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Same Sex Marriage

July 01, 2013     Time: 25:01
Same Sex Marriage


Dr. Craig offers some insights on the Same Sex Marriage issue.

Transcript Same Sex Marriage


Kevin Harris: So glad you could be here for Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris. I want to give you some background on today’s podcast. Dr. Craig and I recorded it a few week’s prior to the Supreme Court’s late June 2013 rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act. So, our discussion was broader and anticipated various possibilities concerning same-sex marriage, and Dr. Craig will have more to say on this topic soon; so, watch for future podcasts and various resources at

Dr. Craig has addressed some of the pertinent issues concerning this in the Question of the Week #312[1] and you can look at that and several podcasts including ones titled “Can a Christian be a Homosexual”[2] and “The West Wing Homosexuality Episode”[3] (look in the Podcast and Question of the Week archives for these). Included in these discussions are the distinguishing between an orientation and a behavior, biblical and moral considerations, and getting rid of misunderstandings that we may have in the church. So, on to today’s podcast.

Dr. Craig, I have noticed a recurring challenge for people of faith to not only have biblical and moral reasons for opposition to same-sex marriage, but in a free society to offer civil, social, and legal reasons if we really want the definition of marriage to be preserved.

William Lane Craig: I think that is right, Kevin. We need to differentiate here, I think, between the moral issue and the legal issue. Not everything that is immoral is illegal. There are plenty of activities that are, I think from a Christian point of view, immoral but they are perfectly legal. For example, premarital sexual intercourse or cohabitation or even cigarette smoking. I think cigarette smoking is an immoral activity because it destroys the human body which is given to you by God and is, therefore, not a good stewardship of one’s body. But, clearly, these are legal activities in this country and, therefore, although morality and legality will often overlap, they are not coextensive. So, with respect to same-sex marriage, it is perfectly possible for a Christian to think that this is immoral. I think it is immoral for two persons of the same sex to wed and, yet, not opposed to it’s being legal.

There are lots of other things in this society that are immoral but that are legal. So, if one is to present arguments against same-sex marriage being ratified in this country one would need to do more than just simply, as you say, quote Bible verses to show that this is immoral. One would need to give reasons as to why it should not be legal. Think, for example, of Prohibition. People who were for temperance were against alcohol consumption, and the temperance movement managed to get the U.S. Constitution amended to prohibit alcohol consumption, and you know then the incredible era for chaos that ensued until that amendment was overturned by a subsequent amendment to the Constitution that repealed Prohibition. I can well imagine someone saying that alcohol consumption is immoral but, nevertheless, not a supporter of Prohibition and allow alcohol to be sold and consumed in this country - it’s legal. I could imagine someone saying this about same-sex marriage. I disagree with that person, but your question was what sort of arguments does the opponent of same-sex marriage need to bring to the table, and my point is simply that they can’t be theological or biblical arguments against the morality of same-sex marriage because there are lots of activities that are legal even though they are immoral.

Kevin Harris: It is easier for me, obviously, as a person who is not a legal specialist or constitutional attorney to make a biblical case for the immorality of certain things including same-sex marriage and homosexual behavior, but boy, when I start trying to read articles and read papers, Bill, on the totally secular case against same-sex marriage, I just really get bogged down.

William Lane Craig: I think it may be simpler than you imagine, Kevin. In my view, it is simply that marriage is inherently between a man and a woman by definition, and that marriage has an essence; therefore, it is an oxymoron, it is incoherent, to talk about same-sex marriage.[4] That just isn’t what marriage is. So, the argument against it is just very simple. A marriage has an objective nature which includes heterosexuality. Those who oppose traditional marriage and favor same-sex marriage think that marriage is just a social convention adopted by society. It’s akin to driving on the right versus the left hand side of the road, and that is purely arbitrary. In Britain you drive on the left hand side of the road, in the U.S. you drive on the right hand side of the street and it’s just a social convention; it is arbitrary. Similarly, we could have made our traffic laws such that you stop on the green and you go on the red, and it would not have made any difference; it’s just arbitrary. Those who advocate same-sex marriage, I think, think of marriage the same way. They think that marriage is just a social convention that can be redefined in any way that you want, and I would disagree with those persons. I would say that marriage has always and everywhere been defined and understood to be between a man and a woman, and that, therefore, the union of two persons of the same sex, whatever you might want to call it, just isn’t marriage. It would be as if someone wanted to redefine what it means to be an heir of someone else. Suppose I say, “I want to be the heir of Bill Gates,” and someone says, “Well, you can’t be. To be an heir you have to be designated in the will. You have to be a legal designee,” and I say, “Well, no. I don’t think we should define heir that way. I think an heir can be anybody who would like to have that fortune, and so, that is the way I think an heir should be defined and therefore, I want to be an heir of Bill Gates, and I am his heir.” Well, I think you can see that is just absurd. You are just arbitrarily redefining words. That is not what they mean. Similarly, I would say the same thing for marriage. Marriage has a nature and essence, and part of that essence is heterosexuality.

