaders would like to think.

But even if the Bible’s teaching settles the matter for the Christian (as it should), how can we defend biblical ideas before people who consider arguments based on biblical authority as irrational? Specifically, how can we defend the biblical model of marriage before people for whom the Bible carries no weight at all?

Logical consequences of same-sex ‘marriage’

One of the ways God exposes the folly and evil that comes from man’s rebelliousness is to allow people to eat the fruit of their own attitudes and actions. An example of this is in Romans 1. In this chapter, Paul traces the consequences of a pattern of disobedience that goes in a downward, ever more destructive spiral, leading ultimately to depravity and total insensitivity to evil.

An interesting thing about this process is that the harm suffered by the disobedient doesn’t come from overt punishment by God. Rather, it is the result of God allowing them to experience the logical, inevitable consequences of their pride and sense of self-sufficiency. We can see this in verses 24-28:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions … And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

If God had not allowed events to run their course, the full extent of the depravity of the disobedient would not have been exposed.

Again, we can apply a similar approach to the question of same-sex ‘marriage’. What would be the logical consequences of removing the longstanding requirement in our society that marriage is only between a man and a woman?

In order to assess this, we need to have a clear understanding of the case for making the change to allow same-sex ‘marriages’. There are many formulations of the case, but the main arguments are on the basis of:

  • Human rights. Denying same-sex couples the right to marry is discrimination, and public policy should not discriminate against people by virtue of their sexual orientation or lifestyle.
  • Protection of minorities. Same-sex couples should not be excluded from the institution of marriage just because they are a minority group within society. Precisely because they are a minority, society should take special care to ensure that they are not marginalized and treated as ‘second class citizens’, but that they enjoy the full benefits available to other members of society.

Appeals to human rights, and ideals of non-discrimination, equality and inclusiveness, figure prominently in the arguments for permitting same-sex ‘marriages’.

There are also a number of arguments based on pragmatism. One is a utilitarian argument that the extension of full marriage rights to same-sex couples benefits those couples without creating detriment to the rest of society. Another is that extending full marriage rights to same-sex couples will encourage society’s full acceptance of same-sex lifestyles as a morally equivalent alternative to heterosexual marriage.

Yet another argument stems from the belief that our understanding of right and wrong is evolving and there are no fixed, objective moral standards. The argument is that we should not dismiss the validity of same-sex ‘marriage’ just because some people are now offended by the idea. In time, as our understanding of human sexuality increases, this form of marriage may well come to be accepted as normal.

The above arguments, collectively, are important because, if accepted, they contain the seeds of the eventual destruction of marriage as a meaningful institution—even for same-sex couples.

Introduction of same-sex ‘marriage’ would not, as its proponents argue, be a mere extension of the institution of marriage to a group of people who have been excluded from it until now. It would represent a redefinition of marriage. The idea that marriage is between people of the opposite sex is not simply one of many features of marriage; rather, it is fundamental and integral to the concept of marriage. If marriage can be redefined in such a fundamental way and still be considered marriage, there is no reason why it could not be redefined in countless other ways as well and still be considered marriage.

The Macquarie Dictionary defines marriage as “the legal union of a man with a woman for life”4. If society redefines marriage to eliminate the requirement for the married couple to be of the opposite sex, then there is no logical reason why it could not also redefine marriage to eliminate the requirement for marriage to involve a couple. If one wanted to argue the case for polygamy, they could simply use the same arguments currently being used to justify same-sex ‘marriage’. It would be logically impossible to deny these arguments without admitting that the case for same-sex ‘marriage’ was flawed. Indeed, to consciously deny these arguments would be a discriminatory act—in this case, against polygamists. Another minority group, bisexual people, could similarly invoke the arguments for same-sex ‘marriage’ to justify ‘marriage’ simultaneously to persons of both sexes.

