Is Same-Sex Marriage Appropriate? 

The Rev. Canon Dr. Brett Cane


The following material has been developed as a contribution to the debate over the institution of same-sex marriage and contains some material adapted from an earlier pamphlet I wrote. Although the Anglican Church of Canada has not formally sanctioned dioceses to proceed with such blessings, many dioceses have done so although most do not consider their blessings "marriage" even in the light of the fact that civil same-sex marriage was established in Canada in 2005. 

At the outset, I want to emphasise, as I have done in previous material I have written on the subject, the importance of the following when approaching this emotive and sensitive issue:
1. "Speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) - holding both together, avoiding the extremes of legalism and sentimentality.
2. How you say something is as important as what you say and
3. Love and acceptance of someone does not require agreement with the persons' views or lifestyle. 

General Comments

Statistics: I feel it is helpful to know the statistics we are dealing with when we discuss this issue. Now, statistics represent real people, and if there are issues of justice involved, then it doesn't matter how small a particular group may be if there is discrimination - it needs to be addressed. However, it does help us to see the relative sizes of groups we are talking about when we weigh in the balance what negative effects happen in the wider society by adopting same-sex marriage. (I include some UK figures for comparison.)
• Canada (2011 ) (civil same-sex marriage was established in 2005) - 21,015 same-sex marriages are .3 % of all marriages plus 43,560 were living common-law for 0.8% of all families (6,300,000 heterosexual marriages).
• UK (2011 ) has similar figures - 53,000 civil partnerships =.5% of all marriages and unions plus 69,000 same-sex couples not in civil partnerships for 1.1% of all families (10,600,000 heterosexual marriages). 

Arguments that have been made: I am not going to restate various cultural, legal, and common-sense arguments against the establishment of same-sex unions as marriage but briefly mention some sources where they can be found. It is worthwhile noting that these arguments have come from the perspective of those both against and in favour of the blessing of same-sex unions:

By those with a traditional perspective: In Canada, a helpful booklet was produced by Augustine College in Ottawa, "22 Mistakes about Marriage," and in the UK, the Coalition for Marriage has outlined common-sense and legal arguments that would be held by people of many faiths or no faith that see this step as unhelpful or wrong or dangerous. 

I am not necessarily in agreement or disagreement with all that is in this material, as I have no personal expertise in some of the concerns raised. Some of the legal arguments seem extreme to me, but we have had civil magistrates here in Canada who have lost their jobs because they would not officiate at a same-sex marriage.

By those with a non-traditional perspective: in Canada, even those who support the blessing of committed same-sex unions are reticent to support same-sex marriage in Church for a variety of reasons, the chief one being that marriage is, by definition, something reserved for opposite gender persons. 
One example is my own home diocese, of Rupert's Land, which in January of 2013 came out with a Protocol for the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions. Even though the blessing is for "any duly solemnized and civilly registered union of a same-sex couple" which in Canada's case is a civil same-sex marriage, great care has been taken to differentiate what the church is doing from marriage. There is specifically not to be:

1. An exchange of legal consents. 
2. Opportunity for public legal or canonical objections. 
3. A declaration of union. 
4. A rite of civil marriage. 
(#1 – 4 are to be omitted because they will have been part of the ceremony of solemnizing and registering the union civilly.)
5. Signing of a parish marriage register.
6. A nuptial (or wedding) blessing (from either of the Anglican Church of Canada's prayer books) or any blessings found in other marriage liturgies. 

To me, this protocol gives evidence, as in other places I have seen, that even Christians of a more "inclusivist" persuasion are reluctant to accept the institution of same-sex marriage - for reasons I hope to show below.

Another example of reticence to move to a full embracing and institution of same-sex marriage was the findings of a committee (which was composed of four people with a spectrum of positions on the same sex issue) established by the Canadian Anglican General Synod (2007) to write a report arguing for the legitimacy of same-sex marriage within the church. Three of the four authors, reporting back, said that "if this is the strongest case we can come up with "in favour of" same-sex marriage, it is unpersuasive." They were asked to provide a theological rationale for same-sex marriage, which they did, but were not asked whether this rationale were adequate or conclusive! In other words, this was the best they could do and three of them disagreed with their own conclusions! I am very grateful to a member of that task force, Dean Iain Luke of the Diocese of Athabasca, for his comments on the process and concerns that he feels were not adequately addressed in the report. I have taken his three concerns as a framework for my own comments and expanded on them. 

