A More Perfect Union (Part 1)

On Tuesday, December 13th, 2022, President Biden signed into law the so-called Respect for Marriage Act, which requires the U. S. Federal government and all U.S. states and territories to recognize the validity of same-sex marital unions. Ironically, surrounding Biden as he signed the Respect for Marriage Act, were people who were instrumental in a previous Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, which this new legislation now repeals. Passed in 1993 and signed by President Clinton, the Defense of Marriage Act banned federal regulations of same-sex marriage. That was passed overwhelmingly by the 104th Congress of the United States, including endorsements from now Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and even current President Joe Biden. The Defense of Marriage Act read, in part,

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

Less than thirty years later, our federal laws now reads thus:

For the purposes of any Federal law, rule, or regulation in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual’s marriage is between 2 individuals.

Notice, not a single mention of “one man” or “one woman”—only “2 individuals.” Again, it took less than thirty years for this change not only to occur, but to be celebrated. It is nothing less than a revolution of morals. And some people just want Bible-believing Christians to get over ourselves and get on board. E. J. Dionne, a columnist for the Washington Post, posed the question the other day in an article titled, “A question to conservative Christians on gay marriage: Why draw the line here?” Maybe some of you are wondering the same thing. The answer, quite simply, is that the Bible draws the line here. And we see that right from the beginning. Genesis has clear teaching for us on our sexuality, and how it is to be used for God’s glory.

We want to consider first the blueprint of sexuality that Genesis 1 and 2 provides for us. We will consider the beauty of biblical sexuality in Part 2. But for now, what are the constituent teachings in this text that can give us a full picture of what the Bible has in mind for sexuality? I think we could draw upon four things.

Sexuality and Identity

The fundamental thing that needs to be preached into our sexualized and self-actualized culture is that our identity—that is, our value, worth, and meaning—is not equivalent to our sexuality. More accurately, our sexuality is subservient to our identity, which is defined in Genesis 1 as being image bearers of God. We are theological creatures before we are biological creatures.

With the rise of identity politics, today we find people are desperate to find certain categories or markers by which they can be classified, understood, and valued. Thanks to Freud, sexuality is perhaps the primary way people in our day and age define themselves, or think they ought to define themselves. Rosaria Butterfield writes, “If I self-define as heterosexual or homosexual…everything, including nonsexual affection, is subsumed by this new humanity of sexuality.” We need to resist the desire to define ourselves by feelings, and instead define ourselves by the facts of God’s Word. “The call to repentance is a call to reject the lie that our sexual desires define us, and to submit to the authority of God’s Word in order to learn who we are and what we must become.”

Sexuality in Marital Union

While we cannot allow sexual desires to define us, this does not mean we do not have sexual desires. And these desires are given from God, as is the proper outlet for them. And that is in the marital union of a man and a woman. That’s the second part of this blueprint found in Genesis 1 and 2: sexuality is best expressed in the marriage of a man and woman. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24).

“One Flesh”: A Distinct Component of Heterosexual Marriage

Beyond the example given of Adam and Eve, it’s the description of this union as being “one flesh” that tells us marriage can only be for a man and a woman. Sexual expression, in God’s design, creates something that the Bible describes as “one flesh.” Two are brought together as one. More than being a poetic expression of the nearness and fidelity of the couple, “one flesh” is a euphemism for sex. Paul makes that point explicitly in 1 Corinthians 6:15–16, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’”

This one-enfleshment, if we can call it that, is unique to sexual intimacy. Mere physical contact does not bring you into a one flesh union with someone. Holding hands or hugging does not do that. But, more specifically, it is only heterosexual activity that does. By God’s design, men and women have the anatomical capacity to receive each other’s bodies. It’s a relational and an organic union. The female body complements the male body in this way. In fact, the reality that woman was made from the body of the man draws him all the more closely to her. Kevin DeYoung explains:

What makes the woman unique is both that she is like the man (expressed in the covenantal commitment statement “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”) and that she is differentiated from the man. The text has sameness and difference in view. Adam delights that the woman is not another animal and not another man. She is exactly what the man needs: a suitable helper, equal to the man but also his opposite. She is an ishah taken out of ish, a new creation fashioned from the side of man to be something other than a man….The ish and the ishah can become one flesh because theirs is not just a sexual union but a reunion, the bringing together of two differentiated beings, with one made from and both made for the other.

The command for a man to “cling” to his wife, again, is freighted with sexual meaning. It implies loyalty and commitment, certainly—but how is that loyalty and commitment displayed? Preeminently through sexual intercourse! So the point of marriage is not just about fidelity, if it were, a case for homosexual “marriage” perhaps could be made. At the signing of the Respect for Marriage Act, Biden said, “Marriage is a simple proposition. Who do you love? And will you be loyal to that person you love? It’s not more complicated than that. The law recognizes that everyone should have the right to answer those questions for themselves.” But perhaps marriage is more complex than that. A man cannot “cling to” another man, nor a woman to a woman, the way that Genesis 2 envisions here. Not in a way that makes the two become one flesh.

We must keep this in mind when the argument is often made that homosexual unions that are based on love for one another and commitment should be celebrated and cherished, especially against traditional marriages that are filled with strife, adultery, or end in divorce. But we don’t build our morality upon experience, but submission to God’s Word. And God’s Word says that marriage is not just about loyalty. It’s about two becoming one flesh. Sam Allberry, himself a celibate sam-sex attracted clergyman, has written helpfully on this subject. His one reply to such an argument is instructive:

In many areas of life it is possible to demonstrate good qualities while doing something wrong. A thief in a gang may demonstrate impeccable loyalty to his fellow criminals during the act of stealing: looking out for them, protecting them from danger, being sure to give them a generous proportion of the takings. None of this is any way lessens the immorality of the act….[homosexual] activity that is faithful and committed is no more permissible than activity that’s promiscuous and unfaithful.

Sex and the Future of Society

So far, the blueprint of sexuality that Genesis 1–2 affords is that 1) sexual desire does not define us 2) sexual desire is confined in a marital union of man and woman, and 3) this is so because only a man and woman can properly be one flesh. The fourth point is perhaps the most obvious, though. God’s blueprint for sexuality includes the reproduction and raising of children, and that can only take place through the sexual union of man and woman. People who hold to a variety of conservative positions are often demeaningly told to just “trust the science”—well, this is as basic as science gets. Only women can get pregnant. Only men can get them pregnant. And within the confines of a marital relationship, this is a good thing.

If we return to E. J. Dionne’s question, “Why draw the line here?” One of the answers we could give is that society depends on it! Society depends on the propagation of humanity, which only happens through heterosexuality. Indeed, trust the science.

The nation of Japan figured this out recently. Some months ago their Supreme Court continued a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which is essentially unheard of these days. Japan is an extremely secular nation, without biblical principles guiding their policies, so why would they do such a thing in a progressive generation? The reason is that they are facing a population crisis. They need more babies, not less. So the court defined marriage like this: “a system established by society to protect a relationship between men and women who bear and raise children.” Japan simply cannot afford to give the stamp of approval on unions that won’t repopulate the nation.

As it turns out, God’s blueprint for sexuality is not only found in the Bible. It’s embedded in the laws of nature. The birds and bees get it. So should we.