The following piece by Fr. John Whiteford is a response to David J. Dunn’s 2011 article “Civil Unions by Another Name: An Eastern Orthodox Defense of Gay Marriage,” which has been making the rounds on social media in the wake of the recent discussions by the United States Supreme Court concerning same-sex marriage. Fr. John has written extensively on the topic of same-sex marriage.
David J. Dunn’s article has been out for some time, and since I have engaged him on this issue on “Ancient Faith Today” as well as on my blog, I would not have bothered to write a specific rebuttal of it at this point, except that it seems that every time gay marriage resurfaces in the news, it again makes the rounds on Facebook and Twitter, and so a more direct, written response to this particular article is necessary.
Let’s begin with a consideration of the title of this article: “Civil Unions by Another Name: An Eastern Orthodox Defense of Gay Marriage.” Is it in fact an Orthodox defense of gay marriage? Well, not according to the disclaimer at the end of the article: “Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post belong solely to the author and are not representative of the Orthodox Church.” Unfortunately, you have to read this at the end of the article, while the title suggests that at the very least this is an acceptable position that is within the mainstream of Orthodox thought. So in what sense is it an Orthodox defense of gay marriage? David J. Dunn is certainly a member of the Orthodox Church, but his position is contrary to that of his own bishop, contrary to the stated position of the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in North America, and contrary to the statement of every Orthodox Synod that has addressed this question.
David Dunn is long on assertion, but very short on citing anything other than his own opinion to substantiate what he claims. He asserts that those who oppose gay marriage are “misguided at best and sinful at worst.” He says that they misunderstand “the meaning of “holy matrimony,” effectively denying Christ by vesting the state with divine authority.” He says that they “seem to be worshiping America, or at least a certain idea of it…”; that they are vesting “the state with the power to sanctify,” and “effectively making the state their god.” So he would have us believe that it is completely Christian to champion gay marriage, force a fundamental rewriting of American Family Law on the American people, and open the doors to homosexual propaganda in our schools; but unchristian, sinful, and idolatrous to oppose it. But as for why we should accept his assessment, he provides us with nothing.
Those who oppose gay marriage are not vesting the state with the power to sanctify, they are asking the state to conform their laws with “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” as the Declaration of Independence put it. Marriage was established by God at creation. A state can only recognize the Truth of what God has established, and make laws that recognize and conform to it, or else it can make laws that suppress the Truth of what God has established, and are contrary to God’s established order. And there is a reason why the State has an interest in real marriage, and that is because heterosexual relationships are where babies come from, and babies are best raised in two parent homes, in which both parents recognize their moral and legal responsibilities to each other and to their children, and children in turn recognize their moral and legal responsibilities towards their parents. And so a just state will protect this God-ordained institution by, for example, having inheritance rights for spouses and children when a parent dies, will enforce the responsibilities that parents have towards each other and their children, and will try to support rather than undermine the stability of that home. Gay relationships do not produce children, and so have no such issues that should be of concern to the state.
And is gay marriage in fact contrary to nature? Aside from the fact that the human body was obviously not designed with sodomy in mind, St. Paul described homosexual sex in precisely those terms: “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due” (Romans 1:26-27). The Orthodox Church agrees with St. Paul, and so it is impossible for there to be an “Orthodox” defense of that which Scripture clearly declares to be inherently sinful in both the Old and New Testaments.
Furthermore, gay relationships are not at all analogous to heterosexual marriage. In the relationship between a husband and a wife, as God designed it, you have the complimentary qualities of male and female balancing each other, and it is only from such a relationship that human life is produced. On the other hand, homosexual men are notoriously promiscuous,  and homosexual women tend to be less promiscuous, but also to have much shorter lived relationships… and both tend to have much higher instances of suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, and (where they are allowed to marry) divorce. This is also true in Western Europe, where homosexuality is far more accepted. The reason for this is because you do not have the attributes of a man balanced by those of a woman, and vice-versa, but instead have imbalances magnified by the fact that both partners are of the same sex.
Dunn furthermore asserts that “Strictly speaking, our theology does not recognize the legitimacy of such marriages [non-sacramental marriages].” This is complete nonsense. Marriage was blessed by God at creation, and so any lawful marriage is recognized by the Church—and by “lawful,” we mean in accordance with God’s law. Now when the law of God is brought up, we inevitably hear mention of the ban on shrimp in the kosher laws of the Old Testament. However, while God never pronounced judgment on the heathen because they violated the Old Testament ceremonial law, and ate shrimp; He did pronounce judgment on the heathen for violating the moral law of God that even they should have been aware of – which would include proscriptions against such things as the shedding of innocent blood, sexual immorality (specifically including homosexuality), abusing the poor and orphans, etc. (e.g., Leviticus 18:1-30 and Joel 3:19). Likewise, while the Orthodox Church has never tried to use the power of the state to enforce such things as fasting during Great Lent, it has always encouraged the state to use its power to encourage morality and discourage immorality, and to apply those laws even to unbelievers or non-Christians that might reside in such a state.
