Eve Was Not Adam’s Wife: A Response to Andrew Goddard’s Attack on Gay Marriage

In a recent article on the Fulcrum website, Andrew Goddard has written forcefully against the government’s proposals for equal civil marriage on the grounds that they will so fundamentally redefine the nature of marriage that the institution of the family, and the social stability that it engenders, will both be endangered.

Unlike some high profile church leaders Goddard makes his case lucidly and cogently.  However he is no less wrong.

In essence his argument amounts to this:

  1. people nowadays perceive marriage in purely personal terms, as a matter of free individual choice and do not appreciate its institutional value for social cohesion and promoting the common good, particularly with regard to procreation and child-rearing;
  2. the case for gay marriage therefore is argued in terms of ‘extending individual rights’ and ‘promoting equality’ by ‘opening up’ civil marriage to same-sex couples;
  3. in actual fact, however, marriage is not just a question of individual choice but a key institutional pillar in the social structure and what will happen if the Government goes ahead is that the whole concept and legal category of marriage as ‘the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others’ which we have had ‘for centuries’ will disappear, and with it the stability which it has ‘traditionally’ provided.

Goddard’s lamentations over the demise of the tradition of marriage and the family are manifold but his main complaint is that there will be no terminology ‘to speak precisely of that way of life’ which is opposite-sex marriage.

Redefining marriage

Goddard’s piece is entitled ‘Should we redefine marriage?’  Like many conservative religious thinkers, Goddard falls into the trap of imagining that his particular take on marriage, the modern nuclear family of mum, dad, 2.4 adorable children, a dog and a mortgage’ so beloved of evangelical ‘family values’ ideology, represents an unbroken tradition ordained of God, sanctified by the Bible and hallowed by the centuries.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Marriage has been redefined again and again to adapt it to changing circumstances. The social meaning of marriage is culturally specific and has changed many times in the course of history.  One has only to think of the American states for example where skin colour was considered at one time to be an absolute bar to marriage.

The modern advocacy of the nuclear family based on romantic attachment between two people is a relatively recent invention and is linked with the rise of Protestantism. Previously the Catholic Church believed the celibate state to be superior to it.  Indeed for many centuries the church had little or no interest in or involvement with marriage.  And of course it is embarrassing for thinkers such as Goddard that it appears nowhere in the Nicene Creed.

And as for the Bible, the claim that there is consistency here in the teaching about marriage is frankly incredible. Biblical men have multiple wives and many concubines, they marry and have sex with their relatives, they engage in forcible sexual conquest, and all apparently with the approval of the Almighty. And, as I have argued in The Gay Gospels (www.thegaygospels.com), Jesus was certainly no nuclear family man. He sought no wife, and he had a particularly loving relationship with one of the disciples.  He told his followers to leave their families and said that nobody could be a disciple unless they hated their own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters.

So the clear answer to Goddard’s question is that it is in the nature of marriage that it should be continually redefined.

Adam and Eve/Adam and Steve

For Christians the essence of marriage is made plain in the story of Adam and Eve recounted in Genesis.

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.

1.  God created the first man, Adam, and then realised there was a problem. It does not look even as if God intended to create another human being, let alone a full blown heterosexual family. It looks much more like God created Adam in his own image and only then realised that there was a problem. 

2. The rest of Creation is intended to help humankind thrive and flourish.  God tries to find a soulmate for Adam by creating the animals. And he lets Adam name them, perhaps in the hope that one of them will provide that relational bond that will fill the yearning emptiness inside him.  But it is all to no avail. For Adam ‘there was not found an help meet’ for him.  What is clear however, is that all God’s subsequent creative efforts are aimed at helping Adam to thrive.

3. God realises that Adam has to have someone like himself as a companion.  He makes Eve out of Adam’s rib:

And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof.

So the essential point about Eve is not that she is female but that she is human.  Only a human can meet the needs of another human for real companionship. The comparison being made is not that between a male/female pair and a male/male pair, but between a human/animal relationship and the deep mutual commitment which can occur between two human beings.

4. This implies that the principal divine purpose of human pair unions is a loving purpose – it is for the mutual happiness and fulfilment of two human beings.  Notice here that we have got a long way through this story and there has not yet been any reference whatsoever to the purpose of marriage being procreation. The whole focus in this all-important creation story has been on companionship.

5. Procreation comes only as an afterthought.  The absence of any reference to childbearing continues right on until chapter three of the Book of Genesis. And even then, it only occurs as a sort of incidental afterthought, and merely as a minor detail in the story of God’s punishment of Eve for eating the apple and leading Adam astray.  It is worth noting en passant also of course that we are left with real uncertainty about how Adam and Eve’s offspring then sired the rest of the human race. What manner of marriage did they have?

