Yesterday, on 17th April 2013, New Zealand legalised same-sex marriage. The bill was passed in parliament with 77 votes in favour and 44 against. Although New Zealand is not the first country to pass such a bill, it is the first Asia-Pacific country to do so, which means they beat my home country of Australia to it. And even though our prime minister is an open atheist, we don’t seem to be in a hurry to follow New Zealand’s lead.
New Zealand actually has a proud tradition of being a socially inclusive country. In 1893, it became the first country to give women the vote. That didn’t sink the country, and I don’t think same-sex marriage will either. Everyone will get used to it soon enough.
Of course there have been divided reactions to the change in the Marriage Act. Polls suggest the majority of New Zealanders support the change but, naturally, many religious people are not happy with the decision. One Christian apologist I know from New Zealand reacted by saying that “the legal thing called marriage is not actually marriage as we understand marriage to be”, and gave the following voting advice:
My new Zealand friends who opposed today’s law change: Please do not act like so many do every single election, and forget everything that went on during the last Parliamentary term. Here is a list of who voted, and how they voted. Actually remember it.
I’m really glad New Zealand has reached this “fabulous” landmark, but it’s a pity it has been opposed by Christians at every step of the way. It’s worth pausing and thinking about the other things Christians have tried to stop over the centuries. Gender equality is an obvious example. And slavery is another. It is not even two full centuries since slavery was officially abolished in the West. There was significant Christian opposition to abolitionism, and even though some of the prominent abolitionists were themselves Christians, they were mostly successful when they abandoned Bible based arguments in favour of a more humanitarian approach. Hector Avalos argues this case very well in his book Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship.
In any case, slavery in the West is mostly a thing of the past, and Christians have updated their interpretation of the Bible accordingly. Although I’ve argued elsewhere that the Bible’s teachings on slavery are very clear and completely immoral, Christians today claim that the Bible is against slavery. Well of course! Christians have to reinterpret the Bible when moral advances are made. After all, Christians believe that the Bible is inspired by the perfect designer of morality itself, so if it seems to be advocating something immoral, it must really be saying something else, right?
Christians also claim that the Bible supports gender equality, even though the Bible clearly teaches that women shouldn’t teach men, and other choice things I won’t list here. Again, this is because Christians have come up with new ways to interpret the verses that had traditionally been used to subjugate women.
And my prediction is this. In a decade or two, everyone will be used to same-sex marriage. And within a generation or two, the majority of Christians will have gotten perfectly comfortable with it. Moreover, Christians will be claiming that it was a proper understanding of the Bible that paved the way for same-sex marriage. They will claim that, despite “appearing to” say the opposite, the Bible is really pro same-sex relationships.
But what will be the end of this? Maybe in 100 years, it will be considered immoral to eat meat. I suppose Christians of that time will say that the Bible teaches vegetarianism. Maybe it will eventually be seen as an unacceptable exploitation to ride horses or elephants, or to make animals do any kind of work for us. Maybe it will even be frowned upon to keep an animal as a pet. And I guess Christians will then claim that the Bible provided the basis for all these moral advances too.
In the end, as morality progresses further and further away from so many of the set-in-stone teachings of the Bible, Christians will be forced to either abandon the Bible altogether, or else interpret it until it means exactly the opposite of what it says about these issues. You’d think Christianity would have a hard time surviving that kind of shift, but it’s done so plenty of times before.
But that’s just speculation about the distant future. In the meantime, I hope my LGBT friends enjoy the success of this passed bill. And I hope we’ll get a temporary break from the claim that our society is “based on Judeo-Christian values” 😉