Marriage is good.
In Ephesians 5 Paul affirms that the mystery of marriage is that it is a picture to the world of the relationship between Messiah and the Bride, Christ and the Church.
In the story of Creation God created the human and so that the human would not be alone, God separated out the woman from the man and two things happened. First, the man became aware of himself in relation to someone else in the process through which we understand ourselves. Until we have others to interact with we are not our true selves. Our true selves are determined by how we respond and how we care for others or not. Our character is revealed in relationship. Second, the man and woman became one flesh. They sought and returned to unity in the way designed for them to do so.
The male and female were told to be fruitful and multiply. While there was debate in Rabbinic schools over whether this was accomplished when the family had grown to two children who would take the place of the parents when they were gone or whether this required the birth of one male child and one female child who would be able to replace the mother and father for the next generation. As you would imagine, socioeconomic status often determined which school of thought one aligned with.
One thing God’s Law did was protect women and children. Women were granted three basic rights in the marriage contract in addition to whatever else might be negotiated on her behalf:
1) The right to a home. The tent or house belonged to the woman. If there were multiple wives they were each entitled to their own home.
2) Provision of food and clothing according to her husband’s means. This was guaranteed during the marriage and there were two things given to the woman at the time of the marriage that protected her for the rest of her life should anything happen to the marriage or to her husband. First was the dowry that was given to her by her family. Second was what is normally translated “bride price” that was given to her by her husband at the time of the marriage. The woman had full authority over this money and she could use it to invest in land or business for the sake of her family or she could store it away and if she was ever divorced or widowed it would be the money on which she lived and the means by which she provided for herself.
3) Sex. Sex was the right of the woman, not the man. The woman was entitled to children, and she had autonomy over her own body. Because of this, consent is the right of a woman.
The idea of marriage in the Old Testament is the idea of the marriage contract granting the wife these protections. It was recorded in the Ketubah and offered by the man to the woman who had the right of final approval even in the case of an arranged marriage.
We are given examples of polygamous relationships where the man would have had a Ketubah offered to each women who was a wife. One distinction between wives and concubines was this Ketubah and the guarantees of protection afforded to her. Concubines were women who were not entitled to rights as a Hebrew woman but they were afforded the three basic marital protections as long as they were with their husband.
There would be no discussion of polyamory outside of polygamy in the Hebrew context because all of the women living with and sexually involved with the man would be considered wives or concubines and it would be described as polygamous. One would hope that where polygamy existed there was some level of polyamory. Unfortunately we see the pain that comes in a polygamous situation where love is withheld from one of the wives in the story of Jacob.
In a relationship between two equals in society there would not need to be a marital contract in the Old Testament. There was no need to protect a woman or children if the relationship was between two men or two women. This is one of the big differences between ancient Israel and the modern day United States.
Today in the United States we have a very different concept of marriage and an across the board application of Biblical ideas would require much more nuance than is offered in the Nashville Statement. Marriage, for example, is not defined by the church but by the state. Churches have been granted the authority to oversee the legal union of couples, but not the authority to define who can and can’t marry or what rights are granted them within marriage. This can be a confusing issue but if a pastor is found to be performing “marriages” without a license or the intent of filing the legal paperwork they will have their right to perform marriages on behalf of the state revoked.
The government has chosen to grant specific rights within the marital union that are withheld from couples who are unmarried. These are related to tax status, death status, custody of children and property. Prior to marriage rights being extended by the government to same sex couples there were various state level protections afforded to them. Time and again couples found that if they crossed state or international lines or if any legally recognized representative for the individual objected to the wishes being expressed by a same sex partner the protections were not upheld. For example, if a partner was attempting to enact end of life care that was spelled out in legal documents for their same sex partner but a parent or child of that partner came forward and objected the parent or child was granted the legal privilege. Unless the shared home was in both partner’s names a quick court run by a family member would generally grant legal standing to the family member. The relationship and the legal efforts to enact the partners’ wishes proved, repeatedly, to be ineffective.
The legal standing of same sex marriage is not a religious issue. It is a legal one. There is no need to draft such a large and intentionally devaluing document. I’m still going to address each article, but I wanted to say that up front.
As for a few specifics about heterosexual marriage that were thrown in here to tear down other people:
People who are married and due to health or accident are unable to have sex are still married.
People who are unable to procreate for whatever reason, intentional or not, are still married.
As Jesus reinforced, God granted divorce because of the hardness of people’s hearts. God granted it. Sometimes it is the most blessed thing that can happen between two people and often times the person who actually files the paperwork is not the one with the hard heart – they are merely the one acknowledging that the death of the marriage is complete and it is time to part ways.