Furthermore, the canons of the Church recognize lawful marriages outside the Church. Canon 72 of the 6th Ecumenical Council, after stating that it is not lawful for a Christian to marry outside the Church, specifically recognizes “lawful marriages” that took place prior to a person entering into the Church:
But in case persons who happen to be still in the state of unbelief (i.e., infidels) and to be not yet admitted to the fold of the Orthodox have joined themselves to each other by lawful marriage, then… let them not be separated, in accordance with the divine Apostle: “For the infidel husband is sanctified by the wife, and the infidel wife by the husband” (I Cor. 7:14).
The difference between a marriage that is blessed by the sacrament of marriage, and a lawful marriage that occurs outside of the Church is not that one is a real marriage, and one is not. The difference is that a sacramental marriage has the blessing and grace of the Church, and so it can become a path to salvation. However, all lawful marriages are blessed by God at creation, and in all such cases, the two become one flesh, and are made to be such by God, according to the words of Christ Himself in the Gospel (Matthew 19:4-6; c.f. Genesis 2:24).
Dunn concludes his article by declaring:
Calling upon the state to protect our sacrament is an act of extreme unfaithfulness. Only God can make a marriage holy. Christians can continue to fight about what kinds of marriages “count” as sacred, but we have also learned to agree to disagree about such things. In polite company, and for the sake of keeping peace with each other (because mutual apostasies take so much effort), we can do with marriage what we do with our disagreements about eucharist and baptism: keep our mouths shut and let God sort it out in the end.
St. John the Baptist certainly seemed to think that believers had an obligation to speak out when people wished to live in an unlawful marriage. The Gospels tell us that he was imprisoned by Herod, because Herod had married his brother Phillip’s wife, and St. John publicly declared “It is not lawful for you to have her” (Matthew 14:4). Herod, being the King, was the civil law. He could do whatever he wanted according to secular law. But it was not lawful according to God’s law, and St. John didn’t think it was “extremely unfaithful,” “unloving,” “unchristian,” “sinful,” or “idolatrous” for believers to speak out and oppose those things which were contrary to that law. And there is nothing in either the Gospels or the Tradition of the Church to lead us to believe that the Church disapproved of his stance against Herod’s adultery, or that the Church thought he should have kept his “mouth shut” and just “let God sort it out in the end.” Furthermore, we have had nearly 2,000 years of Orthodox Church history since then, and the Church has always been in favor of having civil laws that promoted morality in society, and discouraged immorality.
 For example, an Australian Study showed that of homosexuals under the age of 50, 26.6% had more than 10 sexual partners in just the previous 6 months; 44.9% had between 2 and 10, and only 28.5% had limited themselves to only 1. Throughout their lifetime to date, only 2.9% of male homosexuals had limited themselves to only one sexual partner. (Paul Van de Ven, et al. “A comparative Demographic and Sexual Profile of Older Homosexually Active Men.” Journal of Sex Research 34 (1997) 349-60 (and personal correspondence between Dr. Robert Gagnon and the authors of the Study. Quoted in Robert Gagnon,“The Bible and Homosexual Practice,” Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001, p. 455.
 See Robert Gagnon,“The Bible and Homosexual Practice,” Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001, p. 471-480.
 According to a 2004 Swedish study, gay men are 1.5 times more likely to get divorced that straight couples, and lesbians are 3 times more likely to get divorced.
 See for example, Novel 141 of St. Justinian the Great, which restated the long standing laws against homosexuality, and cited a desire to avoid God’s wrath as the primary motivation behind the law. Annotated Justinian Code, By Fred H. Blume, Timothy Kearley, Ed., Second Edition, University of Wyoming, 4/10/2013.
For more information on this:
- You can listen to a dialogue that David Dunn and I had on “Ancient Faith Today.”
- You can read my blog posts on this subject.
- And you can read Fr. Lawrence Farley’s excellent rebuttal of this article.
Editor’s note: Our editor-in-chief Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick has also written a couple of pieces on the topic of same-sex marriage:
- “Aren’t You Supposed to Hate Me?”: Calvinism and the Politics of the Damned
- Church History and Same-Sex Marriage
The Rev. Fr. John Whiteford is pastor of St. Jonah Orthodox Church in Spring, Texas. He is the author of Sola Scriptura: An Orthodox Analysis of the Cornerstone of Reformation Theology (Conciliar Press). His sermons are available as an Ancient Faith Radio podcast, From the Amvon.