There are no reports of anyone asking Jesus about his thoughts on same-sex marriage. Maybe because concepts of identity and sexuality have evolved greatly since he walked the Earth. (Pic: Getty) AS an Anglican priest, I believe that the legalisation of same-sex marriage is a good thing in itself, […]
Registration & Arrival
Opening & Welcome
Keynote Speaker. Julie McCrossin
Broadcaster, Freelance Journalist, Facilitator
- ‘Orientation Change – Myths, Harm and The Reality’
- ‘The Rise of Affirming Evangelicals’
- ‘I Shall Seek Your Face – Discrimination, Justice and Inclusion’
Lunch and Networking
Keynote Speaker. Matt Glover
“Stories from the Counselling Room. The Impact of Discrimination , Justice & Inclusion”
- ‘Orientation Change – Myths, Harm and The Reality. Panel’
- ‘The Rise of Affirming Evangelicals. Having the Conversation’
- ‘I Shall Seek Your Face – Discrimination, Justice and Inclusion’
- Telling Our Stories. Hearing Transgender & Intersex Voices
The two primary biblical texts being used by the No camp in the same-sex marriage debate are Genesis 1-2 and Matthew 19. In what follows, I will concentrate my attention on the Matthew passage. There is no actual definition of marriage in the bible, and so these two texts are used to derive a definition, whether justifiably or not. The danger is that we end up with a definition that fits in with our cultural and social expectations.
Let’s start with a little background to Matthew. Scholars think that Matthew was written in the last part of the first century. The original manuscripts are anonymous, although we know that ‘Matthew’ was a Jewish Christian, writing in the period after the Jewish-Roman war, and after the destruction of the Second Temple. It is important to note this because the Gospel of Matthew is a text that pre-supposes a Jewish perspective, and many of the passages assume a knowledge of Jewish culture from this time. Chapter 19 is a good example of this.
Matthew is particularly concerned with proving that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah that they have been waiting for. So, he starts his gospel by providing a genealogy that shows a link to King David. He also notes the Virgin birth, and the visit of the Magi to demonstrate that this is no ordinary birth. (No shepherds here though). The divinity of Jesus is placed in contrast to the religious authorities who are trying to prove Jesus is a fraud. So, after the initial introduction, Matthew spends a number of chapters talking about what Jesus taught, and those that he healed. It is in this way that he demonstrates who he believes Jesus was. In 5:32 he notes that Jesus says
‘But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes HER to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.’ Matt 5:31-32
Why does a man divorcing his wife cause her to commit adultery? Well, a woman who is without husband is often without protector. She is vulnerable. The best way to deal with this vulnerability is to remarry, but the illegitimate divorce makes the new marriage illegitimate also. This piece sits within a group of explanations of the laws. This chapter talks about the law, murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, and revenge, but it starts with the beatitudes (Blessed are the….) and ends with the injunction to love everyone, even one’s enemies. In this way, the law is always to be understood as bounded by love.
By chapter 9, we see the emergence of the theme of anger towards Jesus from the Pharisees and the scribes culminating in the crucifixion. The Pharisees are the ruling leaders; the scribes spend their days writing out copies of the Hebrew Bible, so both of these groups are very familiar with the law. Further, these two groups are consistently rebuked throughout the New Testament, for enforcing the law without love, mercy or grace. By the time we get to chapter 19, Matthew shows us that the scribes and the Pharisees are consistently testing Jesus on his of the knowledge law, so that they have a something to charge against him.
So, in that context this is the passage that we are considering, as translated in the NRSV.
When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
There is a similar passage in Mark chapter 10, and I have highlighted one of the main differences. Mark also adds into his text the earlier teaching, that divorce causes a woman to commit adultery but does not include the section about eunuchs.
The highlighted words are very important. David Instone-Brewer in his book Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context argues that at this time there were two Jewish ‘schools’ of thought. One school only allowed divorce for infidelity, neglect, and abuse. These are the laws that Moses allows ‘because your hearts were hard.’ The other school had introduced a ‘no-fault divorce’ scheme. Instone-Brewer argues that the out-come of this ‘for any reason’ divorce was that women became very vulnerable. Their prospects of finding a new husband to look after them is low, and they often did not have the legal capacity to earn their own living. So, the Pharisees are asking Jesus, what are the suitable grounds for divorce?
