Monday, July 4, 2016

Is 'same-sex marriage' really marriage?

The Gay Divorcee, 1934
There’s an old Vaudeville routine that goes, “If I had some bread I could make a ham sandwich if I had some ham.”
I love words, and I get ticked off when people misuse them. A word or phrase is a shortcut, an abbreviation for a thought or longer sequence of words. The phrase “ham sandwich,” for example, is a shortcut to the mental picture of two pieces of bread with ham, and likely other ingredients, between them. If you don’t have any ham, don’t call whatever you’re making a ‘ham sandwich.’

So it is with the debate about ‘same-sex marriage.’ Marriage is, by definition, a legally recognized union for life between one man and one woman who have taken vows to be exclusively loyal to each other.

I’m not going to comment on the propriety of homosexual relations. I’ve done that in a previous column. I’m speaking here of the theft of the word “marriage.” The word “gay” has already be abducted (it used to mean happy or lighthearted – try Googling “The Gay Divorcee,” a Fred Astaire movie); can’t we keep the word “marriage”?

I know, you can find other definitions in modern dictionaries nowadays. “The legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife, and in some jurisdictions, between two persons of the same sex, usually entailing legal obligations of each person to the other,” says one online dictionary. But just because they said it, it doesn’t make two slices of bread a ham sandwich.
Prior to the Supreme Court's ruling in 2015 requiring all states to issue same-sex marriage licenses, 31 states - more than half - had statutes or constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. 
Of course, the debate isn’t really about the theft of the word “marriage.” It’s really about the co-opting of the concept of marriage.

Marriage came very early in man’s history so, not surprisingly, it crops up very early in the Bible. In most Bibles, you’ll find the description by page three. (Genesis 2: 24) When God created Eve, He immediately ‘brought her to the man.’ Formal words were spoken, and then this law was laid down: “A man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” A union between two women wouldn’t qualify as a marriage, for lack of “a man;” and a union between two men would be lacking “his wife.”
While the Bible doesn’t here use the word “marriage” it does use the words "husband" and "wife", clearly describing marriage. And the one officiating at that first marriage was God. If you are familiar with the maxim about marriages being made in heaven, this passage would seem to be the origin of it.

But the Bible doesn’t stop there. There are literally hundreds of verses in the Bible that have advice on marriage. Psalms 127 verse 1: “Unless the LORD builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.” Ecclesiastes 4 verse 12: “Though one may be overpowered, two together can defend themselves; and a threefold cord is not easily broken.” How could a marriage not ‘built by the Lord’ stand? How could a cord that leaves out the ‘third strand’ – having God in a marriage – withstand the pressures of this world? Surely the ‘same-sex’ folks don’t believe they have God in their marriage when they are blatantly violating his Word?

Marriage mates wanting God’s approval would also have to follow the counsel, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22) Verse 33 adds: “Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” How does a same-sex ‘wife’ subject herself to and reverence her husband?

One of my favorite Bible commentators, Adam Clarke, wrote this nearly 300 years ago about the marriage of Adam and Eve:
  •  “We have here the first institution of marriage, and we see in it several particulars worthy of our most serious regard. 1. God pronounces the state of celibacy to be not a good state; and the Lord God said, It is not good for man to be alone. This is God’s judgment…Marriage could still be what it was in its original institution, pure and suitable; and in its first exercise, affectionate and happy; but how few such marriages are there to be found! ... God could have formed the woman out of the dust of the earth, as he had formed the man; but had he done so, she would have appeared in Adam’s eyes as a distinct being, to whom he had no natural relation. But as God formed her out of a part of the man himself, he saw she was of the same nature, the same identical flesh and blood, and of the same constitution in all respects, and consequently having equal powers, faculties, and rights. This at once ensured his affection and esteem.”
On Matthew 19: 3-6 (where some pharisees raised questions about marriage customs changing with the times) Clarke says: 
  • “Man should act as Christ does here; pay no regard to that which the corruption of manners has introduced into Divine ordinances, but go back to the original will, purpose, and institution of God. Christ will never accommodate his morality to the times, nor to the inclinations of men. What was done at the beginning is what God judged most worthy of his glory, most profitable for man, and most suitable to nature.”
In verse 8 of that passage Jesus told the pharisees, who were advocating divorce, “it was not this way from the beginning.” Clarke suggested this possible meaning of Jesus’ words: 
  • “The Jews named the books of the law from the first word in each. Genesis they always term Bereshith, which is the first word in it, and signifies, In the beginning. It is probable that our Lord speaks in this way here, 'In Bereshith it was not so,' intimating that the account given in Genesis is widely different [from what the pharisees believed.] There was no divorce between Eve and Adam; nor did he or his family practise polygamy.”
Nor, I might add, would they have called a union of two homosexuals a “marriage.”

Feel free to leave a comment. 
 Bill K. Underwood is the author of several novels and one non-fiction self-help book, all available at

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