To Whom Does Marriage Belong?


It seems clear to me that, despite our efforts to retain the significance and true meaning of marriage, the tide of public opinion, coupled with a judiciary (and certain legislatures) incapable of doing, or unwilling to do, the hard work of rational thinking, will at some point yield the radical redefinition of marriage as the law of the land.

How’s that for a needlessly wordy sentence? But I digress…

“Gay marriage” appears to be on the horizon in our lifetimes, as it is legal in several states already. The question will be, for those who call themselves followers of Jesus, how shall we respond to this earth-shaking paradigm shift? I’m not going to offer all of my thoughts in this post; rather, I’d like to suggest a starting point for our thinking, one which we should adopt now. I raise a question:

Under whose purview, for the Christ-follower, does marriage fall?

Asked another way, who determines who is actually married, and who is not? Is it God, or is it the state? The answer to this question is clear—and critical. But first, just a little (rather obvious) history…

For most of my lifetime, and certainly for several generations preceding mine (from the time states began to require licenses for marriage), there was no conflict: the state defined marriage as we, as Christians, would (laws against miscegenation excepted, of course, though these, while discriminating unfairly against mixed-race couples, did not touch the “basic formula” of one man/one woman). It was not the least bit controversial, back in 1982 when my wife and I applied for a marriage license, to do so; no one seriously contemplated any different definition. As recently as 10-12 years ago, the whole notion that the state would recognize same-sex couples as “married” was still rather preposterous. No one, in other words, could be blamed for applying for a marriage license.

Now, though, some states have determined to alter the very definition of marriage—and thus the question, who makes the call? The Christian must answer “God does”—and then we ought to act upon it. I would suggest that “acting upon it” might involve several different responses (and I will enumerate these at some point in the not-too-distant future), but first and foremost, we must adopt this baseline conviction: when God and state come into conflict, we must obey God rather than men. Marriage is ultimately the purview of God, and if the state attempts to usurp this role, we must politely, but firmly and resolutely, decline to play along.


  1. Graham on December 17, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    “Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”

    David Cameron. Oh dear.

    • Byron on December 18, 2011 at 9:28 pm

      With conservatives like David Cameron, who needs liberals, eh?

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