And the response from Jesus is that there are no suitable grounds really. People were made to commit to each other, but because humans are human, there are exceptions written into the Torah. These rules protect vulnerable women from men who would divorce their wives because they burnt the tea, or because they nagged, or for any other reason that felt good. His reference to the Genesis verses is that it is not good for someone to be alone, that the two have been joined by God, and that no human should break that connection. This is not a definition of marriage. It is a recognition of the benefits of marriage, and of the legal union that protects the vulnerable parties – the woman and her children.
It should be noted that the word ‘cleave’ used to describe the joining in Genesis, is also a word used to describe Ruth and Naomi. These two women cleave together to become family. It is in this way Ruth’s son, is also Naomi’s son. What God has joined, let no (hu)man destroy.
The family unit provides protection for all who are placed under its banner. This applies to Ruth and Naomi. It applies to Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Rachel and Leah, and all the other family units we see in the biblical text. The widows, the orphans, the divorcees, anyone outside the family unit is vulnerable. And so again in Ruth we see Boaz argue for the protection of these vulnerable people through leaving some of the grain for these others to gather.
Secondly, the verses about eunuchs should also grab our attention. The term eunuch can be understood to mean people who are physically castrated, but the clause which refers to those ‘who have been made eunuchs by others’ would suggest a wider application. There have been arguments made that within this reference to eunuchs we can begin to see recognition of intersex or transgender people. It may even incorporate homosexual identities. Jesus indicates that coupling and marriage are not straightforward, or simple, even in his cultural context.
Matthew tells us that Jesus agrees that it is better to live alone, if the person can handle it, but there is a recognition that not everyone can. Those who cannot, should be supported and protected to the mutual benefit of all involved, as in the marriage relationship. As it says in Genesis, it is not good for a man to be alone, and I think that we can extend that to include women. It is not good for people to be alone.
In a modern context then, we allow all people to choose a suitable life partner (ezer kenegdo*), equals who cleave together for their common good, and for the good of any other members of their newly created family unity. And once this unit is formed, by marriage or by another form of cleaving, then no one should seek to destroy it. In fact, it is in everyone’s best interest to build it up for the common good. In this way, marriage equality could be argued from this passage, as the union of two people who have cleaved together and have become one flesh, which no human should seek to destroy this.
It is tempting to read these passages with our twenty-first century glasses on, and to argue for a plain reading of what we think is in the text. It is tempting to see the word marriage and extrapolate a definition. It is tempting to think the bible is clear, simple and straightforward, but it is not. The bible attests to all the messiness of life, and it is our pastoral duty to all people, married, single from birth, single by society, and single by choice, to seek to understand it better. And we must remember that ‘all the law and commands depend on this command,’ (Matt 22:40) to love.
*this is the term used in Genesis to describe Eve’s relationship to Adam. See: http://phroneothinking.blogspot.com.au/2009/08/genesis-218-ezer-kenegdo.html
Why do we need to say sorry to LGBTIQ+ fellow Australians (including fellow Christians)?
Both individually and collectively, in what we have done and failed to do, we have sinned against LGBTIQ+ fellow Christians and fellow Australians. Our guilt and shame is church-history long, and still reaches into the present in disturbing ways. For more detail, see ‘Why we need to apologize?’
What do the acronyms LGBTIQ+ mean?
Gay is a term most commonly used of men, but can be applied to any individual who is romantically, physically and/or emotionally attracted to members of the same sex.
Lesbian is a specific label for women attracted to other women.
Bisexual attraction to ‘both’ genders.
Transgender is applied to those whose gender identity does not align with their sex as assigned at birth. It is an umbrella term covering a range of identities that run counter to socially defined gender norms.
Intersex ‘People with intersex variations’ is an umbrella term for those born with congenital atypical sex traits (whether chromosomal, hormonal, or anatomical). A person with an intersex variation has biological sex characteristics which don’t fall (or fall neatly) into a binary definition of male or female. These characteristics are not simply physical or visual (which is how they have been spotted, reaching all the way back into the Bible with its reference to eunuchs who are born that way), but are built into people’s chromosomes and hormones as well. Over 1% of the population have a variation of one or more of their chromosomes, hormones or genitalia.
