Written by Sam Logan
Friday, 25 May 2012 00:00
This is the third of three blogs on the difficult but important subject of gay marriage. The first two blogs appeared on the two previous days.
In my first blog on gay marriage, I tried to outline a few of the items which I believe are NONvariables for evangelical Christian discussions of the issue.
In my second blog, I sought to identify a few of the areas in which I think there ARE variables which could affect how we respond to the overall issue.
I ended my second blog with this question:
3. In what ways have civil governments already sought to regulate marriage (between consenting adults)?
And I started my answer to this question by mentioning the many different ways this regulation already occurs. But there is one area of current civil regulation of marriage among consenting adults in the United States which seems especially relevant to the issue of gay marriage. I thus pick up the outline from yesterday:
b. Unity within the diversity. There is at least one area in which all fifty states agree with respect to prohibiting marriage among consenting adults – the area of bigamy/polygamy. And in most states, bigamy/polygamy is a felony. Of course, this raises a fascinating question since one of our likely Presidential candidates has recently voiced support for gay marriage while the other comes from a religious tradition which, for many years, supported polygamy. How do you suppose each candidate would respond to that which is linked to his opponent in “the marriage wars”? Along these lines, The Sunday Times (London, England) quotes one of those candidates as having said in 2005, “I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman . . . and a woman . . . and a woman” (April 15, 2012; Section 4, p. 2).
In fairness, how can the supporters of one (gay marriage) not support the other (polygamy where the participants are consenting adults)? Increasing the confusion are the laws of places like the United Kingdom and Australia which do not permit polygamous marriages in those countries but which do recognize such marriages if they have been performed in countries where they are allowed. And all kinds of folks are now raising these questions, including some famous (or infamous) polygamists – http://www.eonline.com/news/marc_malkin/sister_wives_stars_support_gay_marriage/315316
c. Of course, the case could be made that gay marriage should be allowed but that polygamy should not. I am not sure HOW that case would be made and I have not yet seen anyone try to make it, but I suppose it could be done. In fact, what got me thinking along these lines was a recent PBS special on the subject of “Mormons in America.” Much was made in that documentary of the process by which the U.S. came to determine that marriage between consenting MULTIPLE adults was not to be permitted by the civil government. And no one seems, at that time (which was between 1852 and 1890), to have thought that such regulation would violate the civil right of potential polygamists. What exactly has changed? And why do those who protest about the perceived violation of the civil rights of gay couples who want to marry not protest equally vigorously about the violation of the rights of consenting adults who wish to take multiple partners in marriage?
And so, finally, what is my conclusion after considering both NONvariables and variables? Two things:
1. We should make adaptations in the linkages between marriage and civil benefits which I listed yesterday. There seems to me to be no good reason to insist that these kinds of linkages be maintained.
2. We should maintain the present level of civil regulations of marriage (though it would surely help to try to get more unity among our various civil jurisdictions). On what basis do I believe this? That is an eminently fair question and one which everyone who seeks to prohibit legal recognition of gay marriage must be prepared to answer. My position is that civil sanction of gay marriage amounts to an official approval of what I believe (under my NONvariables) is sin. For similar reasons, I support very careful and thorough civil restriction of abortion (though that is yet another hugely difficult subject). Of course, not all that the government permits is sinful. But in light of the fact that the government does restrict marriage already and in light of the fact that it does use that power to restrict something like polygamy, its failure to prohibit gay marriage would, in my judgment, constitute a kind of official approval of gay marriage.
But, as always, I know that I need (and I really am seeking) further guidance on the matter.
So give it to me - (further guidance, that is!).
Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and he is President Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. In addition to his work at Biblical, he serves as International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship ( http://www.wrfnet.org). He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan