With two landmark gay marriage cases before the Supreme Court we are already seeing a flurry of articles, posts, tweets, and status updates about the triumph it will be when America finally embraces equality for all and allows homosexuals to love each other. These tweets and posts and articles perfectly capture the reason why the arguments for gay marriage have become so persuasive so fast. Given the assumptions and patterns of thinking our culture has embraced in the last fifty years, the case for gay marriage is relatively easy to make and the case against it makes increasingly little sense.

I don’t think the arguments for gay marriage are biblically faithfully, logically persuasive, or good for human flourishing in the long run, but they are almost impossible to overcome with most Americans, especially in younger generations. By and large, people don’t support gay marriage because they’ve done a lot of reading and soul searching, just like people didn’t oppose it on high flying intellectual grounds either. For a long time, homosexuality seemed weird or gross. Now it seems normal. More than that, it fits in perfectly with the dominant themes and narratives shared in our culture. Gay marriage is the logical conclusion to a long argument, which means convincing people it’s a bad idea requires overturning some of our most cherished values and most powerful ideologies.

Think of all the ways gay marriage fits in with our cultural mood and assumptions.

1. It’s about progress. Linking the pro-gay agenda with civil rights and women’s rights was very intentional, and it was a masterstroke. To be against gay marriage, therefore, is to be against enlightenment and progress. It puts you on the “wrong side of history.” Of course, most people forget that lots of discarded ideas were once hailed as the inevitable march of progress. Just look at Communism or eugenics or phrenology or the Volt. But people aren’t interested in the complexities of history. We only know we don’t want to be like the nincompoops who thought the sun revolved around the earth and that slavery was okay.

2. It’s about love. When gay marriage is presented as nothing but the open embrace of human love, it’s hard to mount a defense. Who could possibly be against love? But hidden in this simple reasoning is the cultural assumption that sexual intercourse is necessarily the highest, and perhaps the only truly fulfilling, expression of love. It’s assumed that love is always self-affirming and never self-denying. It’s assumed that our loves never require redirection. Most damagingly, our culture (largely because of heterosexual sins) has come to understand marriage as nothing but the state sanctioning of romantic love. The propagation and rearing of children do not come into play. The role in incentivizing socially beneficial behavior is not in the public eye. People think of marriage as nothing more than the commitment (of whatever duration) which romantic couples make to each other.

3. It’s about rights. It’s not by accident the movement is called the gay rights movement. And I don’t deny that many gays and lesbians feel their fundamental human rights are at stake in the controversy over marriage. But the lofty talk of rights blurs an important distinction. Do consenting adults have the right to enter a contract of their choosing? It depends. Businesses don’t have a right to contract for collusion. Adults don’t have a right to enter into a contract that harms the public good. And even if you think these examples are beside the point, the fact remains that no law prohibits homosexuals (or any two adults) from making promises to each other, from holding a ceremony, from entering into a covenant with each other. The question is whether the government should bestow upon that contract the name of marriage with all the rights and privileges thereto.

4. It’s about equality. Recently, I saw a prominent Christian blogger tweet that she was for gay marriage because part of loving our neighbor is desiring they get equal justice under the law. Few words in the American lexicon elicit such broad support as “equality.” No one wants to be for unequal treatment under the law. But the issue before the Supreme Court is not equality, but whether two laws–one voted in by the people of California and the other approved by our democratically elected officials–should be struck down. Equal treatment under the law means the law is applied the same to everyone. Gay marriage proponents desire to change the law so that marriage becomes something entirely different. Surveys often pose the question “Should it be legal or illegal for gay and lesbian couples to marry?” That makes it sound like we are criminalizing people for commitments they make. The real issue, however, is whether the state has a vested interest in sanctioning, promoting, and privileging certain relational arrangements. Is it unjust for the state not to recognize as marriage your group of four friends, close cousins, or an office suite just because they want their commitments to be called marriage?

5. It’s about tolerance. Increasingly, those who oppose gay marriage are not just considered wrong or mistaken or even benighted. They are anti-gay haters. As one minister put it, gay marriage will eventually triumph because love is stronger than hate. Another headline rang out that “discrimination is on trial” as the Supreme Court hears arguments on Proposition 8 and DOMA. The stark contrast is clear: either you support gay marriage or you are a bigot and a hater. It’s no wonder young people are tacking hard to left on this issue. They don’t want to be insensitive, close-minded, or intolerant. The notion that thoughtful, sincere, well-meaning, compassionate people might oppose gay marriage is a fleeting thought.

So what can be done? The momentum, the media, the slogans, the meta-stories all seem to be on the other side. Now what?

For starters, churches and pastors and Christian parents can prepare their families both intellectually and psychologically for the opposition that is sure to come. Conservative Christians have more kids; make sure they know what the Bible says and know how to think.

