© 2010 John Casimir O'Keefe

Exactly What Is “Gay Marriage?”

I am always amazed at people who are so vocal against “gay marriage” that they are willing to shout everyone down.  They strive hard to shutdown the conversation with a “we are right, and God is on our side” placard.  You will notice, as you read, that I put quotes around “gay marriage” because it seems silly to me to even have such a term.  When I speak with people who believe “they” should not be allowed to marry, I always as “Who are ‘they’?”   For me, there is no “they,” there is only “us.”  The idea of a “gay marriage” confuses me.  It’s like saying there are different kinds of marriage, like “hetero-marriage” or “white-marriage” or “black-marriage” or “Irish-marriage” or “Polish-marriage.”  It is like saying there are different kinds of “right and wrong” marriages, and I am not sure I am interested in that conversation.  None of those are a “kind of marriage” – they are all simply marriage.  We might say, “I am going to an Irish Wedding,” but we would never think of saying, “I am going to an “Irish Marriage.”  After all, marriage is marriage – right?

Now, the reality, for me, is it does not matter if you are for or against “gay marriage” on a theological level.  You can be, that is your call and your understanding of theology.  But given that, you have no right to tell me or my church that we must follow your theology, or your understanding of a theological issue.  As long as what you are saying is that your views are yours, and in your church they would never perform a “gay marriage” I would say, “Fine.”  I am actually cool with that, but you cannot demand others follow your view, or that “gay marriage” should be outlawed.  Why?  Because, and this is going to come as a shock to many in the church, marriage is not a church issue, it is a social governmental issue – a State issue, and to some extent a cultural issue.  According to Freebase.com marriage is defined as, “a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found.” Given that, your culture can not demand my culture follow your understanding of marriage.

I know, many will claim that marriage was ordained by God – but where is that in scripture?  Some claim that when God created Adam and Eve he ordained the first marriage, but come on – really?  The word translated as “wife” in the Genesis account is “’ishshah” and has been translated as “adulteress, any woman, childbearing, each, each one, each woman, every, everyone, female, girls, harem, harlot, harlot’s, marriage, married, marry, none, one, widow, wife, wife and his wives, wife and the wives, wife or a woman, wife’s, wives, woman, woman of the wives, woman’s, women, women as wives” according to StudyLight.org.  To me, it seems to be a rather far reach to connect the creation of humanity to a marriage.  Because when we look at the history of marriage we find that many of our great theologians of the past did not see marriage as a church issue.  For those who desire to claim that marriage is not a state issue but is a church issue, let me ask you something – if you are a “pastor” of a church, will you perform a wedding without a state issued license?  If you did, would you call it a marriage?  What if two people, one male and one female, came to your office and said they wanted to get married but that they did not want the state involved in their marriage and they refused to get a marriage license, would you perform the wedding?  If marriage was not a state issue, why is it that for a wedding to be “legal” (notice that that is a state concept) the person officiating over the marriage must end with the words, “By the powers vested in me by the State of (pick your state), I now pronounce you man and wife?”  The state gives you the power to perform a wedding, not the church.  How about this question, Why is marriage only between one man and one women when scripture clearly states that a man can have more than one wife?  If those who are claiming a “scriptural view” of marriage is between one man and one woman they are not telling the whole story.  What do we do with Paul’s words, recorded in Galatians 3:28 that in all Christian relationships, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Which would include marriage, right?

But some are still thinking, “But it is a church issue.  Marriage is ordained by God.”  OK, let me ask some more questions – For a “marriage” to be valid, must it be done in a church, by a pastor (or priest) before God?  If that is the case, then the church does not see civil marriage as a valid marriage – so they should be outlawed as well.  What if your Christian tradition says that a woman cannot be a pastor or a priest, does a marriage performed by a women priest or pastor become invalid?  What do we do with people who are married in traditions we disagree with?  Is a Mormon marriage valid to an Evangelical who believes that a Mormon is not a Christian?  Is a Hindu marriage valid?  Is an Islamic marriage valid?  Does a Roman Catholic Church recognize a Baptist Marriage?  Does a Baptist Church recognize a Roman Catholic marriage?  You see, if we want to make marriage a church issue, it opens more doors than we are willing to approach.  If we demand that marriage be a faith issue, a religious issue, a theological issue the questions center on which faith and whose interpretation of scripture.  If it is a “faith issue” then we need to allow different faiths and faith traditions the freedom to decide who can and cannot marry – and we must accept them all, not just the ones we agree with.

