Who defines marriage?

Barack Obama, Illinois senator and front runner in the race for the Democrat party’s presidential nomination, has opened up a can of worms with comments he made in favor of same-sex marriage — citing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as support for his position no less. Christians all across America have taken up the debate on both sides. Some claim Obama is correct in his interpretation of Scripture while others correctly claim the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality as sin and defines marriage as between one man and one woman, period.

canofworms.jpgI firmly stand with the Scriptural teaching concerning the sinfulness of homosexuality and the definition of marriage, but I think conservative, orthodox Christians are making a terrible mistake in arguing the theological points with Obama and his supporters. To argue the theology of this issue is to miss a much, much larger point and accept a premise we ought to reject.

Liberals have been pushing for federal government recognition of same-sex marriages and “civil unions” while conservatives have advocated a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman consistent with Scripture. Fighting the battle in this context assumes that the state has the authority to define what is and is not marriage — and it does not.

Marriage was instituted by God, Himself. He created it. He defines it. The state has no more authority to define marriage than it does to define salvation. The matters are just not open to debate. God has spoken. It is settled.

I really could not care less whether or not any state recognizes my marriage to my wife. It’s not open to their scrutiny. What matters is whether or not God recognizes our marriage. Do our brothers and sisters in Christ see our marriage as consistent with Scripture? Did our church authorize our union? These are the things that matter. I’ve always wondered why marriage licenses even exist. Marriage does not belong to the state so why does the state need to issue permission in the form of a license to anyone? It’s ridiculous.

Most Christians would agree that the issue of salvation is a more important theological issue than same-sex marriages. We don’t have state licenses for salvation. The state does not recognize anyone’s conversion. Why not? Because it’s not their business.

I have friends who adhere to different religious beliefs than I do. I can share my faith with them and they with me. But we don’t try to force our beliefs on one another through the power of state coercion. If we did we’d cease to be friends. Our freedom to choose for ourselves how we will conduct our lives is paramount in a free society.

weddingrings.jpgI don’t mind if two men get “married” in a ceremony by someone professing to represent God as a priest or pastor. I think they should be free to do that and the state should butt out. Is that form of “marriage” an abomination before God? Yes. Will I recognize their “marriage” as legitimate? No. No more than I will recognize someone’s professed salvation through Buddha. But, according to 1 Corinthians 5:12, it is none of my business to judge those outside the church for their sinful behavior. God handles that. I am accountable to my brothers and sisters in Christ and am to hold them accountable in turn.

But we all should agree on one point: In matters of theology — whether it concerns salvation or marriage or whatever — politicians should never be allowed to operate under the illusion that they are the ones who define such matters.

They are not.

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About Chip
Chip is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, TN. He served more than five years on the staff of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana as Director of Communications and Public Relations, editor of the Indiana Baptist newsjournal, and regular contributor to the Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. He currently earns his living as a writer. He serves his local church as a teacher and deacon and his local Baptist Association as a Seminary Extension instructor and supply preacher.

9 Responses to Who defines marriage?

  1. jonolan says:

    I find myself in general agreement with you. While I’m totally in favor of the State recognizing Same Sex unions and Polyamorous unions for the purposes of: inheritance, hospital visiting rights, limited power of attorney, and similar legal & secular purposes, that doesn’t make it Marriage. Marriage is NOT defined by the State.

  2. Robin says:

    If you are only baseing your argument on what you have read in the bible then that is where the problem begins. Just because YOU believe that you should follow the bible to the letter, (by the way do you still think we should be stoning people who have pre-marital sex?) doesn’t mean that’s what we should base our laws on. Seperation of church and state is there for a reason. So it goes like this, your beliefs and religion should not be used to define our laws, because if we started using everyone’s religious beliefs to define our laws then this would be one confusing place. Remember this country has Budhists, Muslims, Wiccans, Jews and many many more. Why do you think your religious beliefes are what we should base our political and law making decisions on?

  3. jonolan says:


    I’m a Pagan (Celtic Rite) Priest and have performed several same-sex handfastings. The Bible isn’t exactly my yardstick for measuring anything – except Christians.

    My point is solely that the Government – a secular body – has no real or legitimate authority to call anything a marriage. They should limit themselves to recognizing and enforcing the contractual obligations of Civil Unions.

  4. Chip says:


    First, thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate readers who share their opinions. Second, WOW, did you ever miss the point of my post. Your very last question — “Why do you think your religious beliefes [sic] are what we should base our political and law making decisions on?” — tells me you either didn’t read the post or you didn’t understand it.

    Read it again. My point is that the government should have no input whatsoever in what is and what is not called a marriage. That means I DON’T think my religious beliefs should necessarily be the standard by which our laws are made. I firmly believe in the concept of Common Law (look it up if you don’t know what that is) and liberty.

    Again, I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  5. jonolan says:

    OK, that’s funny. I thought Robin was responding to my comment and you think she’s responding to the post. LOL

  6. Jason says:

    Where again in the Bible does it state or show that a marriage has to be approved even by the members of your congregation? It is GOD who was the witness to marriages FROM THE BEGINNING. Nowhere does the Bible state, claim, nor teach that human approbation is necessary for a valid marriage.

  7. Brenda says:

    I’m getting rather fed up with hearing “God” and “the Bible” in the same breath when it comes to basic human equalities. There is God. Then there is the human race trying to translate him into a book. God is loving; so loving, in fact, that he actually loves everyone! I know, unbelieveable, right? There are tons of things in the Bible that don’t apply today and have no business being used in comparison to modern times, especially by those who take the book far too literally. Live, and let live. Treat others as you would wish to be treated. It’s not that difficult!

    Anyway, to anwer the question (finally!), “Who defines marriage?” Only three souls define marriage – the two getting married and God. Not the Bible, not religion, not churches…God.

  8. You write excellent,but the latter paragraph I own a touch to don’t understand, could you please deliver an explain?

  9. Pingback: Who defines marriage? (a repost, sort of) « Thideology™

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