The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was passed into UK law on 17 July 2013. Up to that point, the airwaves and the interwebs had been full of heated arguments on both sides of the debate. But since then, the topic has gone strangely quiet. This is probably in part because opponents of the law are trying to come to terms with the fact that they have lost this particular battle and work out where to go from here.
To be honest, I’m still not one hundred percent sure where I stand on the law. On the one hand, I firmly believe that marriage, at least as I understand it, was ordained by God to be between one man and one woman, and that it is a sacramental representation of the sacred union between Christ and the church. That being the case, we mess with it at our peril.
On the other hand, we live in a democracy, and as such we have to abide by the principles of democracy. Expecting Parliament to vote against a law just because it contravenes what one rather narrow segment of the population believes to be divine ordinance is an unrealistic and unreasonable expectation. All of us, Christian or not, have certain personal moral standards. I see no valid reason why Christians should expect non-Christians to abide by the same moral standards they do; as far as I can see, the only purpose for insisting that others observe our moral codes is to protect our sensibilities from being offended.
(As an aside, whether the bill’s voting record in Parliament remotely reflected the will of the British population is another matter. I don’t believe it did.)
To those who hold up the enactment of same sex marriage legislation as a red line over which the nation has now stepped, thus setting itself up for some kind of judgement from God, I would point out that if there were any such red line, it was surely crossed a long time ago. Nations have been ignoring and flouting God’s word for millennia, and will continue to do so. If the passing of legislation on a moral issue is a specific trigger for God’s wrathful judgement, I would suggest that most nations, Great Britain included, have already heaped up plenty of judgement for themselves.
Am I happy that same-sex marriage is now legally sanctioned in the UK? No, I am not. I just can’t see a compelling secular argument as to why it shouldn’t be.
I have three major concerns for the future.
First, how do Christians – those who claim to represent and embody a better way to live – uphold and promote traditional man-woman marriage in this increasingly secular age? Any answer to this question that involves criticising, denigrating and campaigning against same-sex marriage is only likely to be counter-productive. And any argument that appeals to God or the Bible is likely to fall on deaf ears. Surely the best advertisement for traditional marriage is for Christian men and women to live together in humility and mutual self-sacrifice and service. Telling the world how to live won’t get you very far; showing the world what Kingdom living looks like is much more effective. Perhaps if some Christians put as much effort into their own marriages as they do into loudly decrying the behaviour of non-Christians, we might have some better models to hold up.
Second, even though the UK legislation is now on the statute books, the story is far from over. There have already been a small number of well-publicised cases where Christians have refused to provide service to same-sex couples and been successfully sued as a result. In my view, the fact that same-sex marriage is now legally recognised makes these kinds of cases even more likely in the future. One focus of particular concern is churches and ministers who refuse to perform same-sex marriages; another is the promotion of same-sex marriage in schools. The reason these cases are of special concern is that to put ministers or teachers under pressure to marry same-sex couples or teach same-sex marriage would amount to a clear violation of conscience. Senior politicians who advocated for the legislation were quick to give reassurances that this would never happen. But, as we know only too well, Parliament is not the highest power in the land; I wonder how long it will be before a case is taken to the European Court of Human Rights and pressure is put on the British Parliament to change this aspect of the law?
Third, Christians are going to have to get used to sharing their workplaces, shopping malls, neighbourhoods and even churches with same-sex couples. For some, learning to do that without showing distaste or even disgust is going to be mighty hard. At one level I understand that – when something you’ve held as a sacred conviction, often for as long as you can remember, is openly flouted in front of you, that can be hard to swallow. But at another level, isn’t this something we have to do all the time? For example, we may be deeply offended by the casual use of our Saviour’s name as a swear-word, but in a secular, democratic society, we simply have to suck it up.
We need to remember that we are called, first and foremost, to love God and love other people, not to be moral crusaders. God doesn’t need us to protect Him from anyone. What He needs us to do is love everyone, even (you might say especially) those we do not consider to our taste.
In closing, I’d like to quote from a very thought-provoking article on the nonsensical nature of Christians refusing to provide service to same-sex couples:
But there’s simply no Biblical command for Christians to deny services to those whose actions you believe to be sinful. If there was, who could Christians serve? If all the Christians who believe gay marriage is sinful followed this precedent, where would it stop? Christian landlords would refuse to provide a home for gay couples to live in. Christian shop owners would deny selling groceries and household goods that gay couples would use to live their gay lives. Christian employers could even decline to hire gay people, knowing that they would use their wages to support their “lifetime of sin”.
Here our hypocrisy is on display. Where is the refusal to do business with any other people deemed “sinful” by your interpretation of the Bible? If you believe premarital sex is sinful, do you decline a wedding cake to any couple who had premarital sex? What about couples that are divorced and remarried ? What about couples who are of mixed faith – “unequally yoked”? Or couples who aren’t Christians at all – after all, without faith it is impossible to please God? By this standard, these Christian bakers would have to carefully vet each prospective couple to make sure that they will have a Godly marriage free from sin, perhaps have them sign a Statement of Faith. How else could the bakers be sure that they’re “fleeing from sin” rather than “helping somebody celebrate it”?
Suppose that the headlines read “Atheist Baker Refuses Wedding Cake to Christian Couple.” The uproar would be deafening. Every conservative Christian and political news outlet would be outraged. If it happens to us, we want to call it persecution. But when we do it to others, we want to call it “religious liberty.” We can’t have it both ways, and I find these fearmongering cries of persecution to be simply dishonest.
May God give us the grace to recklessly and indiscriminately show love, compassion and mercy to all, just as Jesus did.
[ Image: WehoCity ]