Commentary

What does the Bible say about “traditional marriage values” anyway?

Bible-bigotry
Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

A wedding venue in North Carolina rejected a male couple’s request to hold their marriage celebration dinner there in 2022. McCae Henderson and Ike Edwards contacted Highgrove Estate, which prides itself as a full wedding planner and “the best of Southern hospitality,” only to receive the response that Highgrove has “chosen not to participate in same-sex weddings at this time,” claiming its biblical “Christian values” as justification.

“Highgrove has always welcomed vendors, guests and employees of all orientations and we do not discriminate against a people or group,” their statement read. “We believe in the sanctity of marriage as God says in the Bible that marriage is between a man and a woman and we choose to honor Him above what the world decides that marriage should be.”

Related: How strongly does President Biden support LGBTQ rights? We asked the man who knows best.

So, Highgrove Estate “welcomes…all orientations and we do not discriminate against a people or group,” but has “chosen not to participate in same-sex weddings at this time.” I must be missing something here since this appears as the very definition of discrimination for a full wedding planner and “the best of Southern hospitality.” It looks like some false advertising and gaslighting is going on here!

But what do biblical values on marriage really mean?

Early Religious Teachings

Let us look at some of the religious teachings, many of which point out that the institution of marriage was constructed very differently from what some today consider “traditional marriage.”

Approximately 4000 years ago, Abraham (commonly referred to as “the father of the Jewish and Arab people” and patriarch of Jews, Christians, and Muslims) was a distant ancestor of Shem, son of Noah. In Biblical Genesis 16, his wife Sarah was unable to conceive. Sarah told Abraham to conceive a child with his Egyptian maidservant Hagar as was the custom of the day, who soon thereafter gave birth to a son Ishmael.

Soon following the birth, Sarah also conceived a son, whom they called Isaac. After Isaac’s birth, Sarah treated Hagar and Ishmael badly. Hagar and Ishmael sought refuge in the desert, leaving the house of Abraham and Sarah.

In addition, according to the Jewish Bible, for example:

“When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go into her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And it shall be that the first-born whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out from Israel.”

I am not hearing any so-called “Judeo-Christian” leaders calling on men in childless marriages to take on mistresses, and once they conceive, to banish them and their children from their towns, or for men to marry their brothers’ widows even if the men themselves are already married. Where was the requirement for only one man and one woman? Was this how we should define “traditional marriage” today?

Moreover, prior to 1967, 17 states within the U.S. prevented consenting adults from engaging in sexual activities, let alone marriage, with anyone from another so-called “race.”

In the case of Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court declared Virginia’s so-called “Racial Integrity Act” unconstitutional, thereby ending all race-based legal restrictions on adult consensual sexual activity and marriage throughout the U.S.

The plaintiffs in the case were Mildred Loving (a Black woman) and Richard Perry Loving (a white man), both residents of Virginia who married in June 1958 in the District of Columbia to evade Virginia’s so-called “Racial Integrity Act.”

Upon returning to Virginia, police arrested and charged them with violating the act. Police entered their home and arrested them while they slept in their bed. At their trial, they were convicted and sentenced to one-year imprisonment with a suspended sentence on the condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia for a period of 25 years.

At the trial, the judge, Leon Bazile, used Biblical justifications, “God’s law,” to convict the couple:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay, and red, and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix.”

Redefining the Purpose of Marriage and Women’s Rights

The purpose of marriage has undergone changes throughout time and space: some societies considered marriage as a social requirement, or as a religious obligation, or even as a civil responsibility to supply citizens for the country. Some cultures promoted arranged marriages, childhood marriages, others encouraged marriage later in life.

Marriage has often been connected to property rights. Fathers often figuratively and literally owned their daughters. Upon marrying, fathers transferred rights of ownership to the husbands, and women forfeited rights to all assets they may have acquired before marrying and were denied rights to acquire property or the wages they earned during the marriage.

The New York State Married Women’s Property Act of 1848, known as “An Act for the More Effectual Protection of the Property of Married Women,” and amended in 1849 updated and redefined property rights between married couples by stating, in part:

“The real property of any female who may hereafter marry, and which she shall own at the time of marriage, and the rents, issues, and profits thereof, shall not be subject to the sole disposal of her husband, nor be liable for his debts, and shall continue her sole and separate property, as if she were a single female.”

“For the Sake of the Children”

While family constellations come in many variations — single parent, blended, extended, communal, and many others — I hear many people who defend marriage solely for different-sex couples on the basis that the best interests of the children are served only in living relationships with one father and one mother. Biblical verses give some indication of what is “best” for the children:

Deuteronomy 21:18-21

“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”

Exodus 21:15

“Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death.”

Leviticus 20:9

For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.”

Biblical consideration aside, The American Academy of Pediatrics stated in Pediatrics in 2013:

“On the basis of this comprehensive review of the literature regarding the development and adjustment of children whose parents are the same gender, as well as the existing evidence for the legal, social, and health benefits of marriage to children, the AAP concludes that it is in the best interests of children that they be able to partake in the security of permanent nurturing and care that comes with the civil marriage of their parents, without regard to their parents’ gender or sexual orientation.

In addition, a study by two researchers at the University of Southern California found that children with lesbian or gay parents show more empathy and appreciation for social diversity, and they are less confined by gender-role stereotypes.

In fact, there simply is no data substantiating any claims that different-sex couples raise physically and psychologically advantaged children compared to children raised by lesbians or gay men or within same-sex coupled households.

Not A Conclusion

I could give many more examples and incidents of the ways the institution of marriage has changed and transformed throughout the ages, and I believe that it is inevitable that this institution will continually evolve and take on new forms to meet the emerging needs of the times.

The Supreme Court’s 2015 granting same-sex couples equality and equity under the laws surrounding marriage was a major civil and human rights victory. The right of civil marriage for same-sex couples has not and will not compel religious institutions to conduct religious marriages if they are opposed.

Religious institutions will continue to set their own standards for conducting marriage ceremonies as they have at various times in the past, without fear of prosecution if they decide that same-sex marriage is against their teachings.

The reality is that our love is good, and our parenting skills are good, no better and no worse than that of heterosexuals, and in the final analysis, love is what it takes to make a family.

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