Such an argument, however, sidesteps the underlying principles of marriage's intrinsic purposes.
Marriage isn't just about children, a point on which everyone we know agrees, no matter which side of the debate they're on. But we would argue that neither is marriage just about adults.
The fact that the debate over the definition of marriage is so heated is a sign that all of us see marriage as different from many other relationships. In truth, marriage connects men, women and children into one institution that society depends upon.
Marriage is based on the truth that men and women are different. As a biological fact, reproduction requires both a man and woman. As a social reality, children need the love and care of a mom and dad. Marriage connects the generations, reminding us that we are the result of previous unions and pointing us to those who are yet to come.
Marriage isn't a zero-sum game of children present within marriage or no marriage at all. Elderly or infertile men are still men and elderly and infertile women are still women. The differentiation of men and women, even in these scenarios, is the very grounds that bring forth procreative potential, whether it's actualized or not.
If marriage is no longer based on the complementarity of the sexes, why should it be exclusive or monogamous? No one who engages in principled debate can offer a satisfying answer of why "marriage equality" shouldn't be bestowed on three persons who have a desire to call their arrangement a marriage. Marriage revisionists refuse to answer these questions beyond saying they're a "slippery slope," but we've not yet heard any satisfying answers on why redefining marriage wouldn't logically lead to these possibilities.
In America, all people are legally free to live in whatever sort of arrangement they choose. That's not at issue here. What's at issue is whether marriage is a unique sort of relationship, different from other relationships between consenting adults.
To say that the union of a man and woman is different is not grounded in bigotry or discrimination. It's grounded in the powers of observation that draw rightful distinctions between different sets of relationships.
In marriage, a man and woman join together as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their union produces. Now, not every marriage will produce children. But all children need a mom and dad, and that's the reason marriage has been codified in law as something separate and distinct from other unions. We think there are good reasons for this distinction, and that we ought not to abandon such hastily.
As Christians, we believe marriage is ultimately a matter of cosmic importance, since it is grounded in God's creation design (Genesis 2:18-25; Mark 10:6-9) and is an icon that points us beyond nature to the mystery at the heart of the universe: the union of Christ to His church (Ephesians 5:31-33). One doesn't need to agree with us on the Gospel, though, to understand that there's something important for human flourishing about a child growing up with the loving nurture of both sexes.
As Christians, we understand that marriage and human sexuality reflects the deepest truths of the Gospel. As Christians in America, we also understand that government has an interest in promoting marriage as a social policy apart from any theological backdrop since it remains the best catalyst for human flourishing.
Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Andrew Walker is the ERLC's director of policy studies. Adapted from an article by Moore and Walker that first appeared in The Tennessean daily newspaper in Nashville.
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