You probably missed it, but last week The New York Times reported that a city in Massachusetts decided, once again, to broaden the legal definition of marriage. During a recent City Council meeting, elected officials in the city of Somerville opted to expand protections previously reserved for married couples to those participating in polyamorous relationships. In other words, adults engaged in intimate relationships with multiple partners are now able to claim the privileges and benefits of marriage with more than one person.
According to the article, citizens of Somerville participating in “consenting relationships with multiple partners” are now able to do things like share insurance plans, make hospital visits, and take advantage of other benefits granted to married couples in Massachusetts. But make no mistake, this is about much more than expanding certain privileges or creating legal loopholes. In choosing to normalize polyamory, the elected officials in Somerville have once again advanced the effort to fundamentally redefine the nature of marriage and the family in the United States.
This is something that Christians should not only lament but oppose.
The vital role of marriage
Marriage is a sacred institution. It was God who instituted the first marriage (Gen. 2:18-25), and marriage as an institution is filled with purpose and meaning. Marriage exists for human flourishing. Man and woman coming together in a covenant not only promise to love, sacrifice, and care for one another’s needs, but together they are able to create and nurture children as a result of their union. It is only through marriage that human beings can rightly fulfill the commission God gave to mankind to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). Not only this, but marriage was always meant to be a symbol, something infused with the deepest meaning, that points beyond itself to an even greater union: the union of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32).
While the spirit of the age says that love comes in all forms, the truth is that sexual libertinism is a false gospel.
Even those outside of the Christian faith are able to recognize the vital role of marriage in society. Healthy marriages yield healthy families. Healthy families yield healthy children. And children represent the future of society. Every society has a critical interest in seeing marriages and families flourish in order to safeguard its future. But ever since the Obergefell ruling in 2015 legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, our society has been locked in a protracted battle over the nature of marriage and human sexuality.
The devastating implications
The long-held consensus that marriage was defined only as the union of one man and one woman for one lifetime is now gone. But the integrity of marriage in the United States began to erode long before the first court granted same-sex couples the right to marry. Arguably, it can be traced back at least as far as the advent of no-fault divorce laws. Even so, leading up to Obergefell defenders of traditional marriage marshalled their best arguments to keep the integrity of the institution intact, but in the end it was not enough.
The implications of the ruling were immediately apparent. If marriage is no longer based on its traditional definition, that is, if marriage is no longer understood to be a conjugal, procreative, permanent union, what reason is there to refrain from further expanding its definition? Last week a city council in Massachusetts answered that question. There isn’t one. At least there doesn’t seem to be.
It is deeply regrettable that our society has forfeited the integrity of the institution of marriage. But it would be even worse to further erode its significance in American life. Our society is ill-prepared to deal with the cavalcade of questions and confusion that would follow the legal sanction of polyamory, especially the innumerable consequences these relationships will bear upon our nation’s children. How are courts to determine what happens to the children as a result of the dissolution of polyamorous “marriage”? And how are children supposed to understand the nurture, permanence, and acceptance of a family if their pool of “parents” are able to expand or contract at random?
For these and many other reasons, Christians must oppose further attempts to expand the definition of marriage. While the spirit of the age says that love comes in all forms, the truth is that sexual libertinism is a false gospel. No kind of sexual experience can truly satisfy if it runs contrary to God’s design. Instead of acquiescing to the currents of the sexual revolution, Christians must stand ready not only to reject the acceptance of polyamory but to continue to model for the world a better way.
Regardless of what happens in the culture, marriage must continue to be held in honor among the people of God (Heb. 13:4), because marriage itself is meant to point toward the gospel. Christians must continue to recognize marriage as a sacred institution, to embody the love, sacrifice, and commitment that defines it, and to demonstrate that the roles of mothers and fathers in the lives of their children are not fungible.
Seeking to legally sanction polyamory by calling it marriage is a tragic error. And destroying marriage in American culture will have devastating consequences. But the good news is, Christians are not called to take their cues from the culture but from the Scriptures. And the biblical witness about marriage is unchanged.