Marriage Over Time

Let’s start with the one who started the whole Protestant Reformation thing, good old Martin Luther.  With Luther, the whole idea of recording marriages or setting the rules for marriage passed to the state, Because Luther viewed marriage was a “worldly thing.”[1] In Luther’s mind, marriage was not a theological or church issue – it was something the state dealt with and controlled.

But let’s go back even further, say to the early church from about 30 to 325 CE, what did they think of marriage and the church?  For the most part marriage was seen as an issue between those getting married and the family.  There was no uniformed marriage ritual or ceremony required, the church was not involved.  It was only after Christianity became the “official religion of the State” did they get involved in the marriage business.

The traditional marriage ceremony is filled with legal requirements of the transfer of property from one person to another.  Think about that for a few moments.  During the wedding ceremony we have a point where we ask, “Who give this woman to be married?”  and the father says, “I do” and passes the hand of the women to the man she is marrying, because in our past women were the property of the father and for the marriage to be “legal” there needed to be a public display of the transfer of property.   Historically marriage was seen as a legal contract between families – that is why there needs to be a divorce (a legal way of dealing with the separation of property).  So, marriage is not a church issue, and if your church desires to not perform a wedding between two people of the same gender, so be it – that is your call.  But think of it this way, it has been estimated that those who wanted to see prop 8 pass in California spent almost $9 billion – think of all the homeless, the hungry, the lost, the hurting could have been helped with that money and ask yourself, “Are we being honest to the Gospel when we do that?”

Here are the other articles in the syncroblog:
Kathy Baldock at Canyonwalker Connections – Marriage “I Do” For Who
Dan Brennan at Faith Dance – Sexual Difference, Marriage and Friendship
Steve Hayes at Khanya – Same Sex Marriage Synchroblog
Sonja Andrews at Calacirian – In Defense of Marriage
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – Nobody knows why or how same-sex marriage is harmful
Herman Groenewald at Along The Way – Same Sex Debate
Margaret Boelman at Minnowspeaks – What Have We Done
David Henson at unorthodoxology – ban marriage
Kathy Escobar at carnival in my head – its easy to be against equal rights when we have them

[1] “History of Marriage”. Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.


  1. Posted 2010/10/13 at 10:54 am | #

    John – Excellent post!! You have pointed out why Christians (even if they believe same sex marriage is wrong) should not be spending so much time, energy and effort on trying to make same sex marriage illegal. It doesn’t line up with what the church or Christians should be doing and it does not advance the Kingdom of God or the message of Christ. Thanks for a great post!

  2. Posted 2010/10/14 at 8:51 pm | #

    “But think of it this way, it has been estimated that those who wanted to see prop 8 pass in California spent almost $9 billion – think of all the homeless, the hungry, the lost, the hurting could have been helped with that money and ask yourself, “Are we being honest to the Gospel when we do that?”

    Wow, why have I NEVER heard that argument yet. Great post, but that final paragraph in particular is a really sobering look at so-called “Evangelical Priorities.” It’s truly shameful. Thanks John,

  3. Brandon
    Posted 2010/10/24 at 7:54 am | #

    I would assume by this post that the author is a proponent of same-sex marriages. I would like to address four points.

    First, Galatians 3:28, in context, isn’t talking about Christian relationships. Rather, it is talking about Christians being sons of God. The chapter isn’t addressing relationships, but rather, inclusion in salvation and the church. So to apply that verse to marriage, in support of same-sex marriage, is akin to using John 3:16 to support abortion.

    Second, while the Bible does not (to my knowledge) address same-sex marriage specifically, it does address homosexuality rather explicitly. Paul mentions it in Romans 1:26,27, calling it “shameful,” and as part of a larger discourse on the corruption of humanity. There are several other passages in the New Testament that support this view of homosexuality; ditto for the Old Testament.

