In November 2012 three states narrowly voted to affirm same-sex marriage, breaking with a long trend of ballot box losses for the gay community. While recent polls suggest that America is still divided on this issue, the same cannot be said for the young adult population. Nearly every survey shows that those under thirty overwhelmingly support the legalization of gay marriage (around 80% in some surveys). This fact alone indicates that our country will continue to move in the direction of approving same-sex marriage.
While our reaction to this reality will certainly differ based on our worldview and convictions about sexuality, it is helpful for all of us to understand the underlying dynamics that push young adults in this direction. As a 27 year old Christian man I want to know why my generation is leading the way toward legalizing gay marriage. Consequently, I have spent a good deal of time reading and thinking about this question. This is my attempt to address some of the reasons why gay marriage makes sense to my generation.
1. The State of “Traditional Marriage” is Not Healthy
Perhaps more than any other, my generation acutely feels the consequences of marital brokenness. Half of my peers grew up in shattered homes, and even the ones who didn’t saw enough relational dysfunction to make them gun-shy of marital commitment. It doesn’t even help us to look back farther for a healthy marriage model. The idyllic 1950s, often painted as a time when marriages were strong, lose their luster when stories of alcoholism, hidden abuse, and loveless relationships are uncovered. The traditional ideal has faded into a failed promise.
My generation has responded to this by putting off marriage, and in some cases, deciding against marriage entirely. Even the economic and legal benefits of marriage are not enough to induce many of my peers to walk down the aisle.
In 2004 Stanley Kurtz published an article arguing that the legalization of gay marriage in some European countries has led to an increase in cohabitation and out of wedlock births. Others have disputed his claims, arguing that these relational trends predated or are disconnected from the legalization of gay marriage, but what cannot be disputed is that the legalization of gay marriage is taking place during an era where hetrosexual relationships are suffering.
Perhaps there would be a case for defending traditional marriage if we were surrounded by numerous examples of healthy marriages. But for most of us, thriving heterosexual marriages are the exception not the rule. My generation can’t truthfully say “if it aint broke don’t fix it”, so many have begun saying “It’s not working, so why does it matter?”
2. Marriage and Sexuality Have Increasingly Become Disconnected from Procreation
Early feminists saw birth control as their ticket to freedom and equality. They could now pursue their careers fully and advance in their workplace, even while being sexually active. Now women could enjoy the same level of sexual expression men could without having to worry about pregnancy. Opportunities have certainly expanded for women because of birth control, and doors once closed to women are opening. But along with these benefits, birth control brought with it something else.
Children are now an option, not an assumption. The natural and obvious connection between pregnancy and sexuality is no longer at the front of our minds. Even within marriage childbearing can be postponed indefinitely. People may now get married and choose not to have children at all – and many do. When birth control was introduced gay marriage would have seemed absurd, but as others have noted, the pill ultimately helped pave the way for gay marriage.
Add to this the modern realities of artificial insemination, surrogate parenthood, egg donation, test tube babies, and cloning. Not only is marriage unnecessary for the creation of a baby, intercourse itself is now an optional path toward parenthood. While some previous generations have downplayed or ignored the pleasure dimension of sexuality by emphasizing the reproductive, some in this generation have adopted an opposite, although similarly one-dimensional view that sees sex as exclusively about physical pleasure.
Natural law arguments about marriage that appeal to the nature of human reproduction have much less sway in a generation that sees no essential connection between sexual function and parenthood. People once believed that since children can only come through heterosexual union, they are best raised by parents in a heterosexual union. That belief is now passé in an age where sexuality has been divorced from reproduction.
3. Unique Gender Contributions Have been Minimized or Denied
Over the past fifty years there has been a push to deny or deemphasize the differences between men and women. The primary belief driving this movement seems to be that acknowledging differences inevitably leads to discrimination. As with birth control, this has been a double edged sword in our culture. Opportunities are now open to both men and women that would have once been reserved for the opposite sex. People are now freer to pursue their passions even if these passions don’t fit into their culturally defined gender category.
On the negative side, denying differences has at times made it very hard to celebrate and honor the strengths concentrated in one sex. Many are now convinced that there is no real difference between men and women aside from their reproductive plumbing. If men and women are really the same, they really don’t need each other that much. This way of thinking has direct implications for how we think about the marital relationship.
The fact that a boy raised by a lesbian couple is denied the chance to have a father at home doesn’t bother us if we doubt a father actually has something distinctive to offer a son. If a woman can give a child everything a man can give, why insist on having both present in a marriage?
4. We Ignore God’s Sexual Standards in Our Own Lives
It goes without saying that premarital sex is the norm in this generation. A recent study showed that 88% of unmarried young adults are having sex before marriage. Self identified Evangelicals reported only a marginal difference with 80% admitting to sexual activity. While we may question the accuracy of such results, it is undeniable that most young adults today choose to reject historic Christian teachings about sexuality.
If my generation (and the previous one) now views the Christian position on premarital sex to be outmoded and prudish, it naturally follows that other Biblically grounded sexual ethics are also up for questioning. If premarital sex isn’t really wrong, is homosexual sex also ok? If I am unwilling to make the difficult choice to put my sexual behavior under the Lordship of Christ as a heterosexual adult, how can I insist that my gay friend do what I am unwilling to do?
