Many people treat marriage as a “sacrament”, even if they don’t call it by the name used by the Catholic side of the Christian fence. One of the arguments that is often used against same-sex marriage is that “traditional marriage” was “instituted by God” in the Old Testament book of Genesis. They will usually cite Genesis 1 and 2, which describes the creation of human beings and how progeny was determined to passed on: “The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man… For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:22-24) Although this passage does not mention “marriage” specifically, it does talk about the union (“joined”) that is such as to be able to support another entity (“become one flesh”). Although I might agree that these verses describe the start of the marriage relationship, what we “pull out” and what we “read in” to the description can vary. Many people, for instance, see this as an “exclusive” text; it’s the only way to do marriage. Even though that’s not what it says. I prefer to see it as an “inclusive” text; it illustrates one of the ways to do marriage. As long as the essential elements are maintained, we’re good. Where those essential elements lie: that’s the debate.
My understanding of marriage is that it does not need to produce children; becoming “one flesh” is certainly sexual, but does not necessarily produce a child. Marriage is one of the most common ways to come together with other members of society and to pass something of the self for future generations. Such a union might produce children; it might be such that adoption works. It might also encourage the members of the union so that, even if childless, they are able to pass some of themselves through others’ children. Although I, for instance, have never had children, I’ve worked with the younger generation much of my life and seen my effect on them. I do not believe that children are essential for marriage, nor that marriage is essential to be human. But I do believe that part of being human is to leave an imprint on the next generation, and thus on eternity.
That is what marriage is, to me. There’s no gender specificity in my interpretation. I still consider it literal: I’ve been married twice and in both my marriages I’ve been joined to a “helper” (Genesis 2:18 & 20) who has improved my quality of life to where we, as a pair, could give back to the community. And I’ve been a helper, back. It may not be “traditional”, but it is quite “Biblical”. I found my first marriage no more “valid” than my second. Both my wife Kim and my husband Tim (yes, I have rhyming spouses) have been very much compliments to my self: sometimes they drove (drive) me crazy, but I respect them and need them in spite of that. Although Tim and I moved back to Canada in order to get married and to have all of the legal benefits of that union (which we could not do in Arkansas), in any kind of spiritual sense our union is beyond what either state or church approves.
But many of my Christian brethren would disagree, at some level to my interpretation. Having learned hermeneutics at Moody Bible Institute, I know that even though my principles of Bible interpretation work, they’re a bit too “loose” for some people. For the most part that’s fine; it doesn’t come up in daily interaction. Those who believe in a 7-day Creation can continue to do so; the fact that the study of evolution is what lead to modern genetics (and anything that has come from genetics) does not impact them directly. They are not scientists; they can enjoy the fruits of others’ labour (the drugs, vaccines, hormones and new breeds that have stemmed from an application of our understanding of genetics) while disagreeing with the theories that produced them. Not so with marriage. The spiritual reality of that relationship is a construct between me, my spouse and God. The legal and ecclesiastical realities, however, are social constructs agreed to by society. And in states like Arkansas, they need to have the approval of at least a majority of voters.
So: back to Genesis: is the conservative, literal approach the only way to interpret these verses? If you’re going to cling to that absolutely word-literal approach, then fine: but then you’ve got other problems with interpretation as far as I’m concerned. (My first church was such a place: and the women wore head coverings when they attended services. Few churches do that nowadays.) But as soon as we start to recognize that that literal “7-day-Creation” and “extracted-rib-as-source-for-woman” might be even a little bit fuzzy, a little bit figurative, we have room for some flexibility in our approach to marriage: precisely because marriage extends from that formation (“For this reason” in Genesis 2:28). I don’t believe that a rib-bone was magically turned into the first female human being; so I have some flexibility in my interpretation of the results. I focus on the word “helper”, and the idea of complementarity. In that sense, I have an excellent spouse. Much though I loved (and love) my wife, and she was a compliment in many ways, she was not (and could not be) a perfect mate for me. We had a wonderful relationship, and it could have had all the outward trappings of marriage: but it would never have been the kind of union that God intended. We weren’t compliments in the respects that mattered. What I’ve found, and built, with my husband is the kind of thing God intended in Genesis 2.