Thus the whole Biblical story which is so often used to justify the ‘one man-one woman’ policy is actually driven by a concern with human wellbeing, not the procreation of children.  Steve would have done just as well as Eve had Adam been gay.  Eve was not a wife; she was a lifelong companion.

So what will actually happen if gay marriage is made legal?

The short answer is nothing.  Some gay people will get married.  That is all.  And some straight people will continue to get married as they always have done.  The main threat to the future of marriage is the behaviour of heterosexuals who are choosing more and more not to marry, and if they do marry to get divorced later.  Almost one in two marriages now goes down this road.  Goddard’s ideal of celibacy before marriage and lifelong fidelity within it describes the life pattern of very few heterosexual people today.  In this light it does seem perverse that Goddard and his cruder colleagues in church leadership positions focus their whole attack on gay couples who actually want to live out the marital ideal and support the institution of marriage, but who just happen to be homosexual, while totally ignoring the elephant in the room which is heterosexual promiscuity and serial monogamy.  These constitute a much larger and more present danger to the linguistic and cultural reality of societal and family institutions than loving and committed gay couples.

Comments

  1. Davis Mac-Iyalla says

    Excellent explanation , I hope the targets are reading and learning? Even in our African cultural standard Marriage cannot just be defined to only a man and a woman, never mind that our people are now adopting the Christian doctrine as our culture.

    Same sex relationship has always existed in African culture. Companionship been the basic of such relationships which has been always cherished by the whole community.

    Before Christianity Africa was not gay bashing and there was no homophobia. Infect homosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals where among Africa greatest traditional healers. Those are people most respected by their kings and community.

    Those opposing marriage equality still need a good old history lesson and if I hear Jesus Christ saying or contributing to this topic, he would be saying LOVE is the greatest and flog those trying to prevent homosexuals from getting married to someone they LOVE.

  2. Erika Baker says

    I still fail to see why even the nuclear family is seen as threatened. A lot of gay people already raise children, following precisely that current model of marriage in our society, and a lot of straight people do not raise children, following precisely that feared development if gay marriages are seen as equal.

    Neither gays nor straights are threatening marriage. What is threatened is our narrow interpretation of marriage as something starting with a virginal couple, producing children and ending 50 years later with the death of one of the partners.

    That is no longer the lived reality of marriage and only lives on as an ideal state. I’m not even sure that it’s ideal, that everything outside this rosy framework is sinful or failure.
    Modern society is not a threat to marriage, it has changed the meaning of the word.

    Does anyone really still get terribly worked up about sex before marriage, serial monogamy before marriage or divorce?
    What we do get worked up about is people who play with the emotions of others, who take no responsibility for others. Those kinds of “Don Juans” we rightly see as dangers to modern relationships.

    But that’s not how most people live. Their relationships are genuine if not always life-long. They no longer treat sex as something so taboo that it has to have rituals and prohibitions tied around it to make it somehow emotionally safe.
    As long as it’s physically safe and doesn’t harm the participants – there really is no problem.

    And gay people asking for marriage are not like 1950s straights arriving at the register office all virgin white. We are no different than the great majority of straights – why should we want to be?

    My first marriage was expected to be life long but it turned out not to be. It didn’t fail, that’s a terrible thing to say about a 20 year long relationship that produced 2 beautiful children. But it ended. Painfully, sadly, but definitely.
    I am not expecting my second marriage to go the same way – partly because we’re both so much older. But if the same set of circumstances arose that contributed to the end of my first marriage I would certainly consider it.

    It would be such a breath of fresh air if we could a allow some realism to enter into our conversations and stop defining marriage for everyone from a strange make-belief fantasy that simply doesn’t exist any longer.

  3. Peter Leeson says

    What a shame that the people who should be reading and reflecting on this are not interested in whatever does not support their own bias.

  4. Laurence C. says

    “Jesus…told his followers to leave their families and said that nobody could be a disciple unless they hated their own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters.” Colin Coward

    So he was a particularly nasty control freak. Thank you for sharing the Good News.

  5. says

    Well done. I’m particularly interested in the “but what will we call regular marriage” phenomenon. It seems related to the fear of ambiguity surrounding sexual identity, so well satiraized by the famous SNL chatacter “Pat” — the anxiety of not knowing if Pat is a man or a woman leads to all sorts of comedy. Of course, the only reasons it matters are linguistic and social: if someone is treated differently if they are one thing or the other; so the whole “separate but equal” falls apart since the only reason to separate is so as to treat unequally.

    The idea that the social fabric will buckle under the pressure of having to explain (if one needs to explain) that Sylvia is married to a man but Margaret is married to a woman then society is a lot more fragile than I thought it was.