    Third, while Luther may have thought of marriage as a “state” issue, I think the author is missing the point. Californians voted Yes on Prop 8 in a democratic fashion. Homosexual couples can already get a civil union, with all of the rights and privileges of marriage, just not the name. The majority of states in the U.S. have not even had enough democratic support to even put the issue on the ballot. In the states where same-sex marriage is legal, it was decided by a judge, or panel of judges, and not society. And since “society” is sort of the backbone of social institutions, conservatives on this issue have a right to impose their social majority on the minority.

    Fourth, your “9 billion” number is absurd. It was more like 75 million. See http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local-beat/73_Million_Spent_on_Prop_8.html

    In closing, I would like to point out the difference between eisegesis and exegesis. The first is when you insert your own opinions into a text, making your own meaning. The second is when you try your hardest to determine the original intent, purpose, and meaning of the author. The author of this post has, as I have so easily shown, inserted his own meaning into Biblical text. He has placed his own progressive ideologies ahead of the obvious position of scripture. Even if you disregard Biblical inerrancy, you cannot dismiss blatant misrepresentation of a text.

    Since Keefe would at least claim that Christ is “very real” to him, I would think that the primary historical collection of documents pertaining to Christ and his mission would hold some weight in his eyes.

  4. john o'keefe
    Posted 2010/10/24 at 10:16 am | #

    @ brandon 🙂

    Just a few things – first, it is “O’Keefe” not “Keefe.” Second, you wrote that i needed to learn the “difference between eisegesis and exegesis” and might i suggest you do the same – when you read those passages “against” homosexuality i believe you are adding your opinion into the text – but when read in a cultural context (theirs not ours) the meaning becomes very clear.

    The other points are just not worth mentioning 🙂

  5. Brandon
    Posted 2010/10/24 at 10:17 pm | #

    I apologize for mistyping your name, Mr. O’Keefe. However, since the emergence emphasis is on “conversation,” I think it is rather cowardly of you to simply avoid responding to what I wrote by saying “not worth mentioning,” as if I am a fly on the great lion’s back.

    The cultural context of Paul’s writing is the Hellenistic world, where homosexuality and pediastry were rampant, and those who opposed it were in the minority. His education background was in Jewish law, in the school of the Pharisees. Because the Torah called the act of a man lying with another man an “abomination,” it is only natural for such a view to permeate the writings of Paul and the other New Testament authors. It’s one thing to question whether or not Christians should impose their morality on non-Christians via legislative process. It is quite another to challenge the content of scripture, the historical view of Christians and Jews throughout the centuries. You are wagging the dog.

    You condemn social conservatives for spending “9 billion” on Prop 8 advertising. Your gross overestimation aside, (9 billion vs 75 million) the amount of money spent on this recent political battle is minuscule in comparison to the estimated 308 billion dollars that Americans spent on charitable giving in 2008. (http://www.philanthropy.iupui.edu/News/2009/docs/GivingReaches300billion_06102009.pdf) The amount spent on Prop 8 is equivalent to 0.02 % of the money that Americans already spent on charitable giving that year. So lets not cry over spilled milk. That 75 million did not just disappear. It went to pay the salaries of people in advertising firms, television studios, etc. You know, people who work for a living? And they in turn released it back into the economy.

    In the first paragraph of your post, you say that I have no right to tell you to submit to my theology. However, as a fellow Christian, I am obligated to point out where your ideas contradict scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (ESV). Unpacking this verse a bit, does Paul not imply that scripture is to be used for teaching, correcting, etc?

    Some of your other arguments have merit. I myself wrestle with the role of the Church in politics. I lean Civil Libertarian at times. I have gay friends and colleagues, who are nice, decent Americans. But at the end of my life, given the opportunity to vote one way or the other, will God really be willing to listen to some diatribe from me about cultural relativity and moral subjectivity? Or will the God of the Bible, who’s love is also accompanied by righteousness, justice and wrath toward sin, frown upon my willingness to be friends with the world rather than the salt of the earth?

