On June 26, 2015, the United States made marriage equality legal in its Obergefell v. Hodges decision. Many churches still oppose same-sex relationships, let alone same-sex marriages. They base their belief on a handful of verses from the Old and New Testaments.
First, let us reflect on some of the relationships featured in the Bible. Opposite-sex relationships from the Old Testament include Adam and Eve, Abraham and his two wives Sarah and Hagar, Ruth and Boaz, and David and his multiple wives and concubines. In the New Testament we have Peter and his unnamed wife in the gospels as well as Priscilla and Aquila in the Book of Acts. Potential same-sex relationships from the Bible include Jonathan and David from the Old Testament and Jesus and his beloved disciple in the New Testament. A remarkable amount of people from the New Testament are either single or their marital status is never revealed. Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha along with most of the disciples and Paul are just some examples of single or ambiguously married people.
The New Testament portrays a union between two loving, committed people as an ideal marriage. When some Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce, he says, “So they [the married couple] are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:6). When two people join together in a committed, loving relationship, they form one unit. The vows between the couple are powerful, but Jesus explains that God is the One who performs the magical union of two human hearts. Two people find each other, but God joins them together. This leads us to ask this question: Can a same-sex couple be blessed by God? When a same-sex couple falls in love, did God have a hand in their union? Or can a blessing and union only take place after a marriage, which has been off limits to same sex couples for most of recorded history?
When the Bible was written, an understanding of homosexuality as we know it today did not exist, according to Matthew Vines in God and the Gay Christian. Sexual orientation was not understood. Instead, people assumed everyone was capable of being attracted to men and women. They did not know that some men are wired to only be attracted to other men and some women are wired to only be attracted to other women.
Interestingly, Jesus never talks about same-sex attraction or same-sex couples in any of the gospels. It is Paul in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy who deems certain sexual acts unacceptable, coining the words malakoi and arsenokoitai to characterize them. These words have been difficult to translate because their context and history cannot be fully determined.
arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9
|Word / Phrases||Translation||Publication Year|
|abusers of themselves with mankind||King James Version (KJV)||1611|
|abusers of themselves with men||American Standard Version (ASV)||1901|
|sexual perverts||Revised Standard Version (RSV)||1952, 1971|
|homosexuals||New American Standard Bible (NASB)||1960|
|men who have sex with men||New International Version (NIV)||1978|
|sodomites||New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)||1989|
|anyone practicing homosexuality||Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)||1999|
|men who practice homosexuality||English Standard Version (ESV)||2001|
In the examples in the above table, notice how the oldest translation do not use the word homosexual, using broader phrases instead: buggerers, abusers of themselves with mankind / men, sexual perverts. Newer translations focus more on actions of gay people instead of identity, describing the so-called sin as “anyone practicing homosexuality,” [emphasis added] as opposed to someone being gay. This seems to imply the translators are more aware that gay people do exist—specifically, gay Christians—and are born that way, but still wish for them to remain celibate and alone for their entire lives, which seems cruel and unreasonable.
Historical and cultural context provide more insight into what malakoi and arsenokoitai probably meant: male masters taking advange of their male slaves, men using male temple prostitutes, and men indulging in sex with other men (sometimes with boys) beyond what they already had with women. None of these scenarios include what we know today as gay women and men in loving, committed relationships.
Which leads us back to the question at hand: Does God approve of same-sex marriage? Our Holy One created humankind. Our Holy One created love. Our Holy One blesses relationships between two people who join together in love, who care for one another as much if not more than they care for themselves. Who does same-sex love hurt? No one. Who hurts if same-sex marriage is banned? Millions. (According to an October 2019 USA Today article, roughly 11 million Americans are LGBTQ.)
Furthermore, Jesus relegates marriage to only a brief time on Earth. When in heaven, people will be children of God or like the angels. They will no longer be married. In Luke Chapter 20, verses 34 and 35, Jesus tells some Sadducees, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Jesus’ cavalier attitude toward marriage indicates his acceptance that while on Earth, humans will fall in love and want to get married. In heaven, however, such a desire will no longer exist. Being with God will be enough. Therefore, it stands to reason that Jesus would be accepting of the love between a same-sex couple and would not mind if they were married. They are humans just like straight couples.
It is better to err on the side of love than hate when deciding that marriage equality is blessed by God. The so-called clobber verses from the Old and New Testaments are from a time period and culture that did not fully understand LGBTQ people. Just as the Bible concludes without ever condemning slavery and we now all agree that slavery is wrong, the Bible also concludes without ever blessing marriage equality, even though that is the correct stance with the knowledge we have today. God loves the rainbow. God loves all people. God affirms the humanity of LGBTQ people, and our Holy One blesses same-sex unions.
As my pastor Reverend Lori Walke once said, we should use love to interpret scripture, not scripture to interpret love. Even so, I will conclude with one more verse in which the writer of Song of Solomon attempts to explain the power of love:
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love
all the wealth of one’s house,
it would be utterly scorned. (8:7)
In this verse, love trumps everything else on Earth. The love between a same-sex couple is just as powerful, mysterious, valid, and consuming as the love between an opposite-sex couple. If a same-sex couple wishes to marry, they should have that right, afforded to them by their government but also blessed by God.
And just for funsies and a bit of blasphemy, here’s a passage of scripture that doesn’t exist but totally should:
The Gospel according to
J A S O N
Chapter 13: 1-6
1As Jesus and his disciples were passing through Galilee, religious leaders brought before them two men, a Galilean and a Samaritan.
2“These men live together as if they were husband and wife,” the leaders said. “Should we ban them from our city as the law requires?”
3Jesus turned to the men and asked, “Do you love God, your neighbors, and one another?”
4“Yes,” the men said.
5“I will perform your wedding ceremony if no one else will,” Jesus said.
6And the religious leaders and disciples were amazed at what they heard.