Do we really want the end of gender?

Someone might respond to the traditional marriage argument- “But does it really matter if gay people can’t conceive children? They are going to adopt children anyway, and maybe letting them in on marriage will strengthen their relationships and make them feel validated as well. Is there really any problem with calling their relationships marriage as well?”

Well, if affirmation is what the gay community is seeking, then why not be open about it instead of just framing it as a case for equal rights? However, the problem is that this debate is more involved than just seeking to bring affirmation to the gay community. Rather, it is hard to ignore the fear that the same sex marriage campaign is really the beginning of the slippery slope to gender eradication. Same sex marriage says that gender does not matter, and in essence, it is a movement to eradicate gender. That is the logic here- it does not matter what sex you are, all that matters is love. Gender is fluid- some people are more masculine, some people are more feminine. People can be whatever gender they like.

The slippery slope to gender eradication has already well and truly begun. Facebook now gives you 71 gender options you can choose from. Calling someone your husband or wife is frowned upon, partner is the gender neutral politically correct term. In Canada and in Europe, there is the push to create new pronouns instead of he or she- “ze”, for example, and universities are penalizing students who do not use the correct forms. Recently the call has started to grow in Australia already to get rid of Mothers or Fathers Day, calling it “Special Persons day” instead. The logic which is inherently embedded in the LGBT belief system is that gender is a harmful thing which must be eradicated.

So, do we really want the end of gender? Well, let’s acknowledge that terrible abuse on the basis of gender has occurred in history, and it still occurs in shameful ways in many societies. Let’s also acknowledge that a small minority of people struggle for various reasons with gender identity issues. Let’s acknowledge that some women show some traditionally masculine traits, and some men show some traditionally female traits, and that’s perfectly ok.

However, in spite of all these disclaimers, the Christian understanding is that gender is a beautiful thing, and we should celebrate it, not eradicate it. Men tend to be taller in height, physically stronger and better equipped biologically to do the manual labour required to provide for a family. Women tend to be softer in nature, better at caring and nurturing of children. Not everyone fits into those tendencies, but those tendencies are typical for what most people do fit into, and they are linked to the way we are typically biologically made.

So who has made the decision that gender is evil and we’re going to eradicate it? We should always guard against the danger of gender becoming a reason for  abuse, but why should we not celebrate the beauty of gender? Since when do we have to eradicate it? Same sex marriage essentially says that gender no longer exists in any meaningful sense.

Traditional marriage celebrates the reality that we are made of two biological types which typically expresses itself in two gender types. While we are going to always love every single individual on the face of the earth with all our many different varieties, we can celebrate the fact that we are designed as two different types, and the institution of marriage is the celebration of the two different natures coming together as one.

A one line argument for traditional marriage

Many others have written arguments for traditional marriage. In a world in which people only have the patience to listen to 10 words or less, we need to express complex ideas succinctly. So here is a one line argument which I hope might help in expressing the argument for traditional marriage. Why traditional marriage? Here’s why. Heterosexual unions are unique and important.

Firstly, heterosexual marriages are unique. Same sex marriage will never be equal because same sex relationships are different. The heterosexual relationship alone is capable of creating a child. Two men cannot create a child, neither can two women, neither can 1 man alone or 1 woman alone, neither can 1 man and two women, or two women and one man. There is a uniqueness in the combination of 1 man and 1 woman. As much as we don’t want anyone to feel like their relationship is lesser in quality, the hard fact exists that there is at least one respect in which homosexual relationships are inferior- that is, they are biologically incapable of producing offspring. So the heterosexual relationship is unique.

Secondly, the heterosexual union is important. The relationship between male and female with the capacity of producing a child is such an important building block in our society that it is wise for the government to continue to legally validate it and promote its stability through this institution we call marriage.

There are many people in society who passionately love sport. But the government does not legally declare them to be a sport lover. There are many people who love music. But the government sees no reason to declare them a music lover. Of course, it may be inappropriate to compare the love of sport to the romantic sexual love of two humans together. But it prompts the question of why the government should need to legally celebrate any relationship. There are other kinds of sexual love relationships. In some societies a man could have a wife and a mistress- a wife for children and a mistress for sexual pleasure. Both could involve love, but only one is recognised as marriage. A group of 3 or 4 people could all love each other. But this is not marriage (so far at any rate!).

There is something unique about the relationship of one man and one woman, and that uniqueness is important enough for the government to legally recognise and promote it. The reason is that our society’s health and future is built on the foundation of heterosexual relationships who bring children into the world, and this should be celebrated and promoted as the norm of society.

Now, of course, the counter-argument. It is said that children are a red-herring because many gay couples already have children, and studies show gay parents make just as good parents as heterosexual parents. Well, even if you grant the assumption that this is what the studies say (consider this review for example), the issue is not whether gay couples make good parents. Of course they could make good parents. But the fact is, I could be an absolutely lousy parent, and my neighbours could be terrific parents, but of course this doesn’t mean my neighbours have a right to parent my children. I have a permanent biological link to my children which ideally should never be severed. Of course, sometimes a parent’s link with their children is broken. Perhaps the relationship breaks down, and sadly sometimes significant abuse necessitates a separation. Ideally however, children should never be taken away from their parents. There is a biological link which should be normalized, celebrated and promoted.

