Gay Marriage: Normative, Exceptional, Neither?

Matthew Lee Anderson has a great post, The Questions of Gay Marriage: How serious a concern is homosexuality? | Mere Orthodoxy | Christianity, Politics, and Culture, where he adds to the ongoing discussion concerning gay marriage. He mentions hermeneutical concerns, a complementary creation-redemption loci, and debunks the argument now made that monogamous homosexual unions aren’t denounced because such relationships were not prevalent. In such a critique, it’s only promiscuous behavior that’s rejected, regardless of gender. Check out the whole article as it’s worthwhile, but here’s an excerpt (emphasis mine):

Where ought we begin, then, in considering the questions of gay marriage?  My own inclination is to follow the path that Jesus points toward in Matthew 19, and that Paul follows in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6:  the Genesis account.  This pathway has the advantage of being uncompromisingly Biblical and, if you like drawing sharp lines between Jesus and Paul, of being sanctioned by the “red letters” too.  But it also takes us straight to the heart of the matter in such a way that orients our attention away from the negative proposition about same-sex sexual relations toward the particular goodness of heterosexual sexual relations.  Whether that good is exclusively limited to heterosexual unions is a separate question, as is whether discerning it would definitively answer the question of gay marriage.  But neither of those can properly be answered until we first get a grasp on why marriage matters within Genesis to begin with.

It’s also important to note that this sort of exegetical strategy doesn’t stem from any sort of “embarrassment” about the prohibitions in Leviticus because of what we might call the “reductio ad slavery”:  Leviticus prohibits same-sex relationships, but slavery gets endorsed, which means Scripture clearly can’t be trusted.  Sometimes “shellfish” get tossed about, too, since Leviticus ostensibly doesn’t allow them.  But following Jesus behind Leviticus to the norms of human sexuality within Genesis shows just how empty that argument is.

The reasoning is relatively straightforward.  On the traditional reading of the Genesis account—which we will have reason to question—male-female relationships are revealed as normative.  Yet the aforementioned notion that humans are made in the “image of God” makes an appearance as well. What that means is a contest of its own. But the most dominant readings in the Christian tradition start with a shared and equal responsibility before God for all who share that image.  In light of such a fundamental equality, slavery begins to look like the sinful perversion that it is.  There may have been certain compromises to it as an institution within Leviticus, for a variety of reasons and qualified in important ways.  But as Jesus points out in Matthew 19, Moses made compromises on divorce law, too.  Does such a compromise undermine the norm of permanence for traditional Christians’ account of marriage?   Clearly not.  In fact, it is only recognizable as a compromise when people have grasped the norm in such a way that they are able to see the disparity.

My emphasis was on the nature of accommodation versus the sanctioned norm. Anderson uses the term ‘compromise,’ which I don’t like, but it captures the idea of God redeeming sinful manifestations in society to its normative sanctioned practice. Homosexuality was never even given such accommodationist status throughout redemptive history, and it would seem odd to say God allows it only if it meets the litmus test of monogamous fidelity.  The battle today, however, is much more egregious: advocates of homosexual marriage aren’t claiming some sort of exceptional status, but want to erase any line that suggests heterosexual unions are the “norm.” My concern has long been that once the normative status is obliterated, then what is the norm?

© 2013, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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