What About Same Sex Marriage

Here is a statement that former LCMS President Barry made available to the national media February 2000.

Court decisions from Vermont to Alaska are granting the benefits and protections of marriage to same-sex couples. On March 6, the issue will come to a head in California. Is marriage as we've always known it-the union of a man and a woman-worth preserving? A leader of American Lutheranism says it is.

This commentary by the Rev. Dr. A.L. Barry, former president of the 2.6 million-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, focuses on three themes:
  1. Same-sex marriage destroys the meaning of marriage by obliterating the line between marriage and other coupling relationships;
  2. Same-sex marriage distorts our traditional understanding of civil rights by expanding those rights to include protections not just for a person's innate traits but also for his actions and behaviors; and
  3. Same-sex marriage, in households with children, deprives children of the distinct yet complementary male/female role models in their upbringing.

ST. LOUIS, February 25, 2000-Despite developments in Hawaii and Alaska, and more recently in Vermont and Connecticut, most Americans would be surprised to learn that our nation is moving ever closer to legalizing marriage between two people of the same sex.

We will know more about this trend in early March, when voters in California decide whether to preserve marriage in its traditional sense-as a union between a man and a woman-or expand the meaning of marriage to include same-sex unions and other coupling arrangements. Whatever the outcome in California, citizens of other states will soon be faced with the same question: Should our time-honored understanding of marriage as the sacred union of a man and a woman be kept intact?

One flesh

As a Christian church body that sees the Bible as the sole source, norm and guide for living, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod must consider even the thought of same-sex marriage as being totally contrary to God's will. This is a truth the church must proclaim to society loud and clear.

Marriage as a God-ordained institution joining a woman to a man as "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" is as old as Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:23-24). By divine design, marriage has always meant the union of husband and wife (terms which, like "bride" and "groom," are by no accident gender-specific). In our own culture, this fundamental understanding of marriage as a complementary, male-female arrangement is reflected not just in God's Word, the Bible, but in centuries of ecclesiastical and canon law, English common law, and the civil laws and customs of our nation and separate states.

In the unique dynamic of marriage, a man and woman enter into a physical, emotional and legal union whereby each sacrifices a portion of his or her independence for something greater. This surrender of personal independence for the greater good makes marriage the basic building block of human society. It creates families, extended families and communities. It is this willing sacrifice of self-interest for the greater good that distinguishes marriage from other coupling arrangements.

Legal sleight-of-hand

Proponents of legalizing same-sex marriage claim the issue does not turn on our timeless understanding of marriage, on the religious or moral debate over intimate same-sex relationships, or on marriage's foundational role in society. Rather, they say it is purely a civil-rights matter. Neither of these assertions is true.

Civil rights are rooted in the recognition that all people are equal under the law. Civil-rights laws protect against discrimination based on immutable physical characteristics like race, sex and national origin. But homosexual behavior is not an immutable physical characteristic; it is a course of action. Civil rights do not protect behaviors and actions. Laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex ensure that the law treats males and females equally. They do not guarantee a right to engage in homosexual behavior any more than they guarantee a right to engage in any other specific sexual activity.

Using the language of civil rights to argue for a right to same-sex marriage is a form of legal sleight-of-hand that shifts our concept of civil rights from protecting people to protecting behaviors. It is one thing for homosexuals to ask the law to tolerate what individuals do behind the closed doors of their bedrooms. It is quite another to demand that society approve of this, and even bless it, by granting it the status of marriage.

A blueprint for families

Since the creation of humankind, the core purpose of marriage has been procreation-the biological ability of married couples to "be fruitful," to conceive and nurture children, thus assuring the survival of the human race. Homosexual couples, obviously unable to fulfill this underlying purpose of marriage, have thus never qualified (for this and other reasons) as marital partners. But, as recent court-decisions have pointed out, advances in third-party, assisted-reproductive technology now enable same-sex couples to have children, thus removing the final barrier-or at least what some courts consider the final barrier-to same-sex marriage.

This thinking, however, like that which suggests that same-sex marriage is not a moral but a civil-rights issue, is flawed. Children need to be raised in a setting that provides both male and female role models. This blueprint, more than being God's plan for families, is simply common sense. (The fact that marriages fail, or that spouses die, leaving single parents to raise their children bravely on their own, does not diminish this divine ideal.) The differences between men and women-biological, cultural, psychological, genetic-are profound and enduring. Yet, through the workings of marriage, this universe of gender differences is marvelously and uniquely integrated, producing a whole far greater than the sum of its parts.

It is God's intention, and therefore it should be our intention, that a child see and experience these complementary processes at work in his mother and father's common endeavor of raising him. To deny a child this, to place him in a household to be raised by two homosexual "fathers" or "mothers," is to deny him something of incalculable value: the wholeness and completeness he instinctually yearns for, and receives, through the distinct yet harmonious contributions of a loving mother and father. To contend that opposite-sex and same-sex couples are essentially the same in regard to the raising of children is an affront to the human nature our Creator gave us.

Granting the status of marriage to same-sex unions thus requires three things of us:
  1. that we sacrifice the sacred meaning of marriage on the altar of sexual freedom;
  2. that we transform our concept of civil rights; and
  3. that we deny many children their right to a natural, balanced, fully integrated upbringing.

This is the choice the voters of California and the courts of our land are being asked to make. It is the choice that all of us, eventually, will have to make. I pray we think about what is at stake before stepping off the precipice toward same-sex marriage.

The Rev. Dr. A.L. Barry President The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod February 25, 2000



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