Kevin Harris: So, people who would want to redefine marriage would ignore that. They would ignore the essence of it. They would ignore many of the civil considerations and things as well. There has been a seismic shift, Bill, - and we can only speculate why it may be - in attitudes towards same-sex marriage, and this poll is just one of many and they all basically say the same thing: in the U.S. a recent ABC poll found that 58% of Americans support gay marriage compared with just 37% ten years ago.[5]

William Lane Craig: Let me interject at this point, Kevin, a very important point. You have been very careful to speak of same-sex marriage. That’s the issue that confronts us today in the United States. The idea of gay marriage that is mentioned in the poll is clearly unconstitutional. That is not the issue. To say that there should be gay marriage would say that if two people are homosexuals then those persons can marry, but a gay marriage law would rule out two persons of the same-sex who are heterosexual in orientation and want to marry. They would not have a gay marriage, right? So, that wouldn’t be allowed. So, the idea of gay marriage is completely out of the question constitutionally. The laws of the United States have to be blind to the sexual orientation of the people involved. So, you can not have bills sanctioning gay marriage. Besides being unconstitutional, think how unenforceable such a law would be. You would have to have some kind of means testing to be sure that the two men wanting to be married to each over were really homosexuals rather than heterosexuals who just wanted to marry for the benefits, say, of their employer - to get the health benefits or something of a married couple. That would be utterly unenforceable to be going into the bedrooms of the allegedly gay couples to make sure that they are really homosexual. So, the idea of gay marriage is unconstitutional and utterly impractical. The issue is same-sex marriage. The law has to be blind to the sexual orientation of the couples involved and that is exactly the way the law is today. The law today takes no cognisance of the sexual orientation of the people involved. A man and a woman can marry regardless of their sexual orientation. The law asks no questions about a person’s sexual orientation. So, the present laws today are blind to a person's sexual orientation, just as they are blind to a person’s race.[6] Sexual orientation and race do not come into the criteria as to whether or not two people can marry. The question before us is: can same-sex marriage be legal, or should it be legalized in this country? Should we allow two persons of the same sex, regardless of their sexual orientation, to marry each other?

Kevin Harris: I hadn’t thought about it that way.

William Lane Craig: Well, so often, Kevin, the articles that you see on this subject are framed in terms of gay marriage and I think that that is not even the question. That is clearly unconstitutional because it would discriminate on the basis of people’s sexual orientation. So the question is same-sex marriage, not gay marriage.

Kevin Harris: Seems to me that people who have campaigned for same-sex marriage over the past few years, especially the last 10 years, have borrowed from the civil rights movement, and have convinced the population that if you oppose same-sex marriage you are going to be on the wrong side of history just like those who have opposed interracial marriage, just like those during the civil rights movement who discriminated against minorities and so on. They’ve managed to borrow, as many African American leaders have said, they have hijacked the peace train in order to present this, and we have become convinced as Americans that we are intolerant bigots and we will be on the wrong side of history. We don’t need to have a repeat of the 40s, 50s, and 60s again. Never go there again - if we oppose same-sex marriage. That has got to be one of the reasons there has been such a seismic shift.

