Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"How Would Jesus Rule on Same-Sex Marriage?"

That is the question Professor Dan Crane asks in a new post over at the Center for Law and Religion Forum.  He offers three interesting responses (and by interesting, I mean interesting).  Here's a bit from the first:

First, Jesus would likely have faulted both sides of the debate for an excessively materialist perspective.  On one side, we hear that marriage is about procreation and child rearing.  On the other, that it’s about love and companionship.  But Jesus did not understand marriage primarily in terms of its temporal or material effects.  For Jesus, marriage was a spiritual representation of divine relationships.  According to Jesus, God created man and woman—male and female—in the image of God, mirroring the unity and diversity within the Godhead.  Jesus and later apostolic writers referred to Jesus as a bridegroom and the Church as his bride.  Jesus explained that in Heaven people would not be married to one another, since they would be in perfect union with God.  Thus, the ultimate good of marriage was not that it served immediate material needs but that it celebrated the eternal nature of God.

This understanding of marriage has precious little purchase in the contemporary, hyper-materialist world.  Even those who recognize marriage’s “spiritual” component usually mean that psychosomatically—marriage feeds long-term emotional and pyschological needs.  We’ve lost any sense of human institutions as good because of their correspondence to divinity.  Across the ideological spectrum, we’ve given in to Richard Posner’s wish of “unmasking and challenging the Platonic, traditionalist, and theological vestiges in Enlightenment thinking.”  It’s safe to say that Jesus would have had a different take.


DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink


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Thanks very much for the link, Professor, and for using "interesting" in its lexically proper sense.

Posted by: David Lyons | Apr 14, 2013 4:05:01 PM

Jesus already has answered this question when He said in His Own Words, "Have you not heard that from The Beginning, God Created them male and female, and for THIS (in the singular, proximal, demonstrative means) reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife..."

Posted by: Nancy | Apr 14, 2013 5:00:27 PM

My guess is that the answer would be a parable involving a vineyard or livestock that each side could interpret to support its position.

Posted by: Dave Cochran | Apr 14, 2013 5:47:45 PM

One interesting facet of this, now that we are talking about Jesus, is the status of his parents', er, relationship. Aquinas holds that the marriage between Mary and Joseph was a marriage, even though the two were never joined conjugally, to use a word that has been found around these parts lately. They were married, according to Aquinas, on account of the spiritual union of their souls, not bodies. If I were a liberal theologian, which, deo gratias, I am not, I would grab hold of this counterexample to NNL accounts of what marriage is and use it to argue that same sex marriages similarly involve a contract or union between souls, not bodies, which is real but very imperfect on account of the acts of sodomy that attempt to give it bodily expression. This has probably been argued somewhere, I would bet.

Posted by: Wj | Apr 14, 2013 7:26:40 PM

"For Jesus, marriage was a spiritual representation of divine relationships. According to Jesus, God created man and woman—male and female—in the image of God, mirroring the unity and diversity within the Godhead. . . Thus, the ultimate good of marriage was not that it served immediate material needs but that it celebrated the eternal nature of God."

I think this is WAY off base. I assume "the unity and diversity within the Godhead" is supposed to refer to the Trinity, but that is a Christian dogma that developed long, long after the creation accounts of Genesis were written, and not only is there no hint of male and female "mirroring the unity and diversity within the Godhead" in Genesis, I think it is anachronistic to attribute that thought to Jesus.

Crane, in my opinion, gets it exactly backward. The ultimate good of marriage was not that it "celebrated the eternal nature of God." It seems foolish to suggest that marriage is somehow a symbolic reflection of the Godhead/Trinity because marriage is used as a metaphor for the relationship between God and Israel or between Christ and the Church. Metaphors are metaphors, not aspects of realities created to higher realities. One might refer to a three-leaf clover to try to explain the Trinity, but that does not mean God created three-leaf clovers as symbols, otherwise why are there occasional four-leaf clovers? (If marriage is really about the unity and diversity of the Godhead, it seems to me polygamous marriage is more representative than monogamous marriage. There are, after all, three persons in the Trinity, not two.) God's relationship with Israel may be compared to marriage, but that is hardly an indication that God created marriage mainly so that humans could use it as a metaphor.

Also, remember that at least beginning with Paul, if not going all the way back to Jesus, the Christian idea is that it is better not to marry. Marriage as a metaphor for the Godhead loses a great deal of its usefulness when it is better not to marry, but "better to marry than to burn."

The historical Jesus would obviously not have even considered same-sex marriage. Also, the historical Jesus was telling Jews how to be Jews rather than telling Jews how to be Christians. John P. Meier said "The historical Jesus is the halakic Jesus." Jesus in the Gospel is frequently giving interpretations of Mosaic Law, which Christians today do not feel bound by. There was clearly no room for same-sex marriage in Mosaic Law, so we have to invent a non-Jewish Jesus to answer the question of what he would have to say on same-sex marriage.