  6. john o'keefe
    Posted 2010/10/24 at 11:43 pm | #

    Brandon, as i am sure you know from my article i mention that marriage is not a church issue – it is a cultural issue. in that, i would say even if anyone agreed that it was against scripture (i do not see that) it does not matter – it is defined by the state and the culture. to mandate a religious view is to say “the views we hold as from God are above what others see as from God.”

    if you desire you can have a different view, but in that you can not tell others what to think or believe. but, let’s look at it from a literal biblical point of view –

    the term “homosexual” means “sexual relationships people people of the same gender” – taken from the greek “homos” meaning “same” – not the latin “male” so, in the text where the term “arsenokoites” is translated as “homosexual” that would be wrong – because it dervies from the adjective “arrhen” meaning “male” – so, lesbians are not included. in fact, the term homosexual covered a wide range of meanings since 1869 when it was first used – and it even included the meaning of a all girl/boy school – or any activity that centered on any activity that was centered on a single gender. so, football was considered a homosexual activity.

    your misunderstanding of galatians 3:28, as you wrote – “First, Galatians 3:28, in context, isn’t talking about Christian relationships. Rather, it is talking about Christians being sons of God. The chapter isn’t addressing relationships, but rather, inclusion in salvation and the church. So to apply that verse to marriage, in support of same-sex marriage, is akin to using John 3:16 to support abortion.” but that is not the case. besides using the john3:16 quip as a straw-man argument, you misunderstand what paul wrote: “In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises.” as you can see, it clearly speaks about relationship.

    let me address your usage of paul’s letter to the romans: “Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either—women didn’t know how to be women, men didn’t know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men—all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it—emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches.” the central focus of this from paul is that any relationship that centers on lust is wrong – notice paul says that – but if that relationship is based on love, it is a different ballgame.

    as far as your statement about it being a “hellenistic” culture – i say “big deal.” all that era was, was a time when greek culture (they called themselves “hellen”) influenced thought and religion – you make it sound as if it was some kind of “bad times.”

  7. Brandon
    Posted 2010/10/25 at 7:23 pm | #

    Hello again.

    There are several things in your latest post I feel the need to respond to. First, Romans 1:26,27 does not use the word “homosexual” in it. However, it does mention both men and women burning with passion toward one another (i.e. men with men, women with women) and abandoning the natural use for the unnatural. While the logophile in me enjoys a lesson in etymology every now and then, this particular lesson was unneeded. No one needs to know the history of the word “homosexual” in the English language. When that word meant something other than it currently does, the term “sodomy” was used to describe homosexual sexual acts, and a “faggot” was a bundle of sticks. Arsenokoites, like most Greek words, has several possible meanings. However, in the Biblical context of its use, it is generally translated as “sodomite,” while the Greek word “malakos” implies an effeminate male. Basically, together these words describe the “+” and “-” components of a same sex relationship.

    Since you seem rather fond of Eugene Patterson’s paraphrase of the Bible (the Message), I will quote an actual translation:

    “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” (Romans 1:26,27; NASB)

    Nowhere in this very literal translation does it draw a distinction between lustful and loving same-gender relationships. You are using the convenient wording of a paraphrase to support your interpretation, and deriving meaning that simply isn’t there.

    My discussion of the cultural context of the New Testament is to the often used argument that, “well, that was just a reflection of their culture at the time.” However, in both the case of the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, the writers of scripture were surrounded by people that practiced same-gender sexual practices. In Paul’s day, Greek culture was so corrupt, it was normal for adult men to have sexual relations with the boys in their immediate families. The mystery cults involved all sorts of abnormal sexual practices, which I will not detail here, but would make even Ellen Degeneres cringe.

    The primary issue in your article is whether or not marriage is a church issue or a state issue. I disagree with that dichotomy. I think it is a values issue. Yes, the argument can be made that one religion shouldn’t impose their world view on non-adherents in a free society. However, to ask Christians to abandon their value system when they enter the voting booth is a double standard. Other value systems are not targeted in such a way. I am not particularly environmentally conscious. Yet there are environmental laws on the books that take away my liberties, even though I do not share that world view. Similarly, I might hold certain opinions about the creationism/evolution debate. Yet any child in America is forced to learn about evolution in public schools, even if it is an alternative world view. There are those who believe that polygamy is okay, and that having sexual relations with humans between the ages of 12-17 is permissible. However, we as a society have decided that we don’t want polygamy, and we want it to be illegal for adults to have sex with minors. There are hundreds of examples of the American majority imposing its collective world-view on the minorities.

