The subject of gay marriage has provoked much comment around the world as an emotive issue. This is understandable, given that many people feel that this is more than just connected to equality, since it strikes at the heart of a person’s identity. To be unable to be afforded equal rights with heterosexuals is said to be discriminatory. One commentator cheekily observed that everyone has equal rights to marriage with someone of the opposite gender, but comments of this nature will often offend where they are dismissive of people’s genuineness on this matter.
I believe, however, that there is a double standard when it comes to tolerance. It seems that tolerance is required on matters of sensitivity to minority groups who feel vilified, yet tolerance is often not shown toward those with views that are deemed to be politically incorrect. It is as if someone is immediately thought to be uncaring or homophobic, for instance, if they are opposed to gay marriage. Whilst I can affirm the desire of a gay person to express a desire for the same kind of relational commitment that heterosexual couples do, marriage is surely more than a legal affirmation of that desire. The nature of marriage is at issue here. So, too, is the right to express an opinion which is not, of itself, a personal judgment against any individual.
The origin of marriage is unquestionably biblical and this context has led to it being historically and culturally defined in heterosexual terms. To do otherwise is to disregard its stated purpose. This is not first and foremost, therefore, about discrimination but about a covenantal framework for a union. Though joined by sexual intercourse (clearly designed physically to be for heterosexual couples), it is also intended to also produce the family unit that is core to society. This is so strongly stated, that the sex itself is designed to be restricted to one person to whom we become married for life, notwithstanding the fact that many relationships sadly do break down.
Divorce, infidelity and infertility do not themselves, though, discredit the restriction of marriage to heterosexual couples. Neither do the scripture-twistings of a minority of scholars who sincerely but mistakenly allege that the Bible allows gay marriage and that it does not condemn committed homosexual relationships. Clearly, there is no categorisation of homosexual practices in the thinking of the biblical writers who uniformly oppose homosexuality, not because of diffidence, fear or repression, but because of their view of the created order.
For a person to believe that the Bible restricts the definition of marriage does not mean that they are unsympathetic to the desire of gay people for intimacy. It does not mean that they are homophobic. It does not warrant intolerance or vilification of those who seek to uphold the idea marriage is fundamentally a heterosexual institution and that anything otherwise described simply cannot be a marriage.
It may seem unhelpful to imply that those who were born gay can or should become straight in order to then be married, even though this has happened for some people. The debate about gay marriage, though, is about what marriage is and what it is not, rather than being about exclusivity. An analogy may be helpful here (and is not intended to be disparaging): we love Americans here in Australia, but to bring their baseball bats on to our ovals in the name of sporting equality is, well, just not cricket.
Surely respect for any gay person cannot reasonably be branded as intolerant for also respecting that marriage is fundamentally, necessarily and unchangeably a union between a man and a woman, voluntarily entered into for life.