Queer is an umbrella term that can be used to refer to all LGBTIQ people. The + at the end of LGBTIQ+ recognises that even these acronyms don’t adequately cover what is a complex range of sexual and gender variations including those who identify as asexual.
How can I sign up to this apology if I am not guilty of all (or even any) of the things mentioned in the apology?
You can, because we are all part of a community, the church, which bears historical (and current) responsibility for serious wrong-doing. The apology was crafted as a quite comprehensive apology which Christians, as a collective, can sign up to. You are not apologizing on behalf of others, but, rather, are identifying with Australian Christians who, as a group, are saying sorry and committing to do better.
If I myself am LGBTIQ+ can I sign up to the apology?
You can. You are part of a community of pain – inflicted and received. You may identify as one of many Christians who want to apologize to fellow LGBTIQ+ Australians. You are simultaneously being apologized to and apologising. It may also be that you can identify ways in which you yourself have let down others who are LGBTIQ+. Alternatively, you may also decide you can’t sign the apology, and would be uncomfortable doing so, and that is entirely okay.
What does it mean to suggest that sexual and gender differences are not part of one’s true identity as humans made in the image of God? (Point 6)
Some Christians argue that sex and gender variations are incidental, but not essential aspects of the identity of LGBTIQ+ people. Some go so far as to say that all people are essentially straight. But this doesn’t correspond to the lived experience of LGBTIQ+ people, who do understand these differences as part of their true identity. Nor does it correspond to emerging scientific understandings. Moreover, it makes good sense, biblically and theologically, to see these as variations, which have always been present in human populations, and can be seen to enrich our human society. Without any doubt, all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, each of us in distinctly interesting ways.
Why is it a mistake to believe that ‘sexual orientation and gender identity should be treated, healed or changed’ – point 7?
Long-term experience has shown that efforts to treat, heal or change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity have failed. In many cases, they have failed miserably, and too often tragically. Some who have previously been involved in orientation change efforts, such as Alan Chambers, the founder of Exodus International, have joined a growing chorus of opposition to conversion therapies, because these ‘therapies’ have proved ineffective. Even conservative researchers admit that a change from homosexual to heterosexual doesn’t happen. It is now widely recognised that such efforts have been enormously damaging in many cases.
Today, how people identify in terms of gender is richer than it was in past generations. Trying to take everyone back to a time when everyone was believed to be either male or female and exclusively heterosexual just doesn’t work. The reality has always been more complicated.
How is it that not understanding or accepting the non-binary sex characteristics of people with intersex variations harms them or constitutes rejection? – point 8?
In a nutshell, people with intersex variations are not being accepted for who they are. Because they don’t neatly fall into the categories of male or female, they are likely to feel hurt or misunderstood by efforts to squeeze or force them into one category or the other, when the reality of who they are and how they see themselves is otherwise. This has been reinforced by the medical profession and governments, and has been reflected in the church where it as assumed that people are either male or female, and that no other or mixed categories exist.
Isn’t there just one correct way to understand homosexuality and any other sex and/or gender variations?
There are some who continue to mistakenly say that the Bible is absolutely clear about these matters, or that you simply can’t be a faithful Christian if you disagree with what the church has traditionally taught, but such statements are false, not to mention coercive and unacceptably authoritarian.
Is there just one correct way to understand homosexuality and other sex and gender variations?
History shows that both church and society have made costly mistakes in these matters. We are still learning what the Bible and on-going scientific discovery have to say. We have much to learn from our LGBTIQ+ fellow Australians.
Theologians and biblical scholars from across the theological spectrum are working carefully towards new and richer understandings. In fact, growing numbers of evangelicals are now supportive of same-sex marriage based on careful biblical study.
There are some who continue to say that the Bible is absolutely clear about these matters, or that you simply can’t be a faithful Christian if you disagree with what the church has traditionally taught. This is not the experience of a growing number of faithful Christians. Claims that this is the case have been felt as coercive and heavy handed.
What are the consequences of NOT apologizing?
The good news is that the world will not end, God will still love us, and we will still have opportunity to love. We will, however, carry pain in our relationships with each other and especially with our LGBTIQ+ family and friends. Moreover, the fact that we don’t ask for forgiveness is sure to be interpreted as proof that we really haven’t heard or seen their pain, and that the gospel imperative to forgive and to seek forgiveness has not been heeded.