Why not also remove the legal presumption that marriage is ‘for life’ especially since everyone knows that this presumption doesn’t always hold in practice? Why not instead allow fixed term marriages, or variable term marriages where the parties can terminate the contract by, say, 30 days’ notice in writing? And why not also remove the current prohibition (under Australian law) on marriage between blood relatives, or the requirements for minimum marriageable age? In short, if society is prepared to make the fundamental step of removing the legal restriction that marriage necessarily involves persons of the opposite sex, why not remove other equally (or less) fundamental restrictions as well? And if we remove the barriers to becoming married, why not also remove those to becoming unmarried—that is, through divorce?

These are not fanciful scenarios. They are reasonable possibilities that flow logically from acceptance of the case for same-sex ‘marriage’. The arguments for same-sex ‘marriage’ are not ‘same-sex specific’. They are equally applicable to the removal of virtually the entire range of restrictions that are part of marriage. Nor should anyone hope to invoke the counter-argument of ‘what about the children?’ Such considerations have been conspicuously absent from court decisions to require laws providing for same-sex ‘marriage’, so it is unlikely that they will be considered relevant to any other possible variation of the conventional model of marriage.

If society dismantles, bit by bit, longstanding restrictions to and within marriage, the effect will be to ‘devalue the currency’ of marriage. If marriage can mean anything, then ultimately it will mean nothing. We would end up with a system of ‘designer marriages’, devoid of any moral framework, the designs of which would be limited only by the creativity of the persons involved. Without the structure that marriage provides for the ordering of the human family, there would be complete confusion and disarray in family relationships. And those who would suffer the most in such an environment would almost certainly be our society’s most vulnerable members—the elderly, the women, the poor, the sick, and the children.

What isn’t the truth

In the illustration above from Romans 1, we can see that the downward spiral of evil began with sins of the heart and mind (vv. 21-22), and continued with them (v. 28). The case for same-sex ‘marriage’ also reflects ungodly thinking and attitudes. We need to see what isn’t the truth about same-sex ‘marriage’. Here are some of the flaws:

Fallacy #1: Marriage is about individual rights

Like many fallacies, there is an element of truth in this proposition. According to the Bible, a person who is single or widowed is free to marry (1 Cor 7). The problem with the case for same-sex ‘marriage’ is that it looks at the social institution of marriage exclusively through the lens of the ‘rights’ of the individual. The argument takes no account of the fact that marriage inevitably affects other people. The phrase in Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother” shows that a person’s parents and, by extension, other family members, are affected by that person’s decision to marry. And, very importantly, since marriage was inaugurated in the context of the command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28), any children that become part of the family unit created by a marriage are likewise affected. Arguments in favour of same-sex ‘marriage’ consider these wider effects of little importance, if not altogether irrelevant.

Fallacy #2: Marriage laws should not be discriminative

This proposition is closely linked to the ‘protection of minorities’ strand of the case for same-sex ‘marriage’. Again, there is an element of truth in this. Australians would rightly be outraged if the Australian Government tried to introduce laws to, say, ban interracial marriages. The issue is not whether marriage should be completely free of discrimination, but what forms of discrimination should properly be included. In importantrespects, the institution of marriage does discriminate, and is meant to. It is precisely the restriction inherent in the marriage relationship that gives it its special character and value. As seen above, attempts to remove such restrictions on marriage will sooner or later destroy marriage completely.

Fallacy #3: Same-sex ‘marriage’ would benefit same-sex couples without adversely affecting the rest of society

Yet again, there is an element of truth in this. Introduction of laws to permit same-sex ‘marriages’ would not affect the existing rights of heterosexual couples to marry. But legalizing same-sex ‘marriages’ would inevitably give a degree of moral legitimacy to such relationships in theeyes of society that would not have occurred otherwise. Heterosexual married couples would then find themselves raising their children in an environment where sexual relations between people of the same sex was, in the eyes of society, purely a matter of lifestyle choice rather than a matter of morality. To say that the rest of society would be unaffected by legalization of same-sex ‘marriage’ is far from the truth.

What is the truth?