Posted by: David Nickol | Apr 14, 2013 7:34:16 PM

Dave, Wj, David, etc., are you calling The Word of God, Jesus Christ, a lie?

Posted by: Nancy | Apr 14, 2013 7:45:53 PM


I suggest you either explain your question or apologize. Or perhaps explain your question *and* apologize.

Posted by: David Nickol | Apr 14, 2013 7:56:27 PM

Why should Nancy apologize if she has a satisfactory explanation? That's not fair at all. I suggest you apologize.

Posted by: Anonymous | Apr 14, 2013 8:32:19 PM


Because even if she has a satisfactory explanation, it should have been included with the original question. Questions can be inflammatory. And additionally, I would call her question a "hit and run" post. It contributes nothing to the discussion. As it stands, it's spam.

Posted by: David Nickol | Apr 14, 2013 8:44:27 PM

For the record, I understand Christ as the Truth itself. My comment was a half-serious grapple with what really is (i.e.has historically been treated as) an interesting issue, the marriage between Mary and Joseph.

But I also think that it is pretty hubristic to suppose that you could ever anticipate what Christ's response would be to such a question. Judging from the gospels, He would probably say something that intentionally offended whatever supposedly pious motivations lie behind the question, and then would do something crazy and scandalous seeming, like having dinner with Nancy Pelosi, or a high end New York escort, or Newt Gingrich. He will mess with you like that.

Posted by: Wj | Apr 14, 2013 9:34:50 PM

David Nickol,

I do not think you can accuse Jesus of being anachronistic in alluding to the concept of the Trinity for two reasons. First, he is part of the Trinity, so he would be referencing himself, not a concept that developed hundreds of years later. Second, as both man and God, Jesus is both finite and timeless. The timeless part of him gives him a 'get out of jail free card' on any anachronism charge. Having said that, I do believe that you are right on the money that we should look at what the historical Jesus knew of marriage.

I also agree with WJ that the marriage of Mary and Joseph, the marriage Jesus knew best, is problematic. Mary and Joseph never became one. In fact, his tone with his mother at the Cana wedding was snippy and uncalled for. Was it because he grew up in a home where his parents were married in name but qualified for an annulment? Despite Jesus's radicalness on so many matters, I have always read him as an articulate and moral force for a monogamous sexual marriage, unlike some of the ridiculous Old Testament arrangements, but also unlike that of his parents. I doubt he would have envisioned it including 2 people of the same sex, though.

Posted by: jfm | Apr 14, 2013 9:45:16 PM

David, thanks for engaging my post. Part of the reason that I chose not to answer the question "how would Jesus rule on same-sex marriage" is that it would be presumptuous and anachronistic, which are both words I use in my post. My point was that Jesus was frequently asked questions of this kind, and here are some characteristics of his responses.

One could quarrel with even that rather limited set of observations on any number of grounds, such as Jesus didn't actually say any of that (see Thomas Jefferson), or he didn't say some of that (the earliest and most reliable New Testament manuscripts don't have the woman caught in adultery passage, for example), or Jesus is purely a construct of a second century Jewish sect, or you can't understand anything Jesus said without being a historian and reading Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, or any number of other grounds. But my post wasn't written for people who believe those things. It was addressed to some amorphous socio-religious demographic within a few standard deviations from the contemporary American evangelical/Catholic mean that accepts the Christian Bible as an authoritative exposition of Christian doctrine and the Gospels' attributions of statements to Jesus as part of a continuous and consistent narrative from Genesis to Revelations.

Now, if you're not in that group, then I have no quarrel with any criticism you may level at my comments--so long as you recognize the background assumptions I was making. If you are in that group, then I don't see how you can deny that marriage represented the spiritual in Jesus' many teachings throughout the Gospels, particularly as further explained in the Pauline epistles. This is not Christian writers groping for a casual metaphor. It's foundational to an entire theology of sexuality, marriage, Christ, and the Church. (i.e., to join one's body with a prostitute is to defile Christ's body; the theology of husbands and wives, etc.).

A small note: When you put together the Pauline teaching on marriage across the Epistles, the "better not to marry" idea is not a general indictment of marriage but non-binding advice (as Paul himself recognizes) for a church facing persecution.

Posted by: Dan Crane | Apr 14, 2013 10:09:01 PM

David, I apologize for the lack of clarity in my question. In regards to my quoting Christ at 5:00:27, are you calling The Word of God, Jesus Christ, and I would add, The Truth of Love, a lie?

Posted by: Nancy | Apr 14, 2013 10:12:49 PM

If you believe there is no lie in Him, then the rest of your argument is all straw.