The same is true for children. A child has a biological link to both of his or her parents which should ideally never be severed. A child should grow up in the care of his or her parents. This is an issue of justice and compassion for them. The problem with same sex marriage is that it is not now just permitting children to be adopted by gay parents. It is now normalizing it and indeed promoting it as completely normal and equivalent. It is stating that there is no difference, and that the union of father, mother and children together is a matter of no difference or priority at all.

Other types of family arrangements will exist of course, but this does not mean we should pretend they are all as ideal as each other. The formation of the core family unit, bonded together by one man and one woman who together conceive and raise their children together is the ideal.  This ideal is the reason we legally recognise and promote the institution called marriage in society.

How to engage the gay marriage debate

Same sex marriage is at least really giving Christians some serious air-time. However, sometimes our manner of speaking on the topic is not creating an overly positive image! Here are four principles to consider on how we should engage on the topic.

Firstly, let’s discuss the issue with gentleness and respect. We need to recognise that this is a very emotionally charged topic with strong feeling on both sides, and often, we have the two camps completely talking past each other on this topic. I often hear Christians talking about this topic, mostly I can’t help thinking what you’re saying would completely infuriate a gay person, and also many just ordinary heterosexual Aussies. Many non-Christians I imagine could well hear what Christians say, and just respond by thinking- “you Christians just hate gay people, don’t you?”. So, let’s work hard at thinking and talking about this topic in a way that makes sense to non-Christians. My encouragement would be that whenever this topic comes up in your family or with friends, imagine you’ve got a gay person standing next to you as you talk about the issue and talk with them in mind. If you don’t practice talking about this complex issue in a sensitive way in a safe environment first, you are unlikely to be successful when the subject comes up in a more hostile environment.

The reason why this debate is so polarising is because Christians can be coming at this topic from a completely different starting point from secular people. It’s like an NRL devotee and an AFL devotee having an argument about the best shape of a football. You’re going to have a very frustrating discussion if you don’t realise you’re starting with two different frameworks. Similarly, Christians and secularists have very different starting points about marriage. Christians believe that God designed marriage, so we don’t get to make up the definition of what it is. Secular people believe that marriage is just a social convention we created, so we can adjust it as we like. So, this is why a lot of the arguments which Christians make against same sex marriage are just not convincing to non-Christians- they just roll their eyes at them, and this is why secularists are not going to be very successful at convincing Christians.

Let’s realise there is going to be differences of opinion in this question, and that arguments will only prove to have limited success. We need to speak with respect and gentleness on the issue.

Secondly, we can affirm the desire for justice and dignity for all people. A good place to start in any debate is by affirming the good points of an opponent’s point of view. Let’s start then by acknowledging that the motivation for changing the definition of marriage for most people is not a sinister socialist plot to re-engineer society, but rather a sincere desire to bring greater justice and dignity to a minority who have long struggled for social acceptance. It is to bring affirmation and acceptance for a group of people who typically suffer greater rates of depression, drug abuse and self-harm. If I was in a discussion with a passionate advocate for same sex marriage, I would start by complimenting them on their passion for justice and compassion. I would suggest that this is the fingerprint of God on their hearts. And I would far prefer to talk with them about why they are so passionate about justice and mercy for the disadvantaged- and whether they get that desire from God or not.

Now of course, they will respond, “well, if you believe in justice and compassion, why are you not showing justice and compassion to gay people by allowing same sex marriage?”. And the answer of course, is that there are other factors to consider as well which make us believe that it is not the ultimately most just and compassionate decision to make, and  that will be the occasion to present your case for a traditional understanding of marriage. But having started by affirming their passion for justice and compassion will lead to a far more healthy and respectful conversation.

A third factor we need to consider is that the Christian marriage horse has already bolted to some degree. The institution of marriage in most people’s minds is already a watered down concept from the Christian vision of marriage. The great majority of couples live together first before getting married, and when they do that, what are they saying? They’re saying that marriage doesn’t really matter. It is just a piece of paper. Divorces are easily obtained, and even fidelity within marriage is on the decline. So, the institution of marriage has already fallen off its lofty perch in the mindset of most western people- it’s already been treated very differently from a traditional Christian ideal. Thus it’s no surprise that many people don’t have any huge problems with tinkering with it even more. The virtue of chastity and the idea of sex being only for a married relationship is laughable for most secular people. That is another reason why the Christian view of marriage is difficult to get across, and why we shouldn’t be surprised if our point of view isn’t readily embraced.

Finally, I would say that in spite of the difficulties in presenting our view, Christians should engage in the debate and should participate in the postal  vote. Some good Christian friends argue that this isn’t an issue that we should get too worked up over. They say that we Christians are about helping people have a relationship with God. We’re not about telling non-Christians how they should live. So, therefore, it’s simply not our business to be making a big fuss about this.

I think there is some truth to this. We aren’t really a Christian society. Trying to force people to live by Christian ideals when they aren’t Christians is rather counter-productive. Our mission is to tell people about Jesus, not to be having a temper-tantrum when non-Christians live in line with their beliefs.

However, having said that, we live in a democracy. It is our privilege and responsibility to have our say in what we believe is good for the future of the country. Jesus spoke up when he was asked his opinion on the moral issue of his day- the issue of divorce, even when his conservative response was way out of line with the majority view of his day. So, as Christians, I do believe it is our responsibility to speak politely and winsomely into our culture with what we believe marriage should be, and why we believe the Christian view of marriage is best for our country’s future.

Let’s engage in the debate with wisdom, grace and boldness. Most of all, we will really need to be soaking all our words and actions in prayer for this is such a polarising and divisive topic which influences peoples perceptions of Christianity so easily.