December 1, 2016
"Urshlem" Diocesan Center- Beasley, Texas
Blessings to our Cor-Episcopoi, Priests, Deacons, Parish Managing Committee and all the faithful of our Diocese!
The Sanctity of Marriage
We live in a world of sea change, and the human tendency is to experiment anything new that may appear as the norm. In recent times, much discussion and debate has taken place regarding abortion, contraception, same sex marriage, and much more. President Obama’s favorable attitude towards same sex marriage has stirred a hornets’ nest in the United States. In a newly emerging moral context, our faith is challenged and many are confused as how to conduct their lives.
Though the issue of same sex marriage has a long history it became prominent from around 1993, when the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition was unconstitutional. This lead to the formation of a new law, Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defined marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman and protected the interest of the states who wanted to restrict the marriage between Male and Female. DOMA defined the word “spouse” as a person of the opposite sex and accorded federal rights only to such a union. In 2013 the Supreme Court overturned this key provision of DOMA, declaring part of it unconstitutional because it "single out a class of persons" for discrimination, by refusing to treat their marriages equally. This meant that if same sex couples were married legally in a state that recognizes same sex marriages, their marriage would be recognized by the federal government and they would get the same rights as a heterosexual marriage such as immigration rights, tax benefits, bedside hospital visitation rights etc.
On June 26, 2015 the United States Supreme Court went another step ahead ruling that state-level bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. The court ruled that the denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples and the refusal to recognize those marriages performed in other jurisdictions violates the Due Process and the Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Due Process clause protects a person from being arbitrarily denied his rights to his life, liberty and property without the due proceedings of law. The Fourteenth Amendment contains a clause that specifically declares that all states must treat its citizens equally. Hence the court ruling regarding the issue of same sex marriage is deeply engrained in the philosophy of treating all citizens equally with equal recognition and respect of their marriage regardless of who they love. With the upcoming presidential election, political parties are being challenged to take a stance so that people can decide which party to align with. It is in this context that we have to consider what is the attitude of the faithful towards the issue of same sex marriage? Although this is not a deep study based on the cultural and social aspects of North America, I hope to express my concerns regarding this crucial issue by examining the Biblical perspective of this matter.
First, the Old Testament is very clear as to the origin of two sexes in humankind with God creating us as either male or female. In the creation account as recorded in the book of Genesis 2:7 we read, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being.” However, God found that it was not good for man to live alone and chose to make a helper comparable to him (Genesis 2:18). We further read that the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh, used the rib from man to make into a woman, and brought her back to the man (Genesis 2:21-22). In response to this the man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23). The chapter concludes with the basic understanding of Christian marriage that is repeated throughout the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony: “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). It is through this union of a male and female that God calls humankind to participate in the procreative process that would fulfill His commission to also “be fruitful and multiply.” Thus, in light of the creation account we can see that:
1) Both man and woman are the creation of God and procreation is a blessing given to both man and woman by God Himself.
2) Woman is a creation out of man by God in order to make his life complete. Therefore, woman was created as a suitable helper (partner) to man. Essentially, this details that either man alone or woman alone is not a completed creation. In other words, the diversity of gender is a divinely ordered reality.
3) The Old Testament view of marriage was developed in light of the creation narrative. It is clear throughout the Old Testament that marriage between a man and a woman was considered the divinely ordered way of cohabitation and the accepted way of receiving conjugal rights. Sexual union outside of this blessed union was viewed as adultery and severe punishment was laid upon those who were unwilling to follow this divine plan. We read in the book of Leviticus, “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them” (20:13).
When we look to the New Testament, we see two streams of views regarding marriage as revealed to us by Christ Himself and the Apostle Paul. First, Jesus Christ expressed His views regarding marriage while dealing with the issue of divorce. Though the primary issue at hand was divorce, Christ emphasized the inseparability of marriage between man and woman. Some Pharisees asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” (St. Matthew 19:3). Jesus replied to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate” (St. Matthew 19:4-6).
The marriage which is referred to is defined as a relationship between a male and a female. It is important that Jesus refers back to the Genesis account of creation and God’s plan for humankind in his answer to the perennial question about divorce. From His response one thing is made very clear to us: a marriage of same sex is out of context in Jesus’ teaching on the matter. St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians also details some principles regarding marriage and sex. For St. Paul, marriage is one way of living whereby the husband and wife meet their sexual needs (1 Corinthians 7). He also understood marriage as a kind of mutual giving to the extent that the wife has the authority over the body of the husband and vice versa. His view about marriage is again made clear in Ephesians 5:22-33 where he urges the husband and wife to love each other just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her. By using the analogy of Christ and the Church as husband and wife, St. Paul accentuates the great commitment involved in marriage.
Essentially, marriage as revealed to us by the Spirit and understood by St. Paul is a relationship between a man and woman. For St. Paul, sexual relation outside the context of marriage is a sin. He enlists a variety of people having sexual behavior that is not viewed in marriage (1Corinthians 6:9-10; cf. 5:11-13) and categorizes them into three categories of perverted sex. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God" (I Corinthians 6:9-10).
Eternal salvation is the whole goal of our earthly life. It is a goal that requires a constant striving, for it is not easy to be a Christian. The influence of our society makes it extremely hard, but I hope and pray our faithful will live and respond to the pressures of society on same sex marriage with the teachings of Scripture as understood by the Holy Church.
Alexios Mar Eusebius