Russell and Duenes

Is Jane Harmed If She Marries Tom, Dick and Harry?

with 7 comments

polygamySame-sex marriage is not the ultimate issue, so don’t take my recent spate of writings about the topic to mean that I give it more importance than it deserves. I concur wholeheartedly with Douglas Wilson when he writes that “[t]he same sex marriage crusade has nothing whatever to do with what people can do sexually in private, and it has everything to do with what you will be allowed to say about it in public.” I further agree with his sentiment that “[a]nybody who thinks that the sexual revolution is about to realize all its goals within the next year or two, and then we will all settle down in peaceful democratic harmony, is someone who probably ought to have their car keys taken away.”

These are the reasons I am writing about gay marriage. The very public discussion about it has pedagogical value for those who care about the cause of Christ and His very public gospel in this world. The issues have to do with epistemology, that is, how we know what we know, and upon what authorities our knowledge properly rests. The issue of epistemology has for too long been neglected among Jesus’ disciples in the local church, being left to academicians and specialists. It ought not to be so. Biblical epistemology should be a part of every plan to “equip the saints” in the local church.

Don’t get me wrong, the issues of gay marriage and sexual holiness generally are crucial, and I’m not writing about them purely for instrumental reasons. But everything in its place. The larger false god of radical, autonomous individualism is the one we’re exposing here. And the false god of secular “knowledge” is also implicated.

To this end, I was discussing the same-sex marriage with a law school colleague today, one whom I enjoy greatly and who is without doubt much sharper and more knowledgeable than I. The polygamy argument came up because my colleague claimed that granting marital rights to homosexuals created no victims. To which I responded: “Polygamy likewise claims no victims. Who are the victims in polygamy between consenting adults?”

He responded that polygamy has been shown to be detrimental to women and women’s rights. It creates a context in which women are inferior. I then asked why it was a problem for him that women should be treated as inferior. Neither of us think they are inferior, nor that they should be treated as inferior, but I wanted to know upon what basis he thought they should not be treated as inferior. He said that this is enshrined in law. The Constitution protects their right to be treated equally.

I had also asked: Upon what basis do you know that women will be treated as inferior should we have polygamy? He held that science and psychological studies show this (see my previous post). To which I asked: But who gets to decide what “being treated as inferior means?” I posed the question: “What if we took the biblical command that wives are to submit to their husbands? Would that count as women ‘being treated as inferior?’ And if it does, how do we know? Does “science” tell us that wives submitting to their husbands means they are being treated as inferior? Who gets to decide what the standard for ‘inferiority’ will be?”

The answer again came back that this can be shown by psychological studies. So I asked: “Doesn’t this mean then that equality and equal treatment will be determined by what the psychologists say?” In other words, women ought not be treated as inferior, but what counts as inferior will be subject to definitions and explanations handed down to us by the American Psychological Association and its studies. And if the scientists can set the standard at a certain place one day, they can surely re-set the standard at another place the next. And if I’m reading things right, they will often do this on justifications that have little or nothing to do with science.

My colleague, as you might expect, felt more confidence in the scientific studies. And by the way, I’m no anti-science Luddite pining for the days before penicillin. I stated that I simply believed a good deal more modesty was called for, and a frank admission that science can only tell us so much. And though I did not say this to him, I have little confidence that a posse of psychologists can provide an objective scientific basis for what the standard will be for determining whether or not women are being treated as inferior to men. It’s just not the kind of thing that scientific studies can answer. Women must be treated as equal to men based on the unchanging Word of God. And the standard for what will count as “inferior” will have to be based on that self-same Word.

My colleague also remarked that reliance on social science data was not unprecedented in the Supreme Court’s history, for the historic Brown v. Board of Education which outlawed segregation in our public schools relied heavily on sociological studies. Indeed it did. Yet the question that must be answered is: Did it need to? When we look at the nature of things from God’s perspective, the Brown Court could have reached the same decision upon the far firmer ground of seeing both Blacks and Whites as God’s image-bearers, and as such, White supremacist laws like segregation of the public schools are inherently wrong and are no part of the Constitution. Indeed, I was gratified to see Notre Dame law professor Gerard V. Bradley making this same argument over at even more cogently. He writes:

The Justices should be wary of the “science” route. . . . Consider, for example, Plessy v. Ferguson.  Justice Sotomayor said that the Court let segregation “perk” for fifty years, until the Justices finally pulled the plug in 1954. But the Plessy Court did not wait upon social scientific evidence of the negative effects of segregation, as Sotomayor implied that it did. That Court was instead party to – at best – a sordid compromise with entrenched racist elements in American society. Brown overruled Plessy.  The Court’s terse opinion there depended almost exclusively upon the asserted negative psychological effects of segregated schools upon African-American school children, and a resulting “stigma.”  But the social science evidence adduced in Brown was then flimsy.  Since then, it has been all but entirely discredited. . . . [I]t is clear enough that if social science evidence about the psychological traumas of biracial children circa 1967 had been the deciding factor, Loving [the decision that struck down bans on interracial marriage] would certainly have come out differently. The Loving Court rightly had none of that.  It decided that the anti-miscegenation law was “an endorsement of the doctrine of White supremacy”, and there was an end to it.  This is the rationale which Brown needed, but which it sacrificed to the allure of “data.”

