The Evangelical Alliance has recently released a paper entitled “Same-Sex Relationships and the Law”. The nine page document also has a five-page “Statement on Marriage and the Family” added to it. Both were penned by Brian Edgar of the EA, although the latter paper is largely based on an earlier Canadian paper.
In some ways both documents provide a fairly good statement of the biblical position on the issues. This is certainly the case with much of the second paper. However, the first document contains several areas which will be a cause of great concern for many biblical Christians.
This first paper speaks much of justice as an operating principle in the discussion of same-sex relationships rights. Of course the notion of justice, whether from a biblical perspective, or simply as a social/political/philosophical idea, is a huge issue requiring great care and subtlety to properly explore its nuances. The EA paper is not the right context for such an exercise, but it does nonetheless try to provide a rough sketch of what it means by justice.
Thus the paper begins by attempting to narrow down just what justice entails. It does so by asking us to avoid what it regards as two extremes, or two incorrect understandings, of justice. It rightly notes that a), justice does not mean letting people do whatever they want, nor allowing for no forms of discrimination, many of which are helpful and necessary.
It then warns that b), justice cannot mean simply enforcing the biblical worldview on a secular society. Not every biblical principle and precept can be turned into public policy or state law. Now the issue of biblical law and its relationship to secular society is an enormous one, with many competing Christian options available. I cannot here enter this complex discussion, except to say that the EA is largely right to suggest that in a secular democracy, there are limits as to how far Christians can go in insisting on biblical standards be applied to the nation. While those in the theonomy/dominion/Christian reconstruction camp will beg to differ, this is basically the correct way to proceed. (But even having said that, there is still much discussion and debate as to how to proceed within such a framework.)
So far, so good. The paper then looks at three principles of justice to guide our thinking on the issue of same-sex relationships. This is where the discussion begins to break down, and problems emerge.
The first principle appealed to is based on the words of Jesus, “do to others as you would have them do to you”. Now this is a fairly broad statement, and may not be of so much use in determining how Christians and the State deal with the issue of homosexuality. As such, its inclusion does not help too much with the discussion at hand.
The second principle is a recognition of the limits of the law. The law “will not make anyone good. It will not, for instance, prevent homosexual behaviour and should not be used to try and do so”. This sentence deserves some attention.
Yes, agreed, the law cannot make anyone good. But – and this is an important but – it can prevent evil, which is a function of the law, both biblical and secular. For example, while the law cannot force an arsonist to stop his evil actions, it can deter the arsonist by stiff penalties, and the like. The arsonist is still at heart a rascal, but at least the deterrent effect of the law keeps arson down to low levels, at any rate in most Western nations.
Transformation of the heart is of course the work of the Spirit, not secular legislation. But laws can and do deter and prevent bad behaviour, and can even be used to encourage good behaviour. Thus good activities can indeed be encouraged and motivated by legislation, while of course goodness itself must be promoted and realized by grace and God’s work in the inner man.
As to the issue of homosexuality, why can a government not seek to deter this behaviour? Sure, the issue of orientation or inclination is another matter. Legislation cannot necessarily take away homosexual desires. But it can deal with homosexual practice.
That is, homosexual activity can either be encouraged and promoted by government legislation, or discouraged and deterred. Given what a dangerous, high-risk and socially unhelpful behaviour homosexuality is, it seems that governments have every reason why they should seek to discourage this behaviour.
(It needs to be mentioned at this point that I am assuming certain points that have been argued for at length elsewhere by myself, with ample documentation. Thus I assume for the sake of discussion that there is a real element of choice in homosexuality, that it tends to be a quite promiscuous and dangerous lifestyle, and so on.)
Now this may or may not take the form of making the behaviour illegal. But surely a government does not have to endorse and promote the behaviour. Indeed, governments are under no obligation whatsoever to promote, extend benefits to, or recognize homosexual behaviour, or relationships. Why should they?
Governments seek to curb all kinds of socially unacceptable behaviour. Be it behaviour which is damaging to the individual, to society, or both, governments often pass legislation to discourage certain behaviours.
Cigarette smoking is a classic case in point. While it is not yet illegal to smoke (at least in certain places) governments have done much to deter the behaviour, to reduce it, to discourage it. Thus it is banned in many public places. And we have ‘sin taxes’ on tobacco products. A pack of cigarettes is terribly expensive. Why? Because governments believe that smoking is a destructive and harmful behaviour, and they are seeking to persuade as many people as possible to give it up and/or not take it up.
And guess what? Smoking is way down from previous years. Indeed, several decades ago around two thirds of adults smoked. Today that figure is closer to 25 per cent. Thus legislation can and does influence behaviour, for good or ill. Laws and public pressure can either encourage or discourage behaviour. This is the normative effect of the law.
If this approach has worked in the area of tobacco use, why can’t governments try this with other harmful behaviours? We do it with some, such as drink driving. Why not promiscuous sex, of any kind? And why not with the high-risk homosexual behaviour? So the EA paper can be strongly challenged at this point.
