The reactionary right has seized upon the cause of the Kentucky county clerk jailed for failing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. When challenged to justify her position from the New Testament, two passages of scripture are offered.
A reference to Old Testament law, of which Jesus said [NIV Matt 5:17-18, emphasis added]:
…I have not come to abolish [the Law and the Prophets], but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until all is accomplished.
That “all”, of course, being the crucifixion and resurrection, through which the fulfilled Law is superseded by the New Covenant.
But then there is Jesus’s response to the Pharisees [NIV Matt 19:4-5]:
“Haven’t you read,” [Jesus] replied, “that in the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?”
Of course, if you back up just one verse, you’ll see that this is in response to a specific question [NIV Matt 19:3]:
Some Pharisees came to [Jesus] to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
Which is elaborated further [NIV Matt 19:7]:
“Why then,” [the Pharisees] asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
In other words, Jesus was confronting the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who reference the Law of Moses as higher than the direct effect of God’s presence in the lives of a married couple [NIV Matt 19:6]:
“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Understand this: such joining occurred without the sanction of any court. It was a natural state of union arranged by God. A marriage license is merely a recognition of that spiritual reality, backed by conventions and sanctions that ensure that the temporal fruit of that union are shared equitably when the union is dissolved.
So, there is no New Testament justification for asserting that “marriage” is only between a man and a woman. Trumpeting the faith of a clerk that refuses to issue same-sex marriage licenses therefore has no foundation, particularly as the woman has been divorced four times. Of course, the Law of Moses appears to justify the practice of divorce, in spite of Jesus’s direct teaching on the matter.
I, for one, will continue to celebrate the sensitivity of clerks that recognize when God has joined same-sex couples, clerks that proceed joyfully and proudly to issue licenses that ratify the spiritual unions that God has formed.
And lest these words be taken as a declaration of war on divorce, let us be aware that God can separate as well as join. The state of spiritual union is something known only to the two parties to a relationship. Let not material concerns prevent the parties from seeking renewed fulfillment with other partners.