Recently, a friend engaged me on the issue of gay marriage, and in the course of answering for my opinion (and thinking out loud), I think there is a case to be made for Christians to tolerate gay "marriage."
First, let me begin by pointing out that marriage exists in two separate (but related) dimensions: it is both a spritual covenant as well as a civil institution administered by the government. I will confine my discussion to the latter dimension exclusively.
This is because gay "marriage" cannot exist in a spiritual realm. There is no spiritual convenant for homosexual union, and it was not established by God. In God's eyes, marrying someone of the same gender is likely to be similar to marrying a bowl of ice cream in the flavor that you "love." We can call it anything we want, but God will not call it marriage, nor bless it as such. This is perhaps why "gay marriage" is an oxymoron, while a "civil union" may not be such a reach.
Which leaves us with only the civil aspect of marriage.
From a civil perspective, there is very little to a marriage status that cannot be granted by other means. One can confer property rights, power of attorney, medical POA, and several other legal privileges upon another person without marrying them.
Those rights that cannot be easily conferred are inocuous: the right to file joint tax returns, the privilege from testifying against a spouse, etc. It is difficulty to see the harm to society that would result from civilly unified persons being granted the civil privileges normally accorded to traditional couples-- with one possible exception I will mention later.
Perhaps it is helpful if we think of a "civil union" as being like a fast-food drive through for legal status, with a single legal document conferring several legal statuses at once-- similar to the way the law presently treats actual heterosexual marriage.
I think the main reasons we Christians reflexively chafe at the idea of a government creating a civil union type of legal construct is that we believe it destroys the traditional nuclear family that we believe is proper.
But that idea that a civil union destroys the nuclear family is largely a myth. For one, the nuclear family in America has been in decline for a long time. Marriage rates in general are down in favor of unmarried couples cohabitating and having kids. Those that do marry still divorce at rates that hover near 50%-- even among those who self-identify as "Christians." Second and even third marriages are more common than ever, and no longer confined just to the Hollywood types we assume are relationally dysfunctional.
The traditional family in America is devalued simply by large numbers of people failing to value it. When large numbers of people nurture and care for the institution, it will grow stronger. Institutions in our society reflect the society that maintains or establishes them. Focusing on the institution rather than the society is akin to treating symptoms, but not root cause. The roots of the decline in marriage are not in the movement for "gay rights" but in the abandonment of Godly principles, and in the movement that seeks to deny or erase all gender differences and roles. Marriage is in decline because *we* as a society have diminished it.
Stated another way: what damage does gay "marriage" do to the institution of marriage in America that has not already been done by divorce? Recall that divorce is not part of God's plan for marriage, either- yet it is tolerated among Christians in America. (recall Jesus' teaching in Mark that remarriage after divorce is adultery). In order to tolerate divorce in the church, but not "gay marriage" one MUST believe that adultery is an "ok sin" but that homosexuality is some kind of special sin that is more severe. Now, I know that my Catholic friends distinguish between mortal and so-called venial sins, but my reading of the Bible is that all sin is equal. There are several Biblical references that validate this point, but the most clear is Paul's explanation that if we are guity of any part of the law, we are guilty of the whole law. In God's economy, there are no sins small enough to spare you the judgment of God (if you are not under the grace of God).
Let me address an objection based on the premise that standards are important, regardless of our ability to meet them. This argument says that there is value in recognizing that traditional marriage is best and is God's plan, even if our society has fallen far short of achieving that ideal. I believe this argument has merit. But tolerating civil unions doesn't diminish the fact that there is only one real concept of marriage. Again, if we Christians allow civil law to account for divorce (a violation of God's standards for marriage), how can we argue for civil law to discount other, similar departures from God's plan?
Now we come to the sticky issue I mentioned before, and that is the re-defining of the family. It is tempting to tolerate civil unions, but deny such couples the right to adopt, for example. I would certainly agree that a gay couple adopting a child is not desireable, because that child will be raised with a distorted, incorrect view of what marriage and family is supposed to be. However-- is it so undesireable that the child should be deprived of a home environment where his needs are met? Worse-- is it so bad that the child should be aborted rather than adopted by a gay couple? I would say that homosexual couples adopting children is far less harmful than several other likely outcomes for children that are not adopted.
A homosexual partnership that is granted by civil authorities all the same benefits as a traditional marriage is not something to be celebrated, because it indicates just how far our nation has pushed aside our Judeo-Christian tradition. But it seems that it is not the worst of all outcomes. If it results in a child being raised instead of aborted, perhaps some good could even come about from it.
I think, as Christians, we can live in a society where civil unions are allowed, and we should set an excellent example of God's plan and purpose for marriage, so that no one can mistake man's imitation of God's plan for the real thing.