By Malcolm McPherson
Ben Jago[i], when his partner, Nathan, died in 2015 in Tasmania, found that de facto relationships may not always be recognised as they ought. The attending police officers, the coroner and the funeral director refused to acknowledge Ben and Nathan’s relationship and Ben’s position as next of kin. Ben was refused the right to see Nathan’s body or to plan his funeral according to Nathan’s wishes. Their relationship was not even acknowledged at the funeral. “To be treated like I meant nothing to him left me feeling like part of my soul had been crushed to dust.”
The police and coroner were incorrect in law but by the time Ben realised that and could act on that knowledge, it was already too late. There were steps that Ben could have taken to minimise the risk or avoid it altogether. Not everyone has that knowledge when it is needed. The rights of those in legal marriages are generally well known and well respected.
The Australian parliament gave full recognition to same-sex de facto relationships in 2008. Many of the most vocal opponents of marriage equality support the recognition of same sex de facto relationships. But those who claim that same-sex relationships enjoy relationship equality, “exactly the same legal status and benefits”, are either misinformed or dishonest.
The differences come down to proof and contestability. The marriage certificate, or registration of the marriage, is proof that the marriage exists. The only grounds on which the marriage can be contested are that it was not entered into legally, for example, if one of the parties was still married to someone else.
On the other hand, the existence of a de facto relationship may be decided by bureaucrats or ultimately by a court based on a large body of evidence to satisfy the criteria listed in the Family Law Act.[ii] The determination is essentially subjective with different bureaucrats or courts possibly arriving at conflicting conclusions.
‘De facto relationship’ is merely a short form of the phrase, ‘de facto marriage relationship’. ‘De facto marriage’ means ‘marriage in fact’ as opposed to ‘de jure marriage’ , that is ‘marriage in law’ or legal marriage with a marriage certificate.
The phrase ‘de facto relationships’ is peculiarly Australian. In other jurisdictions where such marriages have not been included in statute law, they are called simply, ‘common law marriage’. Dropping ‘marriage’ from the phrase, ‘de facto marriage relationships’ enabled the legal fiction that de facto relationships are ‘not marriage’. This allowed the states to legislate with respect to these relationships (‘marriage’ being a Commonwealth power).
A quick look at the history of marriage reveals that our current approach to de jure marriage is based on Roman law where marriage was a contract based on monogamy (one legal spouse), and the consent of the two citizens involved. The resulting offspring had legal rights (citizenship and inheritance) not enjoyed by those born to slaves, concubines, or, later, to servants. Marriage was not to protect children but to confer rights on some offspring and not on others.
Cohabitation and sexual intercourse have also long been a means of formalising a marriage. Among the Germanic tribes, marriages were arranged by the fathers and formalised by the wife moving in with her husband and having their first act of sexual intercourse. In the twelfth century, Canon Law codified church marriage law, amalgamating the Roman and Germanic approaches, with the Roman approach dominating.
In Australia, for most people most of the time, there is no effective difference between a de facto relationship and a legal marriage. The government has no interest in the way relationships are conducted other than to recognise where there is or has been a relationship and, when it ends, to ensure the welfare of any children and the equitable distribution of property in the event of a dispute between the parties.
Unless one or both of the parties are seeking or relying on social security benefits, it is when there is illness, separation or death that the differences between de facto relationships and legal marriage become important.
It is not unusual for parents and siblings of heterosexual couples to disapprove of the relationship of a family member and attempt to contest the existence of the relationship and the rights of the partner, especially if there is a legacy involved! They are unlikely to be successful if the two people are legally married and there are no grounds to contest the legality of the marriage.
As Ben Jago’s story illustrates, same sex couples may have more need than heterosexual couples of the clarity and certainty that legal marriage offers because of homophobia that exists in the community and in our families.
De jure marriage has the effect of protecting the rights of both partners to be kin to each other overriding the kinship claims of their biological families. Having to fight with a partner’s parents or siblings about the right to visit their partner in hospital, to determine when the life support machine is turned off or who may organise the funeral adds unnecessarily to the stress and grief of the situation. Those rights may be respected by the hospital, the police or the coroner – or they may not. It should not be necessary to fight at times when one is stressed or grieving.
Australia took the first step towards marriage equality nine years ago by recognising one kind of same-sex marriage. It only remains to extend that recognition to ‘de jure marriage’.