David Gushee: A Conservative Support for Gay Marriage

Recently, respected conservative Christian ethicist David Gushee took on the issue of state-approved same-sex marriage. His op-ed will no doubt cause a lot of controversy.

Gushee, a Christian ethicist at Mercer University, gets into it through his reading  of English philosopher John Locke (cue cheers from Lost fans) and Thomas Jefferson. Christianity, Locke, and gay marriage examines the forces shaping American political thought, neo-conservatism, the American Constitution, and how we as Christians determine what is a “normative posture of the church” on certain issues of public policy.

Gushee’s argument reflects a number of conservatives and libertarians who – strictly on the basis of the government’s responsibility to protect individual rights — agree that same-sex marriages should be allowed by the State. In my opinion, this is a way for conservatives to get on the right side of history on this issue and I’m proud of those who can get there through the proper application of conservative philosophy.

However, Gushee is not ready for church-sanctioned same-sex marriage. “As a matter of personal conviction,” writes Gushee, ” I am not ready to embrace gay marriage. I cannot imagine performing such nuptials as a minister. I cannot imagine my congregation doing so.” However, he reckons to an alternate position when it comes to the responsibilities of the State.

Read an excerpt from Gushee’s article below:

[T]he news last week was that President Obama and his administration have decided not to defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act any longer. This act made it federal law that marriage is between a man and a woman. Cue the predictable howls of outrage at Obama’s decision.  As a matter of personal conviction I am not ready to embrace gay marriage. I cannot imagine performing such nuptials as a minister. I cannot imagine my congregation doing so.

But what should the state do? If we reason from classic Christian sexual ethics forward to the role of the state, most traditional Christians (not all Christians) will come to a position of advocating that government hold onto an exclusively heterosexual definition of marriage.

But if we reason from a Lockean posture of limited government and maximum individual liberty, it is quite hard to find any compelling reason why it is any business of the state to decide whether people of the same sex can marry. Efforts to do so recently, as in California, have collapsed under their own empirical implausibility.

So we have a clash here between a Christendom paradigm and a Lockean one. On the one hand we have part of America’s culturally established but fading Christian majority operating from a paradigm that what God wills (as they understand it) should be civil law. On the other we have a Lockean paradigm that the state should only limit individual liberty for the most compelling reasons having to do with protecting the life, liberty, and limb of others.

In 1791, it was Locke, not Christendom, that prevailed in the shaping of our own constitutional order. This means Lockean premises usually win out, as they eventually will and should on the issue of legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

This says nothing about what Christian ethics ought to be on gay and lesbian issues. It says everything about the limits of governmental power in the lives of Americans. –David Gushee

So kudos to Gushee and others for putting themselves out there, with all their traditionalist understandings of Christian ethics still in place.

Learn more about David Gushee, founder of Evangelicals for Human Rights and principal drafter of the 2006 Evangelical Climate Initiative. His books include Religious Faith, Torture, and our National SoulKingdom Ethics, and Getting Marriage Right..

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