William Lane Craig: I think that is a factor in most people’s minds but I think that it is completely misplaced because, as I said, the present laws on marriage, like the Defense of Marriage Act, do not discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. The present laws are completely blind, that no one is asked about his sexual orientation when he shows up for a marriage license. So, it is a highjacking, as black leaders have said, of the civil rights movement to see this as in any way analogous to racial discrimination. The present laws are not discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation. The present laws are completely blind as to a person’s sexual orientation. The issue is, can persons, regardless of their sexual orientation, of the same sex marry, and I would argue that they can not because the very definition of marriage excludes two persons of the same sex being legally wed in a marriage relationship.

Kevin Harris: In the Christian church there seems to be three kinds of Christians. There are those who say, “Look, this was supposed to happen, what do you expect? This is the world. The Bible warned us this would happen. The Bible says that there will be worldly things and sin and a fallen world and everything. What do you expect?” That’s kind of a bunker mentality. Just go ahead and let it happen and let the world end. Number two are saying, “No, we are supposed to occupy as Jesus said, and we are supposed to be salt and light to society, and we have been complacent too long and we need to stand up for what we believe.” Then, number three are those who just don’t care; “So what, I have bills to pay.” Now, number two is, I think, the right one, is the right approach.

William Lane Craig: I do too, and obviously, the fact that we are having this podcast and speaking to this issue, despite the opprobrium that it might bring down on our heads, shows that we are committed to being salt and light in our culture.

Kevin Harris: And we need to be informed on how to do that, because it’s like, where do I start? Who do I write? One thing that I would suggest, Bill, and give me your input, is be used as a Christian in the hands of God to reach, at the very least, the individuals whom God brings into your life; aware of the people in our sphere of influence.

William Lane Craig: Certainly, and that includes your own children. I am shocked to the degree to which children of Christian parents who hold traditional views have accommodated themselves to the views of those who think that marriage doesn’t have an essence and is just a social construct, and we need to help our own children, I think, understand the nature of marriage and what it means, and why therefore it is impossible for two persons of the same-sex to be married to one another.

Kevin Harris: So, despite the success, Bill, of seemingly convincing the population that you will be on the wrong side of history if you oppose same-sex marriage, what are the deeper issues here?

William Lane Craig: Well, many authors have commented on how astonishing it is that American opinion on this issue should have so rapidly changed.[7] Some refer to it as a seismic shift in opinion against same-sex marriage to being in favor of same sex marriage, and they’re puzzled and even astonished at how rapidly opinions have changed. I suspect that we have forgotten the lesson that Allan Bloom attempted to teach us over twenty years ago in his book, The Closing of the American Mind. Let me quote from Bloom’s book. He says, about University students today,

The danger they have been taught to fear . . . is not error but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating. Openness - and the relativism that makes it . . . plausible . . . - is the great insight of our times.[8]

I think that Bloom was right on the mark there in saying that openness is the primary virtue which has been inculcated into our populace through the education system. Now, Bloom sees this openness as rooted in relativism, and there, I think, that that’s not quite right. Rather, as William Watkins has put it, what is in place today is not relativism but what Watkins calls, the new absolutes.[9] That is to say, there is a different set of absolutes that have come to be held in American culture in place of the traditional moral absolutes and these new absolutes emphasize things like tolerance, non-judgmentalism, openness to those that are different. I think that it is this deep commitment to tolerance and openness that have made people so rapidly change their views on same-sex marriage. I think people are convinced that to oppose same-sex marriage is to be intolerant, to be close minded, to be bigoted against a certain class of people, and we as Americans have, I think quite rightly, a very deep commitment to the value of tolerance. And it is this that forms the basis, I think, for this sort of openness that Bloom talks about that really leads to the closing of the mind rather than to the opening of the mind. Namely, it makes it impossible to make critical judgments about things. To distinguish between, for example in this case, traditional marriage and same-sex marriage, lest one appear intolerant and judgemental. I suspect that this is what really lies at the root of the seismic change that has occurred in American culture.

Kevin Harris: Many are commenting on this. The Weekly Standard says, “Gay marriage has gone from a joke to dogma in 10 years.”[10] Times Magazine says, “There has been a seismic social shift on gay marriage, which has been as rapid and unpredictable as any turn in public opinion in history.”[11] Under the “Same-Sex Marriage Report” it says, “The pace and scale at which the acceptance of marriage equality has shifted is breathtaking.”[12] Bill, marriage equality is another catch phrase here, termed in such a way that if you deny it you are un-American because Americans are for equality.

