The other day, I was surfing on facebook, when I saw that one of my friends put up a facebook status defending the Christian position on same-sex marriage. I can't remember how it goes, but the long and short of it was:
"Calling same-sex marriage the fight for 'marriage equality' rigs the debate from the start. It positions you on the side of what's simply 'good' and 'fair', and uses semantics to antagonize anyone who opposes your position."
As a Christian in Christian ministry, I completely agree with that assessment. After all, who wants to be against equality?? What it says is that if you're not on the side of same-sex marriage, then you have the right to shape marriage your way and deny other people the right to have marriage their way, and by logical extension, it means you're a hypocrite.
When you think about it, one can say that this is an argument crafted not on logic, but on careful use and exploitation of terminology. There's no more reason for same-sex marriage to be called "marriage equality" than for traditional marriage. Both sides are seeking to define marriage in a certain way. Traditionalists want to define marriage as "that which is ONLY between a man and a woman." And the other side wishes to make a slightly more open, but just as strict boundary by defining marriage as "that which is between two people regardless of gender." The idea of equality technically shouldn't figure into either side. It's all about who has the right to define marriage.
With me so far? Because I've seen this point made more or less any time a Christian talks about the marriage debate. And it's an insightful one which definitely needs to be made. However, what I think is profoundly unhelpful is when Christians take this point to its next logical step and say something like:
"If you were really pushing for marriage equality, then I demand the right to marry my books"
"If this is marriage equality, then what's next? Marrying goats? What's to stop us from saying that you can marry anything you want, animals, plants, and inanimate objects? Same-sex marriage is a slippery slope towards bestiality."
"If gay marriage were legalized, then polygamy would have to be. Once you begin to alter the traditional definition of marriage, under ‘equal protection’ you can’t stop at one alternative situation and then deny others." - O'Reilly Talking Points memo from 2006, The O'Reilly Factor
While I get why Christians (and Bill O'Reilly) says things like this. Here are the reasons why I think this is not only unhelpful in the debate, but also WRONG:
1) There's no logical reason why someone who defines marriage as between any two humans regardless of gender should also want to define marriage more broadly to include non-humans.
2) There's actually a great theological reason why even same-sex marriage proponents would want to draw the line at animals and such, and that's because people are categorically different to animals and God created us this way. Of all the birds of the air, beasts of the field, and fish in the sea, God created man alone in his image; there's a certain pride of place and boundary line between us and the animals that's not just speciesism. Now please DO NOT read me wrong: I'm not saying that same-sex marriage is okay because we are all created in God's image. That is definitely NOT what I'm saying. What I mean to say is that even in sin, creation order is not completely annihilated in the human mind and even non-Christians and same-sex marriage proponents can understand and affirm species exclusivism in marriage. Same-sex marriage is not a slippery slope and to call it that is to oversimplify the very complex issue of what sinful people believe is right and wrong. Did not God write his law in man's heart? There are a lot of plateaus on this slope, plateaus that God, in common grace, put in to keep society from imploding on itself.
What this means is, saying that all gay people are also okay with bestiality or polygamy (or any form of that statement, whether subtle or outright) is as straw-man and indefensible as saying that all non-Christians are amoral or believe that right and wrong are relative or are just socially-conditioned anarchists.
3) At the end of the day, ridiculing gay people and demanding the right, by their logic, to marry your books or your coffee machine or Katoomba conference bracelet is slanderous, insulting, doesn't make you any friends on the other side, and fails to lift up God and his created order as the truth. The reason we fight for Christian marriage isn't so that we can be right and they can be wrong, but it's so that we can glorify God and love our neighbors at the same time. The engine that drives my position in marriage is my belief that God's glory and human flourishing is not mutually exclusive; it's only when God's will for human life is followed that humanity can flourish. And though it's not my end goal, I do want to see humanity flourish, society to be healthy, and homes to be holistic.
So Christians, please, always speak the truth in love.