The third principle in the discussion of justice is that of “caring for all people”. The paper unfortunately does not really spell out what it means by this, at least in the context of same-sex relationships. Since it is not clear what the paper intends here, let me speak to this in a general manner.
Yes, we are to care for all people. Indeed, we are to love all people. But bear in mind that love, from a biblical point of view, means willing the highest good of the other person. It does not mean simply letting them do whatever they want, regardless of the harm that they or others may experience. Instead, love means wishing the best for the other person.
Thus it should be clear that the most loving thing we can do for a drug addict is not accept them in their current condition. It will mean seeking to free them from the shackles of addiction and the possibility of destruction and death. Love will want the drug addict to be set free of his life-denying and soul-destroying addiction.
In the same way, Christians really do love homosexuals. And it is exactly because we love them that we want them to experience the best that God has for them. And homosexuality is not the best for them. It too is a dangerous and life-threatening addiction. Loving a homosexual means seeking to help them understand that they do not have to be homosexual, and helping them to break free of this destructive lifestyle.
So in terms of public policy, the loving, caring thing to do would be to seek to help the homosexual be delivered from the lifestyle he finds himself in. It certainly would not be caring for governments to in any way recognize, endorse or promote this lifestyle. (More on this below).
The paper then goes on to briefly examine four possible public policy options. Two positions (same-sex marriage and civil unions) the paper does not endorse. The two other options it does. These are a relationships registration, and piece by piece legislation changes. The paper especially favours the idea of a registry.
I will devote my attention to this option. The EA argues that it would be just and fair to have a registration of homosexual relationships. It involves government recognition of homosexual relationships, and the extension of certain benefits to people in those relationships. While the paper mentions the Tasmanian Relationships Act 2003, it does not go into much detail as to just what it is proposing. Therefore it is hard to offer comment except in a more generic fashion.
I believe that a relationship registration system is not the way to proceed. Again, because various registration schemes – either in existence or proposed – differ in many respects, my concerns can at this point only be fairly broad. A registry of same-sex relationships is simply a government recognition of these relationships. And usually with that recognition goes the conferral of certain benefits – benefits that generally have been reserved for married couples, at least until recently.
As I mentioned before, there is no compelling reason why governments should extend either recognition or benefits to homosexual relationships. There are all kinds of relationships that exist, including homosexual relationships. They have existed for quite some time, and have not needed special recognition nor benefits. And the individuals in them have all the same basic freedoms and rights as anyone else does.
The reason governments have extended special recognition and benefits to married couples is because marriage confers great benefits on society, on the couples themselves, and on their children. Heterosexual marriage is unique, special and advantageous, and that is why governments have always granted them special acknowledgment and benefits. But the same cannot be said of many other types of relationships, including homosexual ones.
They confer no obvious benefits to society, to their partners, nor to children. (Indeed, one might argue that homosexual relationships by their very nature in fact confer certain disadvantages, not least of which is the inability to produce the next generation.) Of course this is not to deny that individual homosexuals may offer many benefits to a given society. So too do many other individuals. But that is not the point.
The issue here is the relationship, and whether it needs to be recognized and granted special privileges. I do not think that case has yet been made. Thus the idea of a registry seems to await both social as well as biblical justification.
Now it can be argued that de facto couples have recently taken on the status and place of married couples. That is correct. But several things can be mentioned. Most pro-family forces fought that initial change, recognizing it would devalue marriage and further encourage marriage-less relationships. Moreover, it would be a slippery slope to other sorts of relationships, such as same-sex ones. All of these concerns have been realised.
It is probably true to say that we cannot roll back the clock on this one. Believers and those concerned about marriage should have fought harder at the time on this issue. But now it is a fait accompli. But we can seek to hold the line. We can say we have gone far enough, and no further.
After all, if we grant government recognition of same-sex relationships, and extend to them special benefits (as a registry scheme will do), we then have no real augment for when the next onslaught comes. And that is already being debated. I refer to polygamy, polyamory, and related concepts. Many are now arguing for government recognition of these sorts of relationships. And the very same arguments are being used for those as have been used for same-sex relationships.
It is time that we draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough. It matters little whether this move to recognize same-sex relationships is inevitable or not. It matters little that other nations have proceeded down this path. The main thing is to do what is right and to make a stand for the special uniqueness of marriage and family.
The homosexual activists are right to suggest that for all intents and purposes, there is very little difference between same-sex marriage, civil unions, or a registration system. That being the case, why give in to any? And it is of interest to note that the EA paper states that some “regard this form of registration as simply the thin edge of the wedge with regard to larger social changes. And that may be right.” (emphasis added) Exactly! It more than likely is right. So why move in that direction?
The stakes indeed are high here. If we give up on this one we might as well give it all away. But I propose a better way. Let us take a stand for what is right. There is a place for politics, for compromise, for expediency. But I do not think it is here. Here we must stand, and we should do no other.