Not surprisingly there are a range of Christian viewpoints on same-sex marriage. It is worthwhile to gain a wider historical perspective. A good introduction to that historical journey up to the late middle ages is by John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Christianity – Gay people in western europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century, Chicago, 1980.
The last forty years has seen a significant change of attitudes in Western Christian attitudes. They are not uniform. Some churches are prepared to bless same sex couples and ordain, or even consecrate, practising homosexual Christians. In contrast, current news items report that Pentecostal pastors in Uganda and Kenya are calling for the death penalty against practising homosexuals.
Within mainstream Christianity a genuine rethink is occurring. Worth reading is theologian Graeme Garrett's reflections on homosexualty. Graeme has journeyed from the Baptist church into the Anglican church. As a traditional theologian he found he had to rethink his presumptions and theology as regards sexuality. He records some of that journey in reflecting on the impressive integrity of his lesbian niece in his article "Starting With the Spirit: A Personal Reflection on Sexuality and Spiritual Gifts".
In approaching the issue of same-sex marriage, historians know that views of marriage change as society changes. In patriarchal societies the bride had to agree to be obedient and submissive to the husband. In traditional societies marriages were arranged by the older clan members. Choice was not permitted.
If procreation of children was regarded as the primary aim of marriage (and The Book of Common Prayer lists it as the first reason) then do those who cannot bear children have second rate marriages? In patriarchal societies the wife received the blame for being childless. Witness Elizabeth's words in Luke 1:25 – her disgrace had been removed because she had fallen pregnant.
In contemporary society stress is rightly placed on commitment, faithfulness and care in marriage relationships. As a letter writer to The Courier Mail (18/11/2010) noted, gay couples are also capable of commitment, stability and care.
Consider it this way. People point to promiscuity amongst gay people. If marriage were forbidden to heterosexual people, do you think there would be more promiscuity or less? I bet that there would be more, much more.
If children are a necessity to make marriage real, are those women who are past child-bearing to be forbidden to marry?
Appeals to the Bible will not solve the issue. Those who wholeheartedly welcome gays into the church have scriptural support as do the homophobic Pentecostal pastors in Easy Africa. No. The path forward will be best paved by encouraging the foundations of commitment, fidelity, and enduring loving care both in good and in testing times. And in marriage those qualities are essential.
Rev Dr Ray Barraclough