This rationalization doesn’t always occur as a logical thought pattern, but when we consistently make choices to put our sexual desires above God’s truth we train ourselves to see sexual and relational satisfaction as primary instead of seeing God’s will as primary. This value judgment necessarily affects how we view other expressions of sexuality.
I recently came across another interesting study showing a connection between pornography consumption and approval of gay marriage. Specifically this study found that heterosexual men who watch pornography are more likely to begin supporting same sex marriage. While much could be said here, this is just another piece of evidence that disregarding God’s plan for sexuality in one area of our lives directly influences how we view sexuality in other areas.
5. Marriage Has Become About Personal Fulfillment
While marriage was once viewed as a formative institution whereby the participants would grow through their experiences together, many now see marriage as a crowning achievement on the path to self actualization. Instead of a path to growth marriage has become an exercise in personal fulfillment. We are taught by society to pursue marriage primarily for our happiness and social enhancement. It is also easier than ever to get out of an unhappy marriage –however significant or trivial the reason for this unhappiness. One can rightly dispute this concept of marriage, but it can’t be denied that this is the dominant marriage paradigm in our country today.
So how does this understanding of marriage inform our perspective on gay marriage? If marriage is only about people being happy, then why should we withhold from anyone the opportunity for happiness? If the only or even the primary purpose of marriage is personal fulfillment, should not everyone have that opportunity regardless of their sexual orientation? Long ago we adopted a cultural model of marriage that emphasizes personal fulfillment above all else, and gay marriage is the logical outworking of that model.
6. What We Were Told about Gay People Wasn’t True
It is easy to maintain negative beliefs about a group who you don’t associate with, but many young adults have close friendships with people who identify as gay or lesbian. Through these friendships we have discovered that LGBT identifying individuals are profoundly human. While previous generations may have opposed homosexuality because of irrational prejudice or false assumptions, this is not an option for us. We have not found our gay friends to be any dirtier or more dangerous than we are. In fact, they can be nicer and more compassionate than many other people we know. The scary caricatures we have been fed are now thoroughly unconvincing. There is a real sense among my peers that many of the things we were told about gays and lesbians are just plain wrong. While there may be compelling reasons to favor heterosexual marriage, many of the reasons shared with my generation have become increasingly unpersuasive as we get to know the gay and lesbian individuals around us.
7. We Highly Value Relationships
Relationships are indeed a prized commodity in this generation, and many people are reluctant to embrace a belief that could negatively influence their friendships. My generation is also disinterested in moral absolutes, so this relational priority often determines ethical convictions. David Kinnaman notes that for many, fairness has become more important than rightness. “There’s a real sense in which their institutional loyalty and their loyalty to theoretical morals and ethical choices are trumped by their peer relationships.”
8. We Care about Those Who are Suffering
It would be unfair to paint the approval of same sex marriage as merely a position taken by a generation without a moral compass. For many, advocating gay rights is a result of the desire for social justice. The same compassion that pushes us to serve the homeless and fight sex trafficking also pushes us to defend others who are suffering and being oppressed. My generation recognizes that the gay community has suffered under more than moral disapproval. LGBT individuals have been treated in ways that are disrespectful and dehumanizing by society, the state, and often by the church. This mistreatment, often occurring under the banner of moral preservation, has been anything but moral.
What We Can Learn
So how should the Christian church respond to my generation in the midst of the current social upheaval surrounding gay marriage? While this point deserves much greater development, I will offer a few suggestions here. Firstly, the church must passionately articulate and model a distinctly Christian concept of marriage to Her people. We must not continue to adopt our culture’s idea of marriage while slapping a Christian label on it. The church is in desperate need of a theologically grounded, comprehensive rearticulation of God’s design for marriage. This picture of marriage will differ in many ways from our cultural marriage paradigm. The defining characteristic of Christian marriage is not self-actualization but self-sacrifice. We must offer a compelling description of God’s design for sexuality, recognizing it as a multifaceted gift intended to provide physical pleasure, promote emotional bonding, and produce children. We must also paint a picture of a God big enough, worthy enough, and loving enough to deserve our complete submission in sexual matters. We must preach a Jesus who is worth following no matter what we are called to give up.
Even if we disagree with this generation’s conclusion about gay marriage, we must not ignore the mistreatment of other human beings or dismiss the many voices decrying these abuses. The church needs to be better informed about the difficulties facing individuals with same sex attraction. Every believer in Christ should firmly stand against the abuse and mistreatment of fellow human beings who are created in the Image of God.
My prayer is that the societal acceptance of gay marriage will cause Christians to reevaluate their understanding of this divinely ordained institution. Too long have we adopted cultural values about marriage that contradict God’s intent. In the past it was easy to think of cultural marriage as an expression of God’s design, but this new, obvious departure from our Creator’s relational blueprint should help highlight many areas where our understanding of marriage has already been distorted. While our nation continues to move toward approval of gay marriage, I believe the Church can also head in a new direction – toward a truer and better understanding of Christian Marriage. I pray that God allows me to help in this process.