On Marriage, The Bible, And Toasters
I’ve always been confused about why it is that when questioned about marriage equality, Conservatives so often turn the question around and demand to know where the line is. If we’re going to redefine marriage, they ask, what about three people who want to get married? What about four? What about four people, a toaster, and a bootleg copy of John Mayer’s Room for Squares?
(A toaster, useful as it may be, cannot get married because it can’t give informed consent. It’s the same reason why a five year old can’t get married; it’s the same reason why a person in a persistent vegetative state can’t get married.)
But to press people on the issue of polygamy (the practice of a man taking multiple wives) seems an odd choice for a Christian to make when their holy book allows such behavior. And it’s not godless heathens engaged in it. Men taking multiple wives starts as early as Genesis, with Cain’s son Lamech taking two wives. It continues throughout the bible, with Moses and Gideon and even David, who was called a “man after God’s own heart,” and who had eight wives. He also called his best friend Jonathan’s love “more wonderful” than the love of a woman, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there, is it? In fact, when David is confronted about some sin involving a woman married to another man—because sometimes you see a naked woman and you can’t help but have sex with her, then have her husband killed—the bible tells us that God’s prophet said to him, “This is what the Lord God of Israel says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I have given you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your bosom … and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah, and as if this wasn’t enough, I would have given you even more.” 1 Samuel 12
Now if you’re anything like me, the idea that God gave all those wives to David is a bit of a problem. Women aren’t something to be given. Where’s the free will in that? Where is a woman’s agency? Or, to steal a word from the right, where is her personhood? In fact, this verse ticked me off for so long on that accord that it took me a while to register the rest of it.
Wives. As in, more than one. God gave them to David. Is God not inherently condoning polygamy? Rather, is He not explicitly condoning it?
A recent article on Crosswalk.com by Gregory Alan Thornbury called “God’s Plan For Marriage: Dealing With Old Testament Polygamy” attempts to address this confusion. His theory, and it’s one that I’ve heard others use as well, is that while God may have allowed these unions, they are not God’s ideal for marriage. They point to the beginning, to Adam and Eve, and to Jesus’ decree that upon marriage, a man and a woman should leave their parents and become one flesh. This, they say, is God’s ideal for marriage. One man, one woman.
I’ve got two problems with this. Well, I’ve got several problems with this, but here are two of them.
Are we meant, as a society, to legally restrict marriage to ‘ideal’ marriage? What about marriage between a light sleeper and a snorer? What about marriage between a cat lover and someone who breaks out into hives at the sight of a kitten? Those aren’t ideal, certainly. The idea of trying to stop those people getting married is absolutely absurd.
Okay, so what about marriage between a woman who has been raised by a Christian family, who desires nothing more than to be a godly wife and mother, marrying a man who is unable to conceive children? That’s far from ideal, is it not? And again, the idea of trying to keep those people from marrying is ridiculous. Marriage cannot, as a legal union, be confined to those who are, according to your own faith, “ideally suited.” To do so would be an enormous infringement upon our civil liberties.
Moreover, are we as a society meant to legally define marriage in a way that even God did not? This is perhaps the most confusing part of this argument. You can dismiss my entire first query as madness. Of course we shouldn’t restrict marriage between cat lovers and those with allergies, and as for the barren man, God never gives us more than we can handle, right?
If a Christian believes that God’s ideal for marriage is one man and one woman, fine. A Christian has the right to believe that, and the Constitution protects that right. Let the church decide who it will and won’t marry. You won’t find any complaint from me on that accord. But to seek to legally restrict marriage in a way that God himself saw no reason for? That too is madness.
Find a new argument about marriage equality, Conservatives. This one isn’t working for you.