William Lane Craig: Sure, that’s a deep value of American society. The Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal. So, the same-sex marriage movement, I think, has benefitted from Americans’ commitments to things like equality, tolerance, and the other values that Watkins talks about in The New Absolutes. I think, unfortunately, this often involves a misunderstand of tolerance. Tolerance should mean, “though I disagree with what you say, I will defend to the death, your right to say it.” So we tolerate people but we discriminate between views. We discriminate views as true or false though we tolerate those who advocate false views. We recognize their right to an opinion and their right to express it. But in the new tolerance, the kind of new value that has been accepted, you discriminate against people but you tolerate all views. So, that you tolerate same-sex marriage as well as traditional marriage. You tolerate all the views, but now you will discriminate, for example, against those who hold traditional views, by calling them bigots and intolerant and rejecting them and vilifying them.[13] So, the new tolerance is quite a reversal of the traditional tolerance. As Greg Koukl has pointed out, in traditional toleration you tolerate people but discriminate against views; in the new tolerance, you discriminate against people and tolerate different views.

Kevin Harris:Yeah, there has been a reversal and there is kind of a mutation of it as well that says it regards all views as equally valid.

William Lane Craig: Exactly, you don’t discriminate with respect to people’s views. You tolerate all views - they are all equally valid.

Kevin Harris: Isn’t that ridiculous?

William Lane Craig: It is.

Kevin Harris: Because it is self-refuting. Someone who disagrees with that interpretation of tolerance is wrong and shouldn’t be tolerated.

William Lane Craig: That is the paradox that many have noted about this sort of new tolerance - is how intolerant and illiberal the proponents of this new tolerance often are.

Kevin Harris: Let me read to you a blogger, Brendan O’Neill. He says on this seismic shift in public opinion that has been so fast on same-sex marriage,

It’s better described as conformism, the slow but sure sacrifice of critical thinking and dissenting opinion under pressure to accept that which has been defined as a good by the upper echelons of society: gay marriage. Indeed, the gay-marriage campaign provides a case study in conformism, a searing insight into how soft authoritarianism and peer pressure are applied in the modern age to sideline and eventually do away with any view considered overly judgmental, outdated, discriminatory, ‘phobic,’ or otherwise beyond the pale.[14]

He says that conformism is described by many writers and philosophers as coming from the elitists.

William Lane Craig: Yeah, I disagree with that, Kevin. I have read O’Neill's article and I think the analysis is superficial. I don’t see this as an example of conformism. I think he underestimates the degree to which, as Allan Bloom rightly said, this virtue of openness has been inculcated into generations of young people by our educational system. Now, I noticed that later in his article O’Neill does seem to put his finger on the, I think, what is the real issue. He says,

It is society’s reluctance to defend traditional views of commitment, and its relativistic refusal more broadly to discriminate between different lifestyle choices, that has fuelled the peculiar non-judgmental tyranny of the gay-marriage campaign[15]

There, he points to the same sort of relativism that Bloom did, I think, that lies at the root of this. Though, I would say that it is not technically relativism, it’s the new absolutism that Watkins talks about. So, I don’t think this is an example of conformism or elitism. It seems to me that the American public has willingly made this change, embraced this change in large part, because of the misunderstanding of tolerance and the openness that is thought to be required by the truly tolerant person to all points of view.

Kevin Harris: So, we really don’t even need to blame the elite and say this is all elitist. There has already been this new embracing of the new absolutes.

William Lane Craig: I don’t see otherwise how this shift could have occurred so rapidly in the population, unless that population had already been prepared, just as Allan Bloom says, by being inculcated with this deep commitment to openness that springs out of a misunderstanding of the traditional doctrine of tolerance to which we are all committed in a pluralistic society.

Kevin Harris: What do you think about what he says as far as peer pressure? I mean, you will get booed off the stage if you say that you are a supporter of traditional marriage, and we can look at Chick-Fil-A as well. I mean, all he said was that we support traditional marriage, and look at the uproar.

William Lane Craig: Certainly, there is enormous pressure on people to toe the line on this issue, but I don’t think that that’s enough to explain why public opinion has shifted so dramatically. We are dealing here, I think, with a public who had embraced values that made them fertile soil for this change.[16]