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

By Mark D. Jordan; Meghan T. Sweeney et al. | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

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?1

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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