One of the reasons that most people have some awareness that there is something ‘not quite right’ about the idea of same-sex ‘marriage’ is that we all carry within us the “knowledge of good and evil” that came to humanity in Genesis 3. All of the world’s major religions and, throughout history, all of its major civilizations and virtually all of its societies have viewed marriage exclusively in heterosexual terms. The reason that many people in Western societies have only a vague understanding of why same-sex ‘marriage’ is ‘not quite right’ is that they have little knowledge of God’s revelation through the Bible. In the absence of that knowledge, an appeal to the idea of the ‘traditional family’5 (a concept based on Christian principles) is the next best explanation.

It is no accident that it is from within Western societies that the pressure to accept the idea of same-sex ‘marriage’ has emerged. Western civilization, strongly influenced by Christianity, places a high value on the individual in society. But there is now widespread erosion of belief in God-given moral standards and values and, in their place, a secular-humanistic world view has taken root. The effect has been to make our culture increasingly self-absorbed, strongly focused on personal ‘rights’ and interests. For many, belief in the importance of the individual has given way, perhaps without them realizing it, to acceptance of the cult of the individual. This ‘moral-free’ exaggerated individualism is, at its heart, a form of idolatry. And it is this distorted view of the individual that propels the case for same-sex ‘marriage’.

Suppose we were to try to design, from first principles, a model for ordering human relationships in a way that maximized individual and community welfare. We could use a range of positive or negative indicators of personal and community wellbeing such as longevity; incidence of illness; crime rates; domestic violence; juvenile delinquency; poverty; welfare dependence; educational outcomes for children; and a host of other indicators. The task would be to work backwards from these outcomes, using the vast, accumulated body of available social, economic and health research, to come up with the best possible design for human relationships and living arrangements for individuals and society as a whole.

If we were to do this task conscientiously and honestly, we would end up with a model that looked uncannily like—surprise, surprise—the ‘traditional family’. No other possible social arrangement for human beings could demonstrate that it produced superior results. The reason that the ‘traditional family’ is the best model for society is not because it is traditional, but because it works. And the reason it works is because ‘traditional family’ is really secular-speak for ‘God’s design for the family’ or ‘biblical model of the family’ (much like ‘Mother Nature’ is secular-speak for words like ‘God’ or ‘creation’).


The case for same-sex ‘marriage’ has a degree of plausibility about it, especially when dressed in the language of human rights. But, as argued above, the logical result of the set of values and arguments used to justify same-sex ‘marriage’ is the devaluation of marriage to a point where it is stripped of all meaning and viability. This process of disintegration is a good illustration of Proverbs 14:12:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

By contrast, the restrictions on marriage that are imposed by God act to safeguard the health and viability of marriage and the family as the foundational institution of society.

We can, if we wish, and as I have suggested above, test the wisdom of God against human experience. The more we do this, the more we will realize that God’s commands and restrictions are the words of someone who has, so to speak, ‘seen it all before’. And the more we realize that, the more we will also realize that the Christian approach of accepting the Bible’s teaching simply because it is the Bible’s teaching, is not as irrational as it might sound.

Ross Allen attends St Matthews Anglican Church, Wanniassa, ACT.


1 Patterson, Ben, ‘The Inadequacy of a “Yes” Theology’, Christianity Today International, 20 January 2004, at http://www.christianitytoday.com/leaders/newsletter/2004/cln40120.html.

2 In 2001 The Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex ‘marriage’. Belgium followed suit in 2003. Also in 2003, by judicial decision, two Canadian provinces, British Columbia and Ontario, permitted same-sex ‘marriage’. And in 2004, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, USA, ruled that the constitution of Massachusetts requires same-sex couples to be given the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples.

3 For example, in a Time/CNN poll conducted in February 2004, respondents were asked, “Do you think marriages between homosexual men or between homosexual women should be recognized as legal?” 62% of respondents said “no” while 30% said “yes” (Time Magazine, 16 February 2004, p. 56).

4 It is for this reason that, throughout this article, the word ‘marriage’ appears in inverted commas when referring to same-sex couples. Such ‘marriages’ do not fit the definition of marriage.

5 The ‘traditional family’ here simply means a household consisting of a husband and wife, plus their children, if any. A ‘traditional’ household may also include extended family members, such as a grandparent(s).

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