    So the question becomes, “What right does the majority have to define social institutions?” Additionally, “What right does the minority have to redefine culture?” There has been an ongoing propaganda campaign in the U.S. It was detailed in “After the Ball”, a book outlining how the gay community would force itself into the mainstream during the 1990s and beyond (it as written in 1989). http://www.article8.org/docs/gay_strategies/after_the_ball.htm

    One doesn’t really need to read the book to know that there has been a purposeful effort in the media to promote the gay lifestyle as normal and acceptable. It is career suicide in the media to even speak out against it. One can easily point out the millions spent on Prop 8. But how much money has been spent by the other side over the past two decades? Because I think that number far surpasses anything conservatives have spent on promoting their own social views.

    At the end of the day, you and I might agree on some things. Paul wrote, “What have we to do with them?” The problem is, America is always been a predominantly Christian nation. We are not living in India or China. There is a longstanding Judeo-Christian heritage. To surrender that to social-engineering activists from the ivory towers, Santa Monica mansions, Manhatten penthouses, and the smoke filled rooms of Washington D.C. is something that many of us aren’t willing to do. Not when Christians in the past paid for our freedoms with their blood, sweat and tears.

    Salt of the earth, my friend. Salt of the earth. It makes french fries tastes good, but it also cleans wounds.

  8. Ross Andrews
    Posted 2010/10/27 at 3:48 am | #


    >>>Not when Christians in the past paid for our freedoms with their blood, sweat and tears.

    Isn’t that what we Christians do? Without reward? Are we to pick up our cross daily, or are we to mill our cross into swords? Dangerous words my friend…

  9. Brandon
    Posted 2010/10/27 at 7:01 pm | #

    “Isn’t that what we Christians do? Without reward? Are we to pick up our cross daily, or are we to mill our cross into swords? Dangerous words my friend…”

    I’m not sure I understand your point. My point was that the United States has been a predominantly Christian nation since its founding, and Christians have died, toiled and suffered through many difficulties in order to give us the freedoms and comforts that we now enjoy. This isn’t India or China. Christians aren’t the outsiders here.

    I’m not one of those Glenn Beck zombies who’s building a bunker, stock-piling canned goods, and polishing his arsenal of semi-automatic weapons. Not that there’s anything wrong with Glenn Beck, bunkers, canned goods, or guns. But I’m not endorsing violence against anyone.

    However, Christians (like all other subgroups) have a right to compete in the arena of ideas, and if we find ourselves in the majority on a particular issue, so be it. And when we are in the minority, the law shows it. For instance, abortion is legal.

  10. Brandon
    Posted 2010/10/28 at 6:11 pm | #

    “Isn’t that what we Christians do? Without reward? Are we to pick up our cross daily, or are we to mill our cross into swords? Dangerous words my friend…”

    I don’t know, man. Getting a measure on the ballot that is a mirror copy of the Defense of Marriage Act that Clinton signed in 1997 is hardly what I’d call dangerous. It is the progressive activists that are trying to change society.

    I agree that Prop 8 like measures should not be the church’s primary focus. However, when we do stand up for something that goes against the grain of the media, they bring a lot of attention to it. During that entire Prop 8 thing, my pastor did not deliver a single sermon on homosexuality. I think we were in the middle of the Gospel of Matthew. My point is, I think that the outside world tends to think that all Christians do is sit around and try to figure out how to meddle with everything.

    The fact of the matter is, most Christians don’t exactly advertise their faith outside the walls of the church. You have a few vocal, really outgoing people doing the proselytizing, while the rest of us sort of keep to ourselves. Not that “keeping to yourself” is a good thing. But I think it’s pretty realistic. I would argue that most pastors don’t wake up in the morning, thinking about all the ways they can canvas their neighborhoods with church invitations. Most of the time, its about dealing with your flock. Evangelism has to be highly emphasized, a “special occasion,” before most people will even talk about their faith outside of their church or homes.

    My concluding remarks (I hope) are that I understand John’s civil libertarianism. However, what I think irked me was this idea that the Bible is “okay” with homosexuality, when it is quite clear that it is not. Should that be the primary emphasis of the church? No.

7 Trackbacks

  1. […] John C O’Keefe – Exactly What Is Gay Marriage […]

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  4. By What Have We Done? « Minnowspeaks Weblog on 2010/10/13 at 6:42 am

    […] John C O’Keefe – Exactly What Is Gay Marriage […]

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