Bradley’s argument is, to my mind, entirely persuasive, and it is not an argument that sociological data has no role to play, only that it should have a much more modest role, and in cases that can be decided by the nature of human beings, it need play hardly any role at all. Thus, I think it is entirely untrue to suggest, as my colleague suggested, that unless we rely on scientific studies, and accord them a significant degree of “objective” value, we will have a hard time making legislative and legal progress on any matters. I believe this is a highly questionably claim. I don’t believe it’s the case that in a pluralistic society like ours, we simply must exalt “science” so that we can have an objective basis upon which everyone agrees. Scientific studies are no better at creating consensus than are arguments from religious authority. Moral persuasion is still the gold standard, and as God’s image-bearers, I still think people can be persuaded by the beauty of the gospel and the ring of truth that springs from the nature of how things are in the world that God has created. But the persuasive force will be not merely in our words and arguments, but in our shared life, which images forth the glory and beauty of God’s way of doing things.



Written by Michael Duenes

April 1, 2013 at 4:22 pm

7 Responses

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  1. I don’t follow how polygamy treats women as inferior. What if two men want to marry one woman? What if four people want to get married- two women and two men?

    And what of those psychological studies in the Brown case? Once the schools were integrated, did minority student performance improve? Nope. Where are the studies that show that racial diversity improves performance, in work, school, or anything?


    April 3, 2013 at 10:54 am

    • Bates – I would think that polygamy does tend put women in an inferior position. Even though all may consent, I think we see how women fared under polygamy in the Bible. Granted, women were thought of as property in general, so that had a lot to do with it, but I’m skeptical of the psychological studies because they have no standard for what counts as “inferior.”

      I think your take on Brown is a bit simplistic. Given the cultural context, it hardly seems that minorities would suddenly achieve parity with the rest just by virtue of the laws changing. Racial diversity, by itself, may not improve those things. But this certainly is no argument for segregation. I think the Court absolutely made the right decision in Brown. I also think they could have based it on the nature of what it means to be human, rather than “studies.”


      russell and duenes

      April 3, 2013 at 9:33 pm

      • Your Claim: ” If the Bible says something is inferior, but science says it’s not, the Bible is correct information source. ”
        Biblical Claim: Marriage is ONLY between a man and a woman.
        Scientific Counterexample: Not everyone is born fully male or fully female. 1 of 60 births include an intersex abnormality. 1 in 1000 births include an obvious intersex abnormality where a person’s sex is different from his or her gender. Does this mean it’s a sin for intersex people to get married and have sex in marriage. If intersex people have to marry someone of the opposite gender yet they have the same sex as the opposite gender, isn’t the only way they can have sex through sodomy? Isn’t this comparable to homosexuals who marry the same sex because they feel like they were born the wrong gender and so the only way they can have sex is through sodomy just like intersex individuals?
        How does Biblical authority override science in this case when science proves that not everyone is born fully male or fully female?


        April 6, 2013 at 8:07 pm

      • Manny – The true science of what you’re talking about it far more complex and nuanced than what you’ve presented, so I don’t think we can have a fruitful discussion, based on how you’ve presented it. I think there is some genuine science in this area, and it can be difficult to come to conclusions, but you’ve not presented it. Your distinction between “gender” and “sex” is not based on science, at least not any that is credible. The distinction is based on categories formulated by social scientists, of whom I have little to no confidence on this issue. Again, the issues here are complex, but you’ve demonstrated no interest in engaging those complexities. Until you do, I’m not interested in a dialogue on it. Stop trying to provide “gotcha” statements, and then we might have something to talk about.


        russell and duenes

        April 7, 2013 at 11:11 am

      • I merely meant that you shouldn’t have given up on the analogy between gay marriage and polygamy. How does polygamy harm women in the case where two men marry one woman? All the arguments I’ve heard in favor of gay marriage can be used for polygamy, as well.

        As for Brown, I’m not for forced segregation. But that is not the same as being for forced integration. The studies they used as a basis to remove forced segregation did not prove to be true once forced segregation was removed. That is, there is no correlation between racial diversity and improvement of scores, back then or 60 years later.

        The same studies were used in the 70’s and 80’s to implement forced integration and busing. It was assumed that any lack of racial integration was due to racism, and should be forcibly integrated. This was a huge waste of money, and scores did not improve for anybody, minorities included. In fact, things got worse.

        Racial diversity is the magic buzz word of our time, even though no one can show any tangible benefits of the use of force to achieve it in any context. There has never been a time or a place where racial diversity was the norm, yet we continue to assume the lack of diversity is evidence of racism, and that we should pursue diversity by force.

        Who defines what proportion of races should be enforced, and in what venue? Should the LAPD be forced to represent the racial make up of down-town, or all of Los Angeles, or all of California? Should Walmart be subject to the same forced integration? What about the Lakers? And why are we only concerned with particular sets of racial minorities? Asians are over-represented in higher education and higher paying jobs, and no one assumes that is due to racism, so why do we use force to change the representation of other races? Why do west indian blacks have higher incomes than whites, even though they can’t be distinguished physically from African Americans? I could go on and on…


        April 9, 2013 at 9:05 pm

      • Well made points, B. You know I track with you for the most part on all this. We do have a history in this country which we have to deal with, but on the whole, I support your positions.


        russell and duenes

        April 9, 2013 at 9:15 pm

  2. What about Matthew 19:11-12? After Jesus says marriage is between a man and a woman, the Bible