On Redefining Marriage

Last month, counties in Florida began issuing marriage licenses and performing ceremonies for same-sex couples, making Florida the 36th state to allow homosexual marriage.

If you’re from outside the Sunshine State, don’t assume that this happened because a majority of Floridians demanded it. Hardly. Florida voters in 2008 passed a state amendment affirming the “traditional” definition of marriage. But last summer a U.S. District Court judge declared that measure unconstitutional. After a few months’ delay, enforcement of his ruling took effect on January 6. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to take up the issue this year, but at least until then, gay marriage is a reality in our state.

America has been seriously debating same-sex marriage for some fifteen years now. Massachusetts became the first state to legalize it in 2003. Over the next decade there followed a slow trickle of other states. Then last year the floodgates opened, as federal courts struck down numerous state laws prohibiting gay marriage. As a result, in just the past nine months, no less than twenty states (including our own) have begun allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Scripture declares that God instituted marriage from the beginning as an exclusive, lifelong relationship between a man and a woman (see Genesis 2; Matthew 19:4-6). The Christian understands that this view of marriage is more than a matter of tradition; it’s a matter of divine revelation. Now that many in our society and our government are adopting a different definition of marriage, what are the implications? And what should we do? Consider a few thoughts.

First, when it comes to changing the definition of marriage, the push to include same-sex unions is just our culture’s most recent revision. After a couple of generations of no-fault divorce laws and high divorce rates, it’s clear that many people already have redefined marriage as something less than a lifelong bond. When, by some estimates, as many as half of spouses have an affair at some point, it’s clear that many people already have redefined marriage as something less than a sacred vow of fidelity. When more young couples choose cohabitation than choose matrimony, it’s clear that many people already have redefined marriage as something less than a blessing. All of these are just as much a mockery of God’s design as homosexual marriage is. And we wouldn’t even be talking about same-sex marriage if these other “redefinitions” had not paved the way. When we monkey around with the divine pattern, it will take us in directions we never expected.

Second, despite what many would like to believe, redefining marriage doesn’t alter reality. Neither does enshrining that redefinition into law. If God has defined the very nature of something, then that’s what it is—regardless of any alternative definition that people (or government) may accept. And if God has declared something to be sinful, then it’s sinful—regardless of how people (or government) may treat it. Bible history records many times when human authorities allowed, even promoted, things the Lord had forbidden. (Think of those kings of Israel who not only tolerated pagan idolatry, but made it the state religion.) God made it clear that popular approval and government sanction did not make those things right, and that those who did them were still under His judgment. It’s no different today.

What does that mean with regard to sex and marriage? It means that sex between unmarried people (fornication) is wrong (1 Corinthians 6:18); and its being almost universally accepted in society and law doesn’t change that. It means that to divorce for a cause other than sexual unfaithfulness and marry someone else makes one guilty of adultery (Matthew 19:9); and the new relationship’s being endorsed by the government doesn’t change that. It means that homosexual conduct is wrong (Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11); and a state-issued marriage license doesn’t change that. It means that marriage is a one-man-one-woman relationship (1 Corinthians 7:2); and the government’s slapping the label of “marriage” on some other combination(s) doesn’t change that.

Columnist William Murchison recently made a similar point about homosexual marriage, writing that even Supreme Court justices “have no more power to transform the venerable institution of marriage than has, say, an academy of music to declare that a harmonica is a bull fiddle.” All the court can really do, he argues, is to affirm the creation of a whole new institution. The state may call it marriage, but in reality it simply exists alongside marriage (see “Same-Sex Marriage: Too Big a Job for the Court,”, 1/20/2015). Quite right. Our society may choose to redefine its concept of marriage, but it has no power or authority to change what marriage actually is.

That doesn’t mean that the arrival of legalized same-sex marriage shouldn’t trouble us. It should. Immensely. We can be sure the Holy Spirit is grieved by it. Our opposition to it is bound to bring us some degree of persecution (which we’d better be preparing for). And it is likely to affect our culture in ways that few can imagine—and not for the better. But Christians need not fear that homosexual activists or their allies in government can transform reality and make marriage something other than what God has declared it to be. “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar” (Romans 3:3).

Third, our society’s relentless redefining of marriage throws into sharp relief our responsibility as God’s people to proclaim—and just as importantly, demonstrate—marriage as He designed it. We need to speak about marriage in words that are biblical, clear, and uncompromising. Whether married or single, we need to hold ourselves and each other to God’s revealed standard, always conducting ourselves in a way that holds marriage in honor (Hebrews 13:4).