Posted by: Nancy | Apr 14, 2013 10:15:24 PM


Suppose I am Jewish and do not believe Jesus is the Messiah and the Second Person of the Trinity. Would that mean I was calling Jesus a lie?

Posted by: David Nickol | Apr 14, 2013 11:28:08 PM


First let me apologize for what may not have been the most cordial tone. There are some heated discussions taking place on MOJ—a rather unusual circumstance here—and I am afraid I may be pounding away at the keyboard a little too hard.

First, let me quote from one of my favorite references, John L. McKenzie's Dictionary of the Bible. This is from the entry on marriage:

The teaching of Jesus on marriage is limited to His affirmation of its indissolubility. In his affirmation He goes back to the conception of Gn 2:18-25 and applies the divine institution of marriage not only to marriage in general but also to each particular marriage (Mt 19:4-6; Mk 10:6-8). Yet there is in His words a subtle implication that marriage is or at least can be treated as a thing of this world, a thing which can blind a man to vital decisions. Marriage is one of the activities of the heedless generation which perished in the deluge (Lk 17:27); it is an excuse offered by the man who is not ready to accept the call of God (Lk 14:20); it will not exist in the kingdom of God (Mt 22:30; Mk 12:25; Lk 2035 f). One should not conclude from this that Jesus expresses an opposition to marriage, but rather that he wished its value to be seen in proper perspective.

It seems to me the above does not fit well with the idea that marriage is a "spiritual representation of divine relationships." The statement I most strongly agreed with was as follows, "According to Jesus, God created man and woman—male and female—in the image of God, mirroring the unity and diversity within the Godhead." It is the last eight words that I find particularly problematic, because neither Genesis nor Jesus mentions "the unity and diversity within the Godhead." Now, jfm says that Jesus alluding to the Trinity cannot be considered anachronistic, but the point is that Jesus *doesn't* allude to the Trinity.

I certainly can't pretend to come up with an exhaustive list of the uses of marriage as a metaphor in the Old and New Testament, but the examples I can think of all have to do with a relationship between God and man being compared to marriage, not man and wife being compared to the unity and diversity within the Godhead. For example, God is seen as the patient husband of the unfaithful wife (Israel). The Church is seen as the bride of Christ. Jesus is seen as the bridegroom. In Ezekiel 23, we even have God with two brides, Oholah and Oholibah (representing Samaria and Jerusalem). All the ones that I can think of also contain the concept of patriarchy, with the husband being the authority and the wife being the one cared for, put up with, or tended to. I don't see how that represents the unity and diversity within the Godhead.

Posted by: David Nickol | Apr 15, 2013 12:21:48 AM

David, are you Jewish?

Posted by: Nancy | Apr 15, 2013 8:41:27 AM

Thanks, David. Although we disagree, I think our differences may be less than meets the eye. The second point I made in my post was that Jesus distinguished between the legal and spiritual institutions of marriage. The law of Moses allowed for divorce because of the hardness of hearts, even though that was not the divine plan for marriage. There was undoubtedly a pragmatic strain to Jesus' teaching on marriage.

But I still think that the dominant strain was the spiritual. My reference to unity and diversity within divinity wasn't a direct reference to the Trinity. When Jesus alluded to the creation of man as male and female he was referencing Genesis 1, where God creates man and woman in his image, male and female. Maleness and femaleness, represented in marriage, corresponded to the image of God, thus implying unity and diversity within the very nature of God.

Posted by: Dan Crane | Apr 15, 2013 9:10:54 AM

If you are Jewish, David, you would know God's Commandment regarding honoring thy father and mother, and God's Commandment regarding the sin of adultery.

"...a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh..." Is an affirmation of Marriage.

There is unity and diversity in the The Ordered Complementary Communion of Perfect Love that Is The Blessed Trinity.

Posted by: Nancy | Apr 15, 2013 9:46:04 AM

David, are you Jewish?


Suppose I am Jewish and do not believe Jesus is the Messiah and the Second Person of the Trinity. Would that mean I was calling Jesus a lie?

Just this once, actually answer a question that is posed to you instead of evading it. Are all those who don't believe what you believe about Jesus calling Him a lie? Are Jews calling Jesus a lie? Muslims? Buddhists?

Posted by: David Nickol | Apr 15, 2013 9:55:17 AM

"God v. Gay" by Jay Michaelson was a good read.

This subject was also raised on Stephanie Miller's show and this was cited:

“Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matthew 19:11-12)

To expand a bit:

"8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”


First, note how divorce is allowed in a limited area. It takes a bit of finesse to find an agreed upon set of rules on this matter, the gospels phrasing things differently. But, there is a "liberal" divorce rule there and some Puritans, e.g., supported it back in the 17th Century.

Second, I appreciate the "long-term emotional and psychological need" aspect of marriage cited. This respects marriage much more than those who focus on procreation, which confuses people, since many cannot procreate.

