Same Sex Marriage and Interracial Marriage

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by Shane Scott

The day after the Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage (SSM), a newspaper in Pennsylvania announced a change to its editorial page policy:

As a result of Friday’s ruling, PennLive/The Patriot-News will very strictly limit op-Eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage.

These unions are now the law of the land. And we will not publish such letters and op-Eds any more than we would publish those that are racist, sexist or anti-Semitic.

According to this newspaper, because I take the same view of marriage that has dominated western civilization, that all modern nations took until 2001, and that President Obama took as recently as 2012, I am now suinterracial1-249x480ddenly cast in the role of a racist, sexist and anti-semite. This reflects the most common popular argument made in favor of legal acceptance of SSM – namely, that same-sex couples have the same right to marry that interracial couples do, and that only the same sort of bigotry that opposed interracial marriage would also oppose SSM.

On the surface, this argument seems to make sense. Just as equality under the law means that two people should be permitted to marry regardless of race, two people should also be permitted to marry regardless of sexual orientation. But as persuasive as this parallel may seem at first glance, it is simply without any logical merit. And the reason is very simple. The key issue is how to define “marriage.”

What nature itself reveals, and Scripture confirms, is that “marriage” is the union of a man and woman. I laid out the arguments for this in my previous Focus article, but I will briefly review them here:

  • Men and woman are different
  • The sexual organs of men and women are naturally ordered toward reproduction
  • The act of reproduction is not only procreative but also unitive – in the language of Scripture it creates a “one flesh” unity between a man and woman.
  • This union – to be a true union – is mutual, exclusive, and permanent.

And so nature and Scripture point toward a union between a man and woman which is comprehensive and which is the environment for raising a family. In short, marriage. And while Scripture spells out this relationship in passages like Genesis 2:23-25, the basic framework is clear for anyone who can logically reason from the natural order itself, which is why the traditional understanding of marriage was shared by diverse thinkers such as pagan philosophers like Aristotle and the Stoics, medieval philosophers like Maimonides and Aquinas, Enlightenment philosophers like Locke and Kant, and modern social reformers like Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

From the standpoint of nature and Scripture marriage is inherently rooted in male/female sexual complementarity. Gender very clearly matters. But race just as clearly does not. The melanin content of a person’s skin has no bearing on whether they can bear children or join in a “one-flesh” relationship, the two purposes of marriage. And that is undoubtedly why in the centuries of reflection of the meaning of marriage across a wide spectrum of thought, while it was virtually universally understood that marriage was defined in terms of gender, no one proposed that it was defined in terms of race. The first laws against interracial marriage were not passed until the 1660s, when some of the American colonies passed anti-miscegenation laws in order to maintain the clear distinction between blacks and whites in an effort to protect the institution of slavery.

It is true that some misguided believers have tried to use Scripture in the past to justify laws and customs opposed to interracial marriage. And in certain instances in the Old Testament God did prohibit Israel from marrying foreigners (Deuteronomy 7:3; Nehemiah 10:30). However, those who would use such passages to deny the propriety of interracial marriage today fail to discern that the expressly stated motive in those Old Testament texts was spiritual – intermarriage was prohibited so that the Israelites would not be influenced by the false gods of the foreign nations (Deuteronomy 7:4; Nehemiah 13:23-27). The issue was not racial or ethnic as such, but spiritual.

For Christians, our identity is no longer determined by ethnic boundaries. Instead, our identity is determined by Christ, and in Him “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). Since Paul teaches in Ephesians 1:9-10 that the essence of God’s plan (the “mystery”) is to “unite all things;” and since he teaches in Ephesians 3:6 that this “mystery” includes the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ; and since he teaches in Ephesians 5:32 that marriage is a model of God’s “mystery,” then I would suggest that the Christ-centered marriage of a man and woman of a different race can serve as a powerful living testimony of the unifying message of the gospel.

Race is not central to the definition of marriage according to nature and Scripture, but gender is. And that is why interracial marriage and SSM are two completely different kinds of issues. And that is also why it is a huge mistake to dismiss opposition to SSM as just the same kind of thing as opposition to interracial marriage. Equating the two issues is comparable to arguing that since, in our racist past, many Americans believed blacks and whites should have separate public bathrooms, that today only bigots would think that men and women should have separate public bathrooms. But this confuses two separate sorts of issues, gender and racial. Just because you draw some distinctions in one area doesn’t mean you would draw the same distinctions in the other. If you believe that separate bathrooms for men and women are a good thing but separate bathrooms for blacks and whites are a bad thing, then you agree that it is ok to draw some distinctions on the basis of gender that should not be drawn on the basis of race.

To say that nature and Scripture define marriage in terms of male/female sexual complementarity is not bigotry. It’s biology. It is the same reason that it would not be bigoted to say that a mother and son couldn’t attend a Father/Daughter dance, but it would be bigoted to say that a black father and daughter couldn’t attend the same dance. By definition, it is an event in which gender matters but race does not. And that is precisely what the Bible says about marriage.