We should also remember that the church’s mission in life is not to defeat gay marriage. While too many Christians have already retreated, there may be others who reckon that everything hangs in the balance on this one issue. Let’s keep preaching, persevering, pursuing joy, and praying for conversions. Christians should care about the issue, and then carry on.

And if we are interested in being persuasive outside of our own churches, we’ll have to do several things better.

1) We need to go back several steps in each argument. We’ll never get a hearing on this issue, or a dozen others issues, unless we trace out the assumptions behind the assumptions behind the arguments behind the conclusions.

2) We need more courage. The days of social acceptability for evangelicals, let alone privilege, are fading fast in many parts of the country. If we aren’t prepared to be counter-cultural we aren’t ready to be Christians. And we need courage not only to say what the Bible says, but to dare say what almost no one will say–that gay sex is unnatural and harmful to the body, that abandoning gender distinctions will be catastrophic for our society and for children, and that monogamy and exclusivity is often understood differently in the gay community.

3) We need more creativity. Statements and petitions and manifestos have their place, but what we really need is more than words and documents. We need artists and journalists and movie makers and story tellers and spoken word artists and comedians and actors and rappers and musicians who are galvanized by the truth to sing and speak and share in such a way that makes sin look strange and righteousness look normal.

4) We need a both-and approach. In the months ahead I imagine we’ll see Christians wrestle with whether the best way forward is to form new arguments that appeal to people where they’re at, or whether we simply need to keep preaching the truth and trust God to give some people the ears to hear. I’m convinced we need to do both. Let’s keep preaching, teaching, and laboring for faithful churches. Let’s be fruitful and multiply. Let’s train our kids in the way they should go. Let’s keep sharing the good news and praying for revival. And let’s also find ways to make the truth plausible in a lost world. Not only the truth about marriage, but the truth about life and sex and creation and beauty and family and freedom and a hundred other things humans tend to forget on this side of Adam. The cultural assumptions in our day are not on our side, but if the last 50 years has shown us anything, it’s that those assumptions can change more quickly than we think.

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141 thoughts on “Why the Arguments for Gay Marriage Are Persuasive”

  1. 100 logical fallacies in the previous comment, but for anyone reading, I just want you to notice that the user who called himself Mike found writing a 2 paragraph comment on someone else’s blog to be more important than standing up against and protesting drugs, porn and domestic violence, to name a few.

    Maybe a sequel article should be written, pointing out the types of arguments which are not persuasive. :)

  2. “Yes, let’s kill them, in the name of Jesus.”

    *eyeroll* You savvy M-E-T-A-P-H-O-R? You savvy poetically strong, vivid language for the sake of making a point, which the Jews did all the time?

    Never mind, you’re obviously just a troll, so no, you probably don’t savvy.

  3. Tony Moss says:

    Well said!

  4. Incidentally, I didn’t get the chance to say this yet, but congrats to Kevin on yet another clear, well-written, timely piece.

  5. Another Mike says:

    Good article Kevin. I must ask a question in response to the article. In looking at some of the topics you list as to why we as Biblical Christians can almost read the handwriting on the wall concerning gay marriage. Unfortunately it is because of the extensive list provided that I would have a really difficult time finding the common thread as to how to address the issue of gay marriage. That is until I started reading into apologetics. It is from apologetics that I am gaining confidence that the issue of Relativism is the core cause. After reading many of the posts of people claiming to be Christians but being for gay marriage I am coming to conclusions that either tell me the individuals making this claim are misinformed, new, or not really Christians. Now that is just a conclusion so before anyone flys off the handle, I could be wrong. I would say that if anyone wants to learn what Relativism is should start researching it by visiting Stand to Reason (str.org). Once you start reading into the material be honest with yourself and ask the question where you think like a relativist. I know I was very much a relativist and then I started reading the Bible. From there my journey walking with Christ started and continues today. If anyone just wants to read what relativism is from an ebook or a standard book, look into Relativism-Feet Firmly Planted In Mid-Air by Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl. Excellent read. The journey in educating America of the backward and corrosive thinking relativism enables will require persistence, gentleness, time, and most importantly God’s Will to allow all who communicate the truth of relativism and objective morals that have God as the standard maker to start making an impact in the American culture in a manner that honors and glorifies the Father. And as just such a journey will take a lot of time to first slow down the momentum the culture has before any reversals can be realized, so we will have a lot of praise and honor to give to God for everyone who listens and joins the journey. Read, Learn, Speak, and Praise.
    Another Mike

  6. The elephant in the room is the Christian use of artificial birth control. Some are asking, “if homosexual sex is unnatural then so is sex using artificial contraception.” Linker argues:

    Gay marriage has come to be widely accepted because our society stopped thinking of marriage as a conjugal union decades ago. Between five and six decades ago, to be precise. That’s when the birth control pill — first made available to consumers for the treatment of menstrual disorders in 1957 and approved by the FDA for contraceptive use three years later — began to transform sexual relationships, and hence marriage, in the United States. Once pregnancy was decoupled from intercourse, pre-marital sex became far more common, which removed one powerful incentive to marry young (or marry at all). It likewise became far more common for newlyweds to give themselves an extended childless honeymoon (with some couples choosing never to have kids).

    http://news.yahoo.com/gay-marriages-fate-sealed-more-50-years-ago-073000037.html

    If you are in favor of sex using contraception as a Christian then it’s not too surprising, then, that those same Christians would support gay marriage. After all, what is marriage? http://www.harvard-jlpp.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/GeorgeFinal.pdf

  7. Don Rubottom says:

    Great analysis. But most important way to address the cultural confusion is for Christians to live “the truth about marriage”. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is the heart of a rediscovery of marriage as God-imaging, covenantal, fruitful, self-giving, faithful and full communion of persons designed to reveal the nature of Love within the Trinity. Jesus sent us to Genesis 2. Our generation prefers the divorce court and “second chances” which are mere selfish indulgences.

  8. Brian Werner says:

    I used to think just like you Kevin. That the civil contract of marriage was not central to equality, that civil unions satisfied exclusion and equal rights, that tolerance was completely separate from gay marriage.

    But there are two things that play on my mind that changed it. First is the seeming narrow focus of Christian contempt and characterization that homosexuality is a sin…. if you’re using Levitical law as a basis for Christian morality, Eatig shellfish is a sin, shaving is a sin, allowing your wife out of the house during her menstral period, is a sin, tattoos are not only a sin but at permanent and therefore would qualify as continually living in sin…. which is the typical Christian push back regarding the permanence of homosexuality vs. the simple ACT involved in the others…. tattoos would seem to be equally as sinful…. but most contemporary Christians dig tattoos so this as well as the rest are considered socially irrelevant and have been cast aside by our convenient relativism… but homosexuality and its assingment as a sin is still tightly held by Christians as a fundamental issue of right and wrong where relativism has rendered dozens of other offenses from the text as defunct. That right there is hypocrisy and it gives a little flashlight into the thinking behind Christian intolerance…. it really does have more to do with personal predjudice that any of us want to our is willing to admit…. I know it did for me.

    And the second issue, in light of this is that gay marriage is not a religious ceremony. It is a civil contract under our government. Christians will loudly proclaim that the institution of marriage is first and foremost a religious practice, but that is not really important…. this is a matter of civic equality under our government, which is separate from our religious institutions…. it is on its face an exclusionary tactic by government… a form of mob rule (especially in California) and it continues us down a path where gays live illegitimate lifestyles.

    And that is my problem right there. Illegitimate, alternative, what other words do we use… perverted, sick, dirty, disgusting, an abomination, a blog poster on this very site drew the connection between gays and pedophiles…. we characterize it as sick, disgusting sinful dirty… etc… and what does that do?

    It causes 16 year oldkids struggling with feelings they don’t know what to do with to want to kill themselves…. it means that kids, and young men and women in every town in America hate themselves, want to die are terrified of saying in their out loud voice what they are to anyone. WHY… because they know the world around them hates them. It will exclude, attack, insult, and act disgusted not by some superficial thing…. but by who they are at their very core.

    Because Christians among others have beat the drum that they are sick, dirty, disgusting, perverted…. So we say “I’ve got nothing against gay people, I just don’t support gay marriage” but if you know people on a human level and not just theory. If you are close to numerous gay people and don’t just say it as a front so you can legitimize your anti gay argument, they you know how it makes kids feel… that they want to die…. if you see how much the words of people like you Mr. DeYoung hurt young people…. how the Christian community drops this twenty ton pile of shame on their shoulder, self disgust… Maybe you’d realize the hurt and impact your stupid words that are really just theological theory to you…. they are other peoples everyday.

    Truth be told I was just like you. I didnt like gay people, they made me uncomfortable, I thought their lifestyle was disgusting, I was afraid they were going to indoctrinate my kids at school, I had all the typical Christian symptoms of intolerance….. but my words were just like yours… I dont dislike gay people but the Word of God speaks to this issue.

    NO that is the lie we like to tell ourselves… Leviticus is a defunct rule sandwiched between a dozen other rules we’ve deemed defunct…. What it boils down to is we are filled with predjudice and wilfully discriminate against gays and we use a obsolete verse from a mostly obsolte book of the Bible as our justification to hate…. I know I believed the lie for 7 or 8 years.

    You can say whatever you want to say…. you can justify it however you want Mr. DeYoung…. what you are at heart, is the opposite of Christ…. you preach intolerance and preach discrimination… Someday you’ll hopefully realize that.

