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The Marrying Kinds

by Jo Page on May 16, 2012


In his widely-touted and widely-covered commencement address at Liberty University last week, Mitt Romney emphasized that “marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman,” perhaps with the knowledge that when some people hear “Mormon” they think Big Love, polygamy and the Jessup family.

Now, Romney didn’t go so far as to say that the Bible says that “marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman” because that wouldn’t be accurate. But the reaction of an audience member interviewed by NPR reflected a greater certainty about what the scripture does and doesn’t say. She was reacting to President Obama’s new position on gay marriage.

“It’s wrong. I have nothing more to say about that,” she said, referring to same-sex marriage, “It’s wrong. It’s in the Bible. It’s wrong.”

Forgive me for being a stickler here. But for years those who want to condemn homosexuality as sinful have cherry-picked among the scriptures that might be relevant to their cause. And indeed, there are a handful of passages in both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures that speak out against homosexual behaviors that are forced, coerced, promulgated against a child or promiscuous—as there are such passages speaking against similar heterosexual behaviors.

But now that the issue is gay marriage and not simply homosexual relations, many who are so convinced of same-sex marriage’s inherent evil and who want to declare it ungodly (along with the converse—that heterosexual marriage is ordained by God) often don’t even bother to go to the scriptural source to find out what the Bible’s take on marriage actually is. Instead, they just make stuff up.

I’m not kidding. I mean, I hate to disappoint the woman NPR interviewed who believes same-sex marriage is wrong because it says so in the Bible. But it doesn’t say so in the Bible. Not in the Hebrew scriptures nor in the Greek writings does the issue of gay marriage even come up.

In fact, the Bible doesn’t have a huge amount to say about marriage at all.

And in many of the portrayals of marriages that we find among the scripture stories, infidelity, polygamy, secrecy and betrayals abound. Here are a few troubling examples from the Hebrew scriptures:

Abraham’s wife originally seemed to be OK with giving her slave-girl, Hagar, to her husband so that they might conceive a child. But when she herself became pregnant with a late-in-life semi-miraculous son, Isaac, her acceptance turned to animosity and she turned out Hagar and her child to die in the wilderness (fortunately, God intervened).

When Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, waited seven years to marry his beloved Rachel, her father tricked Jacob, sending the older, less attractive daughter, Leah, into the marriage bed. A week later he relented, giving him Rachel, as well. But things between Leah and her Rachel were never very harmonious, as you can imagine.

King David, in so many ways a fine man, engaged in some martial/marital home wrecking when he had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed on the battlefield. Bathsheba, though mourning her husband, was compelled to become one of David’s wives. (And indeed, as punishment for David, God struck down the love-child conceived by their infidelity, which just goes to show that you really do have to pay to play.)

The Greek scriptures don’t really have any stories about marriage. There are quite a few injunctions for wives to be submissive and obedient to their husbands, specifically including injunctions against braiding hair, wearing gold jewelry or fine clothing, all of which is kind of a drag and which I have never heard or known an evangelical Christian either to quote or follow in practice. Oh, and widows—they’re not supposed to remarry, but be put on a kind of welfare roll, except in the case of a younger widow whose sensual desire will alienate her from Christ and lead her to remarry, so they don’t get any charity at all.

St. Paul, it’s worth nothing, was not keen on marriage at all, urging people to marry only to assuage their lust (evidently recognizing marriage as a cure for that), but preferring people to be celibate as he evidently was. As he puts it in I Corinthians: “Those who marry will experience stress in this life and I would spare you that.”

Wouldn’t you love to see some politician quote that tidbit on either side of the same-sex marriage question?

Indeed, if the Bible has anything salient to tell us about marriage, I think it is that such relationships are as different as the flawed people who enter into them. And working on our own personal flaws seems to me better—and more godly—business than restricting another’s opportunity for a loving marriage.