Finally, it is unclear what Jesus would rule on the subject, especially since it appears that he was under the belief that the world was going to end soon, so marriage itself was at best the lesser of two evils. Also, modern day understanding of homosexuality was not present. Not that he said much at all about the subject if at all that we know of (though as the book cited notes, he did seem to help a Roman and his "servant" -- a sort of euphemism).

I personally favor those Christian churches that accept and bless same sex marriages as what a rightful application of Jesus' words.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 15, 2013 11:48:34 AM

BTW, many have this simplistic vision of marriage in which they will meet their departed spouse after they died, but as suggested, Jesus (at least in that gospel account) didn't support the idea of a husband and wife enjoying life together like they do here on earth for all of eternity. After all, even then, people had more than one spouse. That was the attempted trick by the questioner.

But, people don't really act like little theologians on this question. They take the Bible as a whole and determine what works best for them.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 15, 2013 11:52:20 AM

David, in order to answer your question, I would like to know the answer to my question, are you calling The Word of God, Jesus The Christ, a lie?

Posted by: Nancy | Apr 15, 2013 12:22:36 PM

The question is nothing more than an invitation to restate one's prior position on the question by pretending one is a speech-writer for Jesus. Strange. Whatever sins I am guilty of, I hope never to go this far.

Regarding the question of how US law should regard same-sex marriage, any answer given to this question is irrelevant; at least as long as we live in a nation of religious liberty secular law must not impose the religious beliefs of even an overwhelming majority on even the tiniest dissenting minority.

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
"Jesus replied: ''Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | Apr 15, 2013 1:09:17 PM

Strange, that you would suggest that by quoting Jesus in His own Words, I have become His speech writer. I assure you, these are not my words, they come from The Mouth of God.

Posted by: Nancy | Apr 15, 2013 1:54:41 PM

"I give you a new Commandment, Love one another as I have Loved you." -Jesus The Christ

Love requires that we desire Salvation for our beloved.

Posted by: Nancy | Apr 15, 2013 1:59:49 PM

Nancy, Nancy...

The question that started this thread asks us "how would Jesus rule on same-sex marriage?" One cannot answer that question without writing words that Jesus never spoke (or their equivalent in another language) as if one were his speech writer.

If one merely quotes Jesus from the Gospels, then one is not really answering that question.

So your quoting of Jesus (and mine too!) does not make you his speech-writer. You just quoted his words after all! As did I. But since Jesus never said anything on-point about same-sex marriage, such quotes don't answer the question either.

The quote you used in your first comment is about different-sex marriage; it is not about same-sex marriage and does not answer the question that started this thread. Neither does what I quoted. On this topic, Jesus was silent.

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | Apr 15, 2013 2:08:43 PM

First, we don't have a taped account of what Jesus said. We have imperfect accounts, at times conflicting, that repeatedly are something like third hand at best, written long after the events in question. So the evangelists or those who chosen them as the word over other options is who we ultimately have to judge.

Second, not believing something doesn't mean a person thinks it is "a lie." They might think it is not the truth. But, if someone wrongly believes Jack died on such and such a day, that person isn't "lying." They are mistaken.

Finally, trying to apply the lessons of Jesus' ministry on the situation does not seem to me problematic. And, secular law isn't the only concern here, since people also want to know how to follow a moral life beyond that.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 15, 2013 2:11:05 PM


I don't think there is anything to be gained by continuing this exchange or, for that matter, reading any future comments by you, let alone responding to them.

Posted by: David Nickol | Apr 15, 2013 2:16:20 PM

Sean, I hope you actually read my post, where I explain that it would be presumptuous of me to answer the question posed by my title and therefore don't.

Posted by: Dan Crane | Apr 15, 2013 2:33:54 PM

Sean, it's your comment that is strange, since, like too many other comments on this post, it evinces absolutely no hint of a good faith effort to engage with the substance of the post, or even of having read it.

Commenters often complain that people that post on various issues at Mirror of Justice don't allow comments. But it makes perfect sense to close down comments when the majority of the comments one receives don't actually add anything other than noise, stupid fights about private squabbles that nobody cares about, and mindless, mulish repetition of the same obscure points over and over again, with ever-increasing distance from the actual post.

I enjoy opening comments because there are some comments, including the substantial minority of comments on this thread, that are thoughtful and evidence an attempt to engage with the original post. My preference as a general matter is to keep them open for this reason. But it is also my preference that commenters who have nothing interesting to say keep quiet, and keep their counsel.

To those that post comments often here: NB--you do not have to comment on every issue that comes along. Keeping your counsel, thinking privately about the issue under discussion, and waiting until you have thought through the matter well is a viable course of action. Please consider adopting it.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Apr 15, 2013 2:57:13 PM