  9. Byron Harvey says:

    Whew, thankfully we’ve now got the enlightened Brian on the scene to explain how he conquered his homophobia, and now, if we’ll just do as he says, so can we. Sorry about the snark there, but the arrogance of this post is astonishing, only rivaled by its irrelevance at key points. Such as:

    Paragraph 2, the Leviticus stuff. Brian may fancy himself more “tolerant” or what have you, but dude, with all due respect, you need to get a very basic grasp on Biblical hermeneutics. There are good reasons for interpreting Scripture in the way that you render “hypocritical”, and they have to do with a very basic means of interpreting and understanding the Bible. No, not “selectively”, but faithfully. We’ve all heard these liberal talking points before, Brian, and Christians who have a hermeneutical clue don’t flinch at your off-base critique.

    The second issue Brian has is to recite the tired mantra of inequality before the law. This too is a canard. My sincere challenge to you, Brian: I am a married man, but were I not, can you give me the name of one single person in the world that I, as a heterosexual man, could marry that (insert name of homosexual man here) could not (excluding blood relatives, of course)? No…the field of candidates to marry is exactly equal for both of us. This issue has nothing to do with “marriage equality” or “equal rights”, but it has to do with the question of redefining marriage in a way which heretofore has (OK, until the last decade or so) never been the definition of marriage. Now, if you want to have a genuine debate on whether or not marriage should be so redefined, that’s fine–but the disingenuous argument about “equal rights” has carried the day among those unwilling or unable to think particularly deeply about the meaning of marriage, the assignment of rights, etc.

    His next paragraph essentially suggests that truth isn’t the issue, but the harm truth may cause to others, and then he assumes that if we knew real gay people, we’d feel differently. News flash: we do know gay people. We have gay friends. We enjoy their company. We disagree with them on this fundamental point. Are there abusive people who call themselves Christians? Of course, Brian, and on that point, we’re certainly agreed…but to tar every Christian, and Kevin DeYoung, with that brush, is as pathetic as it is wrong.

    Thanks for sharing, Brian, and now you can go, I guess, and rail against me, the “hater”. But when you lead with innuendo, accusation, ad hominem attack, self-righteousness, and poor hermeneutics, you should realize that there is going to be a bit of a pushback.

  10. sleepstudent101 says:

    I just want to say:
    our religious beliefs has no place in the U.S. government’s decisions.

    By virtue of our nation’s and founding fathers’ beliefs, we should detach our religious beliefs from our beliefs for what’s right for our nation.

  11. Byron Harvey says:

    Right, sleepstudent. We should not have laws against murder, theft, and the like, nor should our government lift a finger to concern itself with the plight of the poor, because all of these represent “religious beliefs”.

    Seriously?

  12. Sara F. says:

    I totally agree, and thought of some responses that will hopefully be helpful to some who aren’t sure how to respond (though I think praying for revival, as mentioned in the article, is probably the best and most effective response!): http://paperfences.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/top-five-reasons-to-support-gay-marriage-and-why-those-reasons-are-still-not-good-enough/

  13. Bill says:

    This is a simple question, from a simple person. I have not studied the Bible from cover to cover and I fail to live up to Jesus’ perfect example (as do all of you).

    When Jesus came down here and lived on this earth, was He consumed with petitioning the government of the time to pass laws, or block laws based on their biblical standing?

    Or did He come to earth to spread the gospel – God’s good news – and forge personal relationships with some of the most sinful people in this planet’s history for the purpose of fulfilling the old testament’s prophecy and ultimately becoming THE sacrifice for all of our sins? If Jesus can focus His energy on the task at hand and make a difference, then I believe so can we. These legal quarrells seems to serve as more of a distraction, than a solution.

  14. sleepstudent101 says:

    Yes, seriously — Byron Harvey. Actually: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . . .
    We may have secular laws, in the U.S. that happen to coincide with our beliefs — like laws prohibiting “murder, theft, and the like.” But otherwise, we’re just a religious nation. Then, why shouldn’t our laws mandate respect for our Jewish citizens’ religious holidays or our Islamic citizens’ beliefs?

    You see — if the judicial branch starts making laws respecting our beliefs, it should also start passing bills respecting other religions agendas. Secularism in the government protects our beliefs, as well.

  15. Byron Harvey says:

    Correct, sleepstudent; Congress may not establish a state religion, as the 1st Amendment teaches us (as I trust you understand the clause pertains to). But what is different about this particular law “coinciding” with religious beliefs (as opposed to laws about murder and theft? How does maintaining the definition of marriage that has been in effect for thousands of years (with the occasional exception, but never before the past decade or so include “gay marriage”), across religious faiths and cultures, constitute the establishment of religion? Which religion does it establish as the official religion of the state?

    I do not believe that there should be a state religion by any stretch of the imagination. But that has little to do with how marriage should be defined.

  16. Jess says:

    I think you are mixing up the effect and cause. Gay marriage is the effect, tolerance is the cause.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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