Authorizing Marriage? Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions

Authorizing Marriage? Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions

Authorizing Marriage? Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions

Authorizing Marriage? Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions


The opponents of legal recognition for same-sex marriage frequently appeal to a "Judeo-Christian" tradition. But does it make any sense to speak of that tradition as a single teaching on marriage? Are there elements in Jewish and Christian traditions that actually authorize religious and civil recognition of same-sex couples? And are contemporary heterosexual marriages well supported by those traditions?

As evidenced by the ten provocative essays assembled and edited by Mark D. Jordan, the answers are not as simple as many would believe. The scholars of Judaism and Christianity gathered here explore the issue through a wide range of biblical, historical, liturgical, and theological evidence. From David's love for Jonathan through the singleness of Jesus and Paul to the all-male heaven of John's Apocalypse, the collection addresses pertinent passages in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament with scholarly precision. It reconsiders whether there are biblical precedents for blessing same-sex unions in Jewish and Christian liturgies.

The book concludes by analyzing typical religious arguments against such unions and provides a comprehensive response to claims that the Judeo-Christian tradition prohibits same-sex unions from receiving religious recognition. The essays, most of which are in print here for the first time, are by Saul M. Olyan, Mary Ann Tolbert, Daniel Boyarin, Laurence Paul Hemming, Steven Greenberg, Kathryn Tanner, Susan Frank Parsons, Eugene F. Rogers, Jr., and Mark D. Jordan.


Mark D. Jordan

American Political debates over same-sex unions are punctuated by appeals to a “Judeo-Christian tradition of marriage.” When the appeals are rejected, it is often with an argument about the separation of church and state—as if the only error in them were the application of religious reasoning to the legislation of a pluralistic democracy. The appeals ought to be much more generally troubling, because they reduce complex Jewish and Christian traditions to mere slogans. The slogans presuppose any number of confusions and reductions. They conflate Jewish with Christian, of course, even though the two groups of religious teachings and practices, diverse in themselves, typically differ in their assumptions about marriage or their prescriptions for it. (To see the mistake in claiming that the “Judeo-Christian tradition” has always prohibited marriage except between one man and one woman, it is enough to read the Book of Genesis.) The appeals further presume that “marriage” was essentially the same over the disparate cultures and several millennia traversed by the two religious traditions. They make it seem, finally, if only in their self-assurance, that all Jewish or Christian reasoning about family or sanctifying sexual desire must come down against same-sex unions. The essays in this volume show that religious traditions are more complicated—and more provocative.

For this volume, the authors were asked to consider some hard questions: Do the canonical scriptures of Judaism and Christianity offer any justification for blessing same-sex unions, whether as marriages or as some other form of erotic union? Could such justification be found in traditions of scriptural interpretation, religious law, or liturgical practice? If not, can contemporary exegesis or theological critique legitimately construct justifications for offering those blessings to couples of the same sex?

Their responses to these questions took different forms. The arrangement of essays here represents only one way of grouping them. The first three papers are concerned with biblical interpretation. Saul M. Olyan reviews passages from the Hebrew Bible that often figure in debates over same-sex desire, but he is most interested by a phrase in David's famous lament over Jonathan that suggests a homoerotic and possibly sexual relationship between them. Dale B. Martin considers a larger number of passages throughout the New Testament that make a strong case against marriage of any kind. Mary Ann Tolbert concurs with Martin, adding . . .

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