Outline: I have structured my comments on why same-sex marriage in Church is not appropriate as follows:
• Marriage as a Fact of Nature - the natural argument
• Marriage as an Institution of Creation - the legal argument 
• Marriage as a Blessing from God - the biblical argument
Even though I am calling the last point, "The Biblical Argument", I am going to be using the Bible throughout what follows as my standpoint because my context is that of the Christian Church and this is where I have some expertise more than in natural ethics and morality but I believe arguments from a secular perspective can be made for the first two points as shown by some of the material I have referred to. I will conclude with a question I have as to why there is pressures to recognize same-sex unions as marriage. 

Marriage as a Fact of Nature

The first concern is over "the issues of gender complementarity and procreation, and their role in our theological anthropology." In other words, are maleness and femaleness essential to marriage along with procreation? The role of children and marriage is an important one, but a little more complicated as there can be childless heterosexual marriages and same-sex unions with children. I have one article I can refer you to if you would like to look at this further. What I do want to do is look at the essential nature of marriage as the union of two complementary sexual opposites and to do so, I will use the Bible, although, as I have said, I believe there are natural arguments. 

A lot of Christians, when they approach the issues of same-sex marriage and the Bible, do so by looking at Bible passages related to homosexuality. I feel it is better to begin by looking at those which give the Bible’s view on sexuality in general. If you ask someone what a forest looks like and they go up to a tree and examine a twig, they could say, “A forest consists of thin stems, horizontal to the ground.” You would come away with a misunderstanding of trees and forests because you chose to examine an aspect in isolation. It is exactly the same with regards to homosexuality. Until you are able to stand back and see the overall Biblical perspective on God’s gift of sexuality, you will not be able to place individual elements or passages in the right context. This is what has happened when Christians have looked at same-gender unions from the Biblical perspective - they have focussed on the six passages that specifically mention same-gender relationships 

Therefore we begin at the beginning – Genesis 1 and 2. Here we are given two different perspectives of creation, probably stemming from different sources, but carefully arranged side by side under the inspiration of God. Genesis 1 looks at creation at the cosmic level, Genesis 2 at the human level. Both speak about sexuality and its purposes. In Genesis 1:27-28, it says, 
God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” 

Here, we see that humanity’s separate genders are a reflection of God’s image. Animals share this differentiation, but human sexuality appears here to be connected with or flow from, their special status of being made in God’s image. This implies that the union of the two genders gives the fuller reflection of God’s image. That is not saying that an individual man or woman is of any less value, but that when male and female come together in marriage or community, together they reflect the “fullness” of God more completely.

This is affirmed in the next chapter when a human as an individual is alone and it is not good: 
The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." 
Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air…But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 
The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man." For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh (Genesis 2:18-24).

It is neither amongst the animals nor another being of like gender that God creates as a partner, but one which complements the other – both anatomically and emotionally. Here, the emphasis is not on procreation, as in chapter 1 (this is only mentioned later in the same story in 3:16), but on "the relational (including physical/sexual) complementarity of male and female, that is, on the companionship and support provided by heterosexual marriage." 

Robert Gagnon, in his book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, says that "Marriage between a man and a woman reunites (the) representatives of the two genders into ‘one flesh’ and is not simply the union of two individuals. The missing part of man is found in woman and vice-versa.” The sexual union of man and woman in marriage, of two complementary beings, makes possible a single, composite human being restoring humanity's original wholeness. This union is so crucial that “the marital bond between man and woman takes precedence even over the bond with the parents that physically produced them." “Sexual intercourse or marriage between members of the same sex does not restore the disunion because it does not reconnect complementary beings." 

As the Bible unfolds, not a single hero of the faith engages in homosexual conduct; every regulation affirming the sexual bond is that of a man and a woman without exception; all Old Testament laws and proverbs and New Testament passages regulating and establishing proper boundaries for relationships are for heterosexual ones, none for homosexual. To this we add the heterosexual imagery in both Testaments of our relationship to God: God and Israel as wife; Christ and the Church as bride. 

This complementariness of male and female, emotionally, anatomically, sexually, and procreatively, is the setting for sexuality throughout the Bible, and is the background for the critiques of same-sex unions as contrary to nature that we find in both Testaments and Jewish thought. To go further and call a same-sex union a "marriage" goes contrary to this understanding of the nature of marriage. 

Marriage as an Institution of Creation 

A second concern is "The recognition that the institution of marriage is pre-ecclesial as well as pre-civil, raising questions about anyone's authority to change its form; while law and custom have been used to limit or exclude certain forms (such as polygamy), it is a different matter to create a new form altogether." 