  6. Rosina Elston says

    I am very interested in the origin of the Adam and Eve creation story. As I read it, ‘Adam’ is an ‘Earth-creature’ made from the dust of the Earth ‘Adamah’ (note feminine ending). The word ‘rib’ is untranslateable – but the full companion is extracted from Earth-creature’s own body, which makes me think of ‘Earth-creature’ as hermaphrodite, having both male and female parts. Thus the ‘wo-man’ (Ish-ah from the Ish – if you follow the Hebrew) is not inferior to the ‘man’ but literally, they are two halves of one being. I think the interpretation in the passage above ignores the importance of procreation in this mythical origin, for procreation was the fount of human struggling to understand the nature of our origins. This story is embodied in clay figurines – the union of male/female (see the Bethlehem figure in the British Museum). ‘Iv-vah’ is translated for us in the myth to show ‘Eve’ as ‘the Mother of all beings’. This surely goes back to the ancient myths of the Earth Mother? The myth as we now have it puts ‘God’ in charge as opposed to the forces of ‘Nature’ which saw life as the union between Earth and Heaven (Sky).
    I don’t think we can use this story to promulgate our own idealogical concepts (including’original sin’) about sex and marriage. To me it shows the ‘Earthiness’ of all ‘creation’ and as such is totally compatible with the theory of evolution. As for sexuality, well, it is of the earth, earthy, and God desires that we Earth-creatures should not ‘be alone’. We each carry male/female within us and the sharing is still a mystery. Procreation is part of that but not all.
    I wish we could read the Bible with open and enquiring minds and not Bible bash. I totally agree with the aims and philosophy of ‘Changing Attitude’. I just want to take the Bible study a little further. ‘The traditionalists’ are not ‘traditional’ at all in their literal use of something which originated quite outside our culture. In this, I wish we could share something of the Jewish attitude to Scripture – ‘Never fear controversy- only fear silence’.

  7. says

    I have read the original article and the comments. The original article: Genesis seems to be taken literally here. I don’t get the feeling that the person who wrote it really supports the literalist unferstanding. He quotes the Lord’s words about “hating your father and mother” etc which he must know is a jewish figure of speech. It means “you must love me more than them”.

    One example which shows what Jesus was meaning in the “hate” quote was his complaint to the Pharisees that they had negatived God’s command to honour father and mother by substituting their man made law that if they declared their property was “corban” (ie dedicated to God), they didn’t have to support their parents if they were in need. He said the Pharisees were substituting their regulation for God’s regulation. That, some would say, is the same concerning Marriage, and re-defining.

    Christianity is not the only religion to value marriage and define it as we currently do. So does Hinduism. So does Judaism. So does the Muslim religion. Several for thousands and thousands of years

    Even when there is no religious belief – or even anti – religious belief – such as communism – marriage has been retained.

    There is a reason for that: because it is a fundamental building block for stability in society in whatever form that society may exist.

    The point has rightly been made that the emphasis of the relationship between the marriage partners has changed over centuries. The issue of inter-racial marriage had nothing what sover to do with marriage. It had everything to do with how people were perceived across the board -marriage was merely one example of that which flowed from the underlying attitude.

    Of course someone will respond: “Exactly. Thats why we should saythat attitudes towards gay people have changed, so lets allow them to be married.” But there are two fundamental issues about that: gays sought and obtained recognition of their relationships and financial interelationship by the creation of Civil Partnerships. So there is no “gain” to be obtained other than to use a word which previously referred to heterosexual relationships. The seconf one, as another corresponfent has taken the point, relates to the procreation of children, which was and always has been part of the marriage bargain (or at least heterosexual sexual intercourse -becaise if that does not happen the marriage is void). So including gays will take something out of what marriage now means.

    No-one has yet (unless I have missed it) has yet dealt with the issue of sex and marriage if the definition is changed. Will it be required for marriage for the parties to have had sexual relations with each other to be valid? How is it going to be decided whether that has happened or not? This isn’t a joke I’m afraid. I have advised on several issues like this in heterosexual marriage.

    With Civil Partnership, I don’t think there is such a problem or issue.

    As regards, issue raised by a correspondent concerning the question of life long marriage and sex outside it (whether pre or during or post marriage and whether heterosexual or gay), I and many people I know believe that Sex is intended for marriage. Whether we achieve it is another matter. As a friend of mine used to say: “Aim at nothing and thats what you’ll hit”. On that basis, there is little point at aiming at anthing at all in case we don’t achieve it.

    Incifentally, two of the reasons we have such a high divorce rate (and perhaps this applied to Civil Partnerships too) is that we expect too much of each other and the relationsip and because there is not enough support/counselling available. By the time couple reached me, the decline had almost always gone too far to be reversed.

    Jeffrey John, in his booklet on the issue of gay realtionships, singles out monogomy as the greatest benefit to gays and society.It was written before civil partnerships and I wonder whether those now exist he considers marriage necessary.

    I don’t see the argument (on a facts basis) that civil partnership is inferior to marriage. It is merely different, simply becayse it is between the same sex.

    Sorry for going on so long!!

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