[Updated from the archives.]
I read a thought-provoking question on another blog:
Would anyone agree that there is a difference between
a) baking a cake you know is for a gay couple
b) baking a cake you know is for a gay couple’s wedding but not attending
c) taking professional pictures of a gay wedding, at the gay wedding
d) officiating the wedding
Is it possible and consistent that one may perform a-c as a part of his profession, but draw the line at D, and refuse to officiate on account of his religious beliefs?
I responded by asking a question borne straight from my position as a trial court judge:
Let’s choose a different situation. My understanding of the Bible says divorce is prohibited except when certain circumstances exist. Can I refuse to grant a divorce decree for a couple who meets the legal requirements for marital dissolution but who do not meet the biblical requirements?
If there’s a difference between a person disagreeing with same sex marriage performing a wedding and a person opposed to divorce dissolving the marriage of a couple that does not meet the biblical standards for divorce, I like to know what it is.
There are a number of Bible passages people rely on for their position on same sex marriage, some finding the Bible supports these marriages and others concluding it prohibits them. Some people talk about cultural norms at the time of the original Scripture writings, others talk about the timelessness of Scripture. And the funny thing is that I’ve seen people use either one of those rubrics to support and to oppose same sex marriage.
When it comes to divorce, Scripture isn’t anywhere near that malleable.
Divorce According to Jesus
On a divorce case, I check the paperwork and if the people meet the legal requirements for a divorce I grant it. I look on the decree as a judicial declaration that these people are entitled to a divorce under the laws of my state. I take this seriously and sign only those papers that meet every requirement.
Jesus takes divorce even more seriously:
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:3-9.)
These theologians thought they had Scripture on their side, but Jesus set them straight: Moses’ lenient divorce law was based on the cultural circumstances of the Israelites – a nation of hardhearted people.*
Heterosexual Divorce and Same Sex Marriage
Why is it that people protesting same sex marriage aren’t out picketing legislatures to change the divorce laws? I think in large part it’s because they probably know a lot of divorced people themselves and have learned to live with the high rate of divorce in our society. Not that Christians have accepted divorce as somehow now being proper in all circumstances, but they know that loving people is more important than shunning or shaming them for their marriage status.
And since the Bible’s teachings on divorce are clear and we know how to love those who are divorced, I think it only appropriate that Christians who think the Bible is also clear in prohibiting same sex marriage treat people the same way. Love them, treat them with honor and dignity. Get to know them and enjoy their company. You cannot offer your love one way to divorced people and refuse it to same sex couples.
This started as an exercise in deciding how I should handle things at work** so let’s get back to that. What would I do if a same sex couple shows up at the courthouse with their paperwork in order? I know the answer.
I’d marry them.***
*Paul continued the discussion of marriage and divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:10-16, where he said that another ground for divorce arises when a spouse is an unbeliever and abandons the marriage. If the spouse is an unbeliever but stays in the marriage, though, Paul explicitly said there should be no divorce. What do you do if the spouse, unbeliever or fellow Christian, is an abuser? Then Matthew 18:15-17 governs and I think you can treat that person like an unbeliever who has abandoned the marriage.
**Marrying people during court hours is rare for our courthouse; most people wanting civil weddings go to the County Clerk next door, probably because there they don’t have to wait for a judge to get freed up from hearings and trials to perform a wedding.
***For anyone reading this post and trying to read between the lines to determine my own particular stance on marriage equality and divorce, you won’t find it. The point of the post is not to teach one way or another on marriage and divorce doctrines but to encourage you to love people who think differently on these matters than you do. Look at the issues in your own life and how much God loves you and how much grace he has shown you. Now love others with the same love God has given you, and give them grace just as God has been gracious to you.