Editorial note: Although we ran this article last month in the Generational category, it is so in keeping with this month’s Biblical Perspectives, we rerun it here.
As connubial means ‘of or relating to the married state’ and discombobulation ‘a fun, fancy word for confuse’ this is a good title for this article!
Personally I never thought that I would ever marry. But to my pleasant surprise, I did. And in what would otherwise have been quite an unremarkable life, I have since married dozens of women! But not just women – I have also married dozens of men.
Whoa! Don’t get me wrong… I’m a marriage celebrant and a pastor and I know a thing or two about marriage. Married to Kim for nearly thirty years, I’ve been helping people to marry and been working with those who are struggling to remain married.
Andrew and Kim Corbett
Marriage isn’t a simple exercise
Even though people may be well-meaning; most of what is being proposed lately about marriage is ill-informed and has more to do with myths than facts.
Working with people who have made mistakes, a large part of my day is spent helping people recover, restore, and rebuild. Tears happen often in my job – tears of regret, loss, shame. Tears that come from being given a second chance and finding a way out of the darkness and fog. Sometimes these tears are my own.
I see firsthand the pain caused by relationships gone sour when –
• A husband and a wife can no longer be civil with each other
• A child becomes sullen and withdrawn after being told that Daddy no longer loves Mummy
• Mummy hasn’t come home because she now has a new home.
It takes more than initial feelings of attraction to make a marriage work. But in the midst of working with people from all walks of life and in a range of circumstances, it is (if you will forgive the understatement) a little offensive to be ridiculed as ‘uncaring’, ‘intolerant’, ‘bigoted’, simply for considering that marriage is something rather than anything.
I live in Legana which is just outside Launceston, Tasmania and I love my city. After a recent decision by the Launceston City Council not to endorse same-sex marriage, we received posts on our church’s Facebook wall such as- ‘What a hateful, nasty, narrow minded lot you are.’
Marriage is ‘something’ not ‘anything’!
In one instance I was able to respond to the demand, ‘Can you please explain why your organisation has the right to decide just who can marry and who cannot?’ After explaining our views about marriage, it became clear to the questioner that we were not the bunch of intolerants that he assumed we were.
This highlighted for me both the confusion and the difficulty in saying that marriage is something and not anything – and not sounding like an intolerant, homophobic, bigot. We are not – and dare I say it, neither were those aldermen who did not endorse the motion to support same-sex marriage either.
We are opposed to bigotry, hatred, unfairness, spiteful intolerance, oppression and inappropriate discrimination – yet we hold to marriage being something in particular that cannot be redefined to anything. I know that many in the broader church have not always presented our case politely, kindly, or reasonably. This has led to some seeing Christians as mean-spirited, uncaring, ugly fundamentalists. For this I apologise.
When I say that marriage is something (not anything) what I am doing is what we all do when we describe something rather than define it. Take a circle for example. Even dictionaries end up describing circles rather than attempting to define them. It’s the same with marriage. Marriage is something not because we have defined it so, it just is.
Marriage – a unique lifelong commitment
The marriage union commences with a wedding. It’s only in fairly recent times (within the last half dozen centuries) that the matrimonial word wedding has come to be exclusively thought of as a ceremony. But a ‘wedding’ meant the union of two compositionally different things to form a new thing – such as the wedding of copper with zinc to form brass. In human terms a wedding requires the biological union of a man and a woman so that a new life can (or can potentially) result.
This is one of the two reasons why governments have any interest in regulating marriage – because the welfare of children is at stake. But it also requires a unique commitment (called ‘a covenant’) between the child’s wedded parents. It is a life-long, exclusive, commitment between a man and a woman. These two factors of a marriage are intimately linked due to the overwhelming evidence that children fare best when raised in a loving home by their married biological parents (cf Children In Three Contexts in the Journal: Australian Children Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 23–31).
The idea that there is no difference between a man and a woman is so patently and obviously wrong, that Orson Wells once famously said, ‘It’s so absurd that only an intellectual could believe it!’ The same can be said for the claim that there is no difference between a man and a woman and two people of the same-gender. To point this out is not ‘hate’ or ‘intolerance’ but it is akin to telling the king he has no clothes on.
The Australian Commonwealth Marriage Act describes marriage for what it is. But unlike the appeal made by advocates of marriage-equality for ‘couple equality’, the Marriage Act does not regulate, recognise or reward couples. On the contrary, it regulates individuals and does this without exception or discrimination.
The GRAPE criteria
As a marriage celebrant I must have the individuals wishing to enter in marriage sign several statutory declarations declaring that they meet the five descriptive criteria for marriage. These five criteria form the acronym, GRAPE. In reverse this acronym stands for –
– Eligibility (the individual cannot already be married)
– Person (must be intending to marry another person)
– Age (must have obtained the age of at least 18)
– Relationship (must not be marrying someone they are in a prohibited relationship with)
– Gender (must intend to wed someone of the complementary gender to theirs – not the same as theirs).
These criteria apply equally to everyone, regardless of gender or orientation.
The argument that ‘if two people love each other they should be allowed to marry’ sounds fair – but it is a myth. It is not the reason for any marriage to be allowed to proceed. In fact, the word ‘love’ does not appear as a pre-requisite in the Marriage Act!
Just because two people love each other does not mean they have the ‘right’ or even the reason to marry. Currently any two people can partner together for whatever reason they choose – and (within reason) the government has absolutely no interest in their relationship. This applies to tennis partners, car-poolers, business-partners, and even two people who chose to live together. Two people can choose to love each and do whatever they consent to – without the need for the government’s legislative approval for their bedroom activities. The Marriage Act does not preclude any two people from either loving each other or being a couple.
Marriage is not ‘political tokenism’
We want everyone in our society to be treated fairly, equally, and appropriately and not to be subjected to hate or spiteful intolerance. But politicising marriage and treating it as political tokenism is not the means to this end.
Many cities like our city are known for these values plus the civilised values of respect for others, equality, fairness, tolerance, and inclusiveness. We do not need to endorse the politicising of marriage in this way for these values to be demonstrated in our city.
Despite the claim that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality or same-sex marriage, his declaration in Matthew 19 is very difficult to confuse what he knew God intended for marriage: ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man separate’ (Matthew 19:4-6).
For Christians to affirm what Jesus said about marriage is not ‘hate speech’ or ‘bigotry.’ But to attempt to use Jesus to support the idea that marriage can mean anything rather than something is to embark on connubial discombobulation!
Dr Andrew Corbett is National President at ICI Theological College Australia, an avid reader/researcher, Christian apologist and author pastoring in Tasmania. Link: Twitter: DrAndrewC / firstname.lastname@example.org