I was pleased when legislators added the word “civil” to the gay marriage bill recently approved by the Minnesota legislature. Marriage has a long history of being on the rocks, so it could use a little civility.
Those strongly against gay marriage are hard to argue with, in part because their opinion has hardened into heart-felt belief. I’ve heard opponents of gay civil marriages claim that their version of marriage––a union between one female and one male––has been sanctioned by their version of God for over two thousand years. Bumper stickers proclaim this version as gospel truth all over town.
So I decided to go to the original source, Genesis and other early books of the Bible, to see how marriage fared before it became a part of new old time religion. What I found in these early books of the Bible is that it’s easy to conclude that God had little interest in having His own wife and family. One thing is certain: He was a committed bachelor forever. He was not married to any queen of heaven. Nor did God take a traditional view of marriages made in heaven. A proper conjugal relationship between one male and one female married to each other is not how family life got its start. When God got around to creating Adam, his first-born, he preferred red clay––some call it dirt or dust––rather than a female as his medium. From Adam’s rib (in one version) He then fashioned Eve, freed from the obligation to have an actual heavenly wife. A free lance artist He indeed is; a husband He is not.
Marriage as a divinely sanctioned union between one human male and one human female also did not seem to be part of God’s original plan. Were Adam and Even really ever married? Were they husband and wife, or brother and sister? More likely the latter, it seems, since Eve (in one version) was engineered from Adam’s rib. And if they are our first parents are we all offspring of an incestuous marriage that it would be hard to conceive as traditional? And after Cain and Abel grew up whose children––their sisters?––did they make into wives with whom they could exchange the vows requiring them to honor and obey?
That God somehow had sons (by whom? Himself?) whose unusual relations with females conjured more sons is apparent in Genesis 6:2-4, where we are told that “the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair, and they took to wife such of them as they chose.” So, “the sons of God came into the daughters of men, and they bore children to them,…mighty men.” This exclusive baby-making of mighty men by God’s sons is extraordinary. These unions apparently did not result in baby girls, a circumstance that would make future one-male, one-female marriages difficult to come by, and would result in a lot of leftover unmarried men. Or plenty of girls were born but they were not worth mentioning. It’s hard to be sure.
The biological prowess of Biblical patriarchs is so extraordinary that our current human condition seems outdated in comparison. Adam was a hundred and five when he fathered Seth, so Eve––if she was the mom––had to be no less than one hundred and four. And then Adam has more children until he’s eight hundred years old, so Eve, or other women, also must have been biologically able to stay with him. Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, and Lamech had children while they were each several hundred years old, though the names of their wives and/or slave-concubines are lost to us. By Noah’s time we see a decline. He was only about five hundred years old when he fathers Shem, Ham and Japheth.
These extraordinary family-making feats are impossible to live up to today. Even with Viagra widely marketed, times and people do change. These exploits also make it understandable why some Bible believers find Darwin unbelievable. Men were sexual giants in those early Biblical days, so any talk about “evolution” as “progress” is, indeed, foolishness that makes us seem small. Biology appears to have been different then, and better, especially for males.
Marriage relationships get so bizarre in subsequent generations that I’d rather have my lovely wife married to my cat than to some of the Biblical patriarchs. That many of these patriarchs practiced polygamy is a fact that many Bible-believing politicians can’t wish away. If a Biblical marriage is a union between one man and one woman, a lot of Biblical patriarchs have some explaining to do. How can Jacob, for example, justify telling his wife Rachel that she’s so old her younger sister Leah will have his child instead? What kind of example does this set for modern believers, especially since God approves this unusual family set-up? Jacob’s example suggests that traditional family life in the future, if based on Biblical precedent, will not be what it used to be. Why then should we think that future marriages will be what they used to be, especially when so many traditional ones end up in divorce?
It would be wrong not to give some thought to the moral standards of some versions of Biblical family life. In Leviticus 18:22 homosexuality is openly declared an abomination and therefore contrary to God’s law, but that law has features that would inspire terrorism against some of our current laws. Leviticus (25:44) and Exodus (21:7) both say that slavery is legitimate, with Leviticus restricting the practice to slaves taken from foreign lands only. Exodus 35:2 would doom most of us. It declares that anyone who works on the Sabbath should be put to death. Eating shellfish would doom millions too. Leviticus (11:10) tells us that it’s not as bad an abomination as being gay, but says nothing about whether it’s worse to be gay than it is to be a runaway slave or concubine.
There are a lot of other “Laws of God” that the very best Christians wouldn’t blame on God. Among the abominations are planting two different crops in the same field (Leviticus, 19:19), allowing a wife to wear garments from two kinds of thread, and touching the skin of a dead pig, a rule that would lead to the massacre of fathers and sons playing catch with a football in the yard. Those who commit abominations are to be stoned to death.
So who will throw the first stone?
Who has the courage to admit that deeming some of these behaviors “abominations” reflects silly and narrow-minded views, and that the penalties for them are brutal and immoral?
Who hasn’t cherry-picked passages from the Bible to conjure an interpretation that conveniently serves emotional and political needs?
How many believers believe, like my cousin Louis the theologian, that “exegesis saves”?
Who will not agree that many Biblical commandments violate the commandment that we love our neighbors as ourselves?
Who are those so righteous and moral that they would prohibit the civil institutionalization of loving relationships?
And who would deny those opposed to gay marriages the right to worship as they please?