In second part of his series about same-sex marriage, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary seeks to make two points.
The first is a rather bold assertion that only a small minority of Christians see room within Scripture to allow for a cultural recognition of same-sex unions. The second is that only a small portion of the world’s nations offer such recognition. He presents each as evidence of the other.
Dr. Mohler relies on a premise that is troublesome to those who recall the history of Christian faith. He implies that majority interpretation equals correct interpretation. This approach to faith is not one that I would like to apply to the history of Christianity or theological positions ranging from indulgences, papal infallability, slavery, the divine right to rule, or the civil routing of heresy, all of which held strong support within Christendom at various points.
But, perhaps more difficult for Dr. Mohler’s argument, is that it is based on false assumptions.
Same-sex marriage is, for now, legal in three of fifty states in the United States. Beyond our borders, it is legal in the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, South Africa, Canada and Norway. This represents a very small percentage of the world’s population. Same-sex marriage is, by any measure, the exception rather than the rule. Even when legalized civil unions and domestic partnerships are thrown into the mix, the countries that consider same-sex unions and heterosexual marriages to be equal before the law represent a small percentage of the world’s nations.
Mohler’s discussion is centered around Christianity and cultural effect.
And, considering such, we should only apply his reasoning to Christian nations and those strongly impacted by Christian thought. Surely, the cultural decisions of Quatar or Thailand have no reflection on whether Christianity as a whole accepts or rejects same-sex unions.
So then, the question is whether Christian nations have accepted or rejected same sex couple recognition. And in that question, Mohler is overly optimistic, both currently and with all reasonable projections.
Eliminating nations in which Christianity is not the dominant cultural force – Asia, North Africa, the middle east – we have the following geographic areas to consider (generally, though with some exceptions): Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, and the Americas.
In Europe, nearly all of the nations in Western Europe offer either marriage or other recognition of same-sex partners. Ireland and Austria are in the process, and only Italy is a hold-out. Eastern Europe and the Baltic States are less gay-friendly, but they are also significantly less influential in world affairs or in the establishment of theological trends. There may well be a seminary in Moldova that will direct Christian thought for the next millenium, but I rather doubt it.
Sub-Saharan Africa is indeed hostile to its gay citizens. With one notable exception. South Africa is by far the dominating influence in Southern Africa. Its economic productivity towers overs its far poorer neighbors and its neighbors are impacted by its weath and culture. And in South Africa, marriage is recognized between same-sex couples.
Australia is in the process of instating a national registry to recognize same-sex couples. New Zealand has such a registry in place.
South America is a predominantly Catholic continent. Yet it is surprisingly becoming a welcoming place for same-sex couples. The nations of Ecuador and Uruguay both offer civil unions recognition, as do states in Argentina and Brazil. If trends continue, it is likely that much of South America will provide civil protections to same-sex couples within the next decade.
North America is comprised of three large nations, several small Carribean island nations, and a sting of nations connecting the large North American landmass with South America. And it is this continent that draws much of Mohler’s attention – and ours as well. Canada recognizes marriage. One of the states in Mexico offers civil unions, as does Mexico City. In the United States, three States offer marriage and seven others provide civil unions, domestic partnerships, or reciprocal benefits. And additional three recognize out-of-state marriages. Currently 92 million Americans, or 30%, live in a state in which they can obtain recognition for their same-sex relationships.
So if we look collectively at Christendom, we do not see a picture of rejection of same-sex couples. We see, instead, that the more affluent and industrialized a Christian nation becomes, the more likely it is to value its gay citizens. We see trends indicating that soon most of Europe, Australia, and the Americas will offer some form of recognition to same-sex couples. One might even argue that the more “Christian” a nation is (as opposed to Muslim or other religions), the more accomodating it is to gay couples.
Dr. Mohler may wish to warn the nation that recognition of gay citizens places it among a minority in the World. But he fails to mention that others in that minority are Canada, Great Britain, Australia, France and Spain while his “vast majority” of nations includes those that are not Christian – such as Iran, China, and Libya – or are, shall we say, less influential nations such as Latvia, Jamaica, and Nigeria.
If the States continue to refuse recognition of same-sex couples, they will soon be nearly alone among their close friends to do so.