[This was originally a pamphlet I wrote back in 2004. Some of it is a bit dated.—Fr. Charles]
What does the Bible say directly about same-sex marriage? This:
That’s right. The Bible says nothing directly about it—nothing about a prayerful, permanent, life-welcoming, mutual, self-giving, physically intimate commitment between two people of the same sex. The question never arose.
The Bible does condemn some types of same-sex intercourse:
♦Genesis condemns same-sex attempted gang rape (or perhaps “angel rape”) (Genesis 19: 4-7).
♦Leviticus says that male same-sex intercourse is impure (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13), just like breeding horses and donkeys to produce mules, or wearing a mixed fiber shirt or eating a rare steak (19:19). Christians today ignore most of this.
♦ Paul is disgusted by same-sex partners who, because they forget God and worship creatures, give up typical coupling and are “consumed with passion” for each other (Romans 1:26-27). Paul would have frowned on any relationship driven by consuming passions and forgetfulness of God. These partners aren’t interested in anything resembling prayerful marriage vows. He doesn’t list this behavior among the sins (1:29-30) but regards it as a disgusting consequence of idolatry.
♦Some letters of Paul mention certain types of people in a negative light (1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10), but translators can’t agree on whether any of these are same-sex couples.
But nowhere does the Bible say anything directly for or against a prayerful, permanent, life-welcoming, mutual, self-giving, physically intimate commitment between two people of the same sex. You have to make some intricate interpretive maneuvers to get any of the above passages to apply.
But doesn’t the Bible consistently teach that marriage is a lifelong union between a woman and a man?
Actually the Bible never really focuses on the subject. It works in passing with different understandings of marriage that prevailed at different times. But it never stops to say what marriage is.
♦In the earliest times marriage was largely understood to be a “same-sex” economic contract between two men—a father transferring the property rights over his daughter to her husband. The husband then had exclusive property rights over the woman, but not vice versa. So the husband could sometimes have more than one wife, and the women couldn’t object. He could also have concubines. Adultery was an offense against the husband’s property rights—a husband did not commit adultery against his wife regardless of how many women he “knew.” This is not marriage as most of us know it today. (See Genesis 29:15-30; 16:1-2; 34:12; Exodus 22:16; Deuteronomy 21:15.)
♦Genesis says that God created humanity in God’s image, male and female (1:27). Later it says that a man and woman become “one flesh” when they unite, not because they were a complementary pair, but because Eve’s flesh originally belonged to Adam (2:21-24). It’s a “same-flesh” union. It does not say that God’s image depends on a union of complementary genders.
♦The Song of Solomon celebrates the passionate love between a man and a woman but does not say they were married. Jews and Christians have interpreted this as an allegory of God’s love for God’s people.
♦In Mark 10:2-9 Jesus quotes Genesis 1-2 approvingly: he mentions that God made us male and female and then focuses on the fact that a man and woman who have intercourse become “one flesh,”—a union from God that can’t be dissolved. The focus here is on the permanence of the union, not the gender makeup of the couple. It takes for granted that the couple is male and female—the question was framed in those terms (v. 2).
♦Paul insists that this unbreakable union happens even in the most casual and illicit sex (1 Corinthians 6:16). He calls it both “one flesh” and “one body.” This is not marriage, though it’s a reason for making marriage permanent and unbreakable. Paul actually preferred that nobody be married, though he permitted it to people who had little self-control (1 Corinthians 7).
♦Ephesians 5:31-32 calls the married couple’s “one flesh” a mystery that reflects Christ’s union with the Christ’s Body.
♦None of the other New Testament readings typically used at weddings are about marriage. They’re all about God’s love, the love that unites the whole body of Christ, and faithfulness to God. (See for example Matthew 5:1-10, 13-16; 7:21, 24-29; John 15:9-12;1 Corinthians 13; Ephesians 3:14-19; Colossians 3:12-17; 1 John 4:7-16.) Becoming “one body” is something that happens to the whole community, not just married people. It does not depend on people’s genders.
So once again, you have to make some intricate interpretive maneuvers to say that the Bible teaches much of anything consistently about what marriage always was and must continue to be.
So does the Bible say anything that might favor same-sex marriage?
Let me say it again—the Bible says nothing directly about same-sex marriage, and very little that’s consistent about marriage of any sort. So to appeal to it in support of same-sex marriage will also involve some intricate interpretive maneuvers. But maneuvers like that will be involved no matter what position you take on the question.
♦Paul teaches that through Baptism all relationships have, in a sense, become either “same-sex” or “non-binary” relationships, because “there is no longer … male and female” (Galatians 3:28). In that case, the “plumbing” of one’s committed partner is no longer relevant.
♦Paul also insists that “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8), that “nothing is unclean in itself” as long as we don’t regard it as unclean (Romans 14:14). That’s why Christians no longer worry about whether it’s OK to produce mules or wear a mixed-fiber shirt. That’s why most Christians allow eating rare steak too, even though the practice is condemned in both the Old and New Testaments and in early church regulations. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason not to apply the same insight to same-sex marriages.
♦Christian weddings have already allowed a Christian definition of love in Christ’s gender-transcending body to redefine marriage. Marriage is no longer a transfer of ownership from one male to another. It’s now become primarily a prayerful, permanent, life-welcoming, mutual, self-giving, physically intimate commitment between two people. Same-sex marriage simply carries this insight to a very fitting conclusion.
Does that settle the question?
No. Everything said here is open to challenge by thoughtful people who are trying to be loving to everyone. But at the very least it helps to show how Christians who aim to honor Biblical authority might also come to welcome same-sex marriage, and even gender fluidity. And maybe that will open the door to more conversation and less name-calling.