Same-sex partnerships have existed in many societies and some have argued that same-sex marriage rites existed in the church in earlier times but these claims have been disputed. However, in the Bible, the institution of heterosexual marriage is without parallel and goes back to the very beginning - long before Moses and the law. Thus it is shown as a rite of creation, not something humans invented or devised in law or religion. One could argue that same-sex marriage is a human innovation to accommodate a deviation from the natural order and thus it would be out of order (no matter what your view of the rightness or wrongness of homosexual unions) to call it marriage. 

Marriage as a Blessing from God

We now move on to the concept of "blessing" which is integral to the marriage ceremony in church. A Christian marriage ceremony is seen as a blessing from God upon the union. In fact, the church doesn't marry you at all - you marry each other and the church recognizes it and gives God's blessing - which is why the service in the BCP is called the "Solemnization of Marriage." In a registry office, there is no blessing, but the state recognizes and legitimizes the union through the ceremony. 

We need to first address what we mean when we speak of "blessing" because there is much confusion here. People say, "Well we bless warships and foxhunts (or used to) so why not same-sex unions and call them marriages?" In the Bible, blessing has two main thrusts (I wish to thank Ephraim Radner, professor at Wycliffe College, Toronto, as the source of my comments which follow): 

1. First, we bless God for who he is or what he has given us as in "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name" (Psalm 103:1) and when saying a "blessing" over food - which is really blessing God for what he has provided. Blessing in this sense is either praise or thankfulness to God. 

2. Secondly, and this is the main thrust of blessing in the Bible, God blesses us (or other living things in nature) as in Genesis 1 (28) "God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'" Blessing in this sense is for fulfilment and achievement of God's design or will - here for procreation and purpose or mission. We see this confirmed when God gives Moses the blessing the priests are to speak over the people of Israel, "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace" (Numbers 6:24-26), and then adds, "So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them" (Numbers 6:27). Now, "Carrying the 'name' of God has to do with assuming the life of God, God's will, God's purpose, God's character." So when humans bless people, they are first, asking the Lord to bless them, and second, "praying for God's will to be gratefully assumed" by the recipient of the blessing. 

Radner, points out that it is not always possible to distinguish clearly between blessing as giving thanks and blessing as asking for God's purposes to be carried out because "the second depends on the reality of the first...the things we 'bless' are capable of receiving it in part because they are already capable of blessing God as we do" which is why the Psalmist can cry out, "Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!" (Psalm 103:22). Radner goes on to say, "There is a sense, then, that we bless what is already blessed by God" - and that which is capable of blessing God in return - from rocks and trees to birds and beasts, children and infants - everything which is part of God's creative purpose. 

This is where the difficulty with same-sex unions comes in. As we have seen, the sexual union that is blessed by God in the Bible is between members of the opposite gender, not the same. In fact, wherever same-gender sexual activity is mentioned, it is forbidden. So how can we bless in marriage what God has not? But what about the good things many of us can see in some of the same-sex unions we know of - lifelong partnerships that show genuine devotion and faithfulness and are a blessing to others? Radner points out that there are many situations in life that are, by nature, not consistent with God's design and will, such as warfare, non-Christian religions, lotteries, etc., but in which much can be found that is good and is commendable. We can bless the good of the part but not the whole. Thus, same-sex unions, while having some aspects capable of blessing, cannot be blessed by God as a whole and thus cannot be described as marriage. 

Final Question

My final point is that I have a question: Why the push for same-sex marriage in church? The issues of justice and equality have already been met through the provision of civil marriage status in Canada. Is it a strong priority of the gay community? (In the UK only a minority of the gay community (39%) believes it should be a priority. ) So why all the fuss when there are so many other major issues affecting far greater numbers of people (e.g. poverty)? I have three suggestions that may or may not be accurate but that I wish to offer to bring a wider perspective to the debate. 

Guilt: Growing-up (especially amongst boys), there is a natural aversion to same-gender attraction and relationships that comes from somewhere. Is it just culturally conditioned? Is it an innate distaste that is designed to lead us away from practice that is physically, psychologically and spiritually detrimental to our well-being? Whatever the origin, such feelings get easily translated into bigotry and homophobia. Is the push a reaction to the guilt arising out of that on the part of the wider Church? 

Sentimentality: I mentioned at the beginning that people have misconstrued what it means to be loving over this issue - have people forgotten to hold together truth and love and drifted into sentimentality (which is love without truth)? 

Legitimation: If, as I have explained, same-sex activity is contrary to nature, is there a desire on the part of those involved in same-sex partnerships to legitimate, by redefining marriage within the Church, such behaviour as normal to compensate for an underlying guilt and dis-ease?

Whatever the motivation, I do not feel that the push to same-sex marriage within the Church is appropriate in view of the traditional understanding of Scripture that same-sex marriage is against nature, an institution of creation and not subject to the blessing of God as marriage.

Brett Cane, "The Bible and Homosexuality" available at
e.g. Brett Cane, "Are Homosexuals Welcome in the Church?" found on
Cane, "The Bible and Homosexuality", pg. 12.
Bruce Campion-Smith, "2011 Census: Canada sees a jump in same-sex marriages"; Published September 19, 2012; found on
2011 census for England and Wales found on,
Edward Tingley, Augustine College, Ottawa, found on
"Ten Common-Sense reasons why it is wrong to redefine marriage" and "Ten Legal arguments as to why it is wrong to redefine marriage" (written by Aidan O’Neill, a leading UK civil rights lawyer) both found on
Diocese of Rupert's Land, The Protocol for the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions, issued January 2013.
The Rothesay Report (2010), found on
Personal correspondence (January 2013), with The Ver. Rev. Iain Luke, one member of the compiling task force.
Iain Luke, ibid.
"22 Mistakes about Marriage," Augustine College, Toronto, found on
Genesis 19:1-11; Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:9–10
Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice; Texts and Hermeneutics. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001), pg. 61.
Ibid, pg. 194.
Ibid., pg. 61.
Ibid., pg. 194.
Some have seen homosexual overtones in the relationship between David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel 18:1-4; however, the actions described can be readily understood in light of the political conventions of the day, not the sexual. No words with sexual overtones (e.g. “lie” or “know”) are used and David’s unmistakable heterosexual activities (and sin) are clearly spoken of in the rest of Scripture. See Gagnon, ibid., pgs. 146-154.
E.g. Isaiah 62:5, Revelation 21:2. Further affirmation of the universal biblical negation of homosexual practice is seen in the fact that it is found in all the literary strands people have detected in the first six books of the Bible: J, P, and the Holiness Code, along with the Deuteronomic prohibitions against cult prostitution and cross dressing (Deuteronomy 23:17-18; 22:5).
Gagnon sees direct or indirect references to homosexual practice in the following texts: Texts: Genesis 9:20-27; 19:4-11; Judges 19:22-25; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Ezekiel. 16:50 (possibly too 18:12 and 33:26); Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10; probably also Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:7. To these can be added references to homosexual cult prostitution: Deuteronomy 23;17-18; 1 Kings 14:24; 15;12; 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7; Job 36:14; Revelation 21:8; 22:15. Ibid., pg. 432.
Iain Luke, ibid.
e.g. "A History of Gay Marriage" (Feb. 4, 2011), found on
John Boswell, The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe. (New York: Villard, 1994) 
e.g. " The Life of St. Theodore of Sykeon (7th Century)" found on but see a rebuttal in favour of Boswell, " Reviewing Boswell", by Paul Halsall, December 17 1995, found on See Wikipedia article on John Boswell,
Dean Iain Luke makes a point about blessings from an ecclesial perspective - in this matter of major doctrinal divergence how can any one church begin to bless what the wider church is divided about? Luke, ibid..
I want to acknowledge my debt to Ephraim Radner for his most helpful article, "Blessing: A Scriptural and Theological Reflection," in Pro Ecclesia, Vol. XIX, Vol. 1, Winter 2010
Radner, pg. 15.
Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:9–10
Ibid., pgs. 26-27.
39 per cent of respondents identifying as gay/lesbian/bisexual or other agreed with the statement “I think redefining marriage is a priority for gay people”. 27 per cent disagreed, 34 per cent said “don’t know.” See Civil Partnerships Survey, ComRes, 27 April - 20 May 2012, Table 3, page 12.

One of the best books on the subject of same-sex relationships:
Mario Bergner: Setting Love in Order: Hope and healing for the Homosexual, 1995

Other helpful reading:
Andy Comisky: Pursuing Sexual Wholeness, 1989
Joe Dallas: Desires in Conflict: Answering the Struggle for Sexual Identity, 1991
Leanne Payne: The Broken Image: Restoring Personal Wholeness Through Healing Prayer, 1981
Leanne Payne, Crisis in Masculinity, 1985
Jeffrey Satinover: Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, 1996

Further copies of this booklet are available from:
The Rev. Canon Dr. Brett Cane,
34-351 Westwood Drive,
Winnipeg, MB R3K 1G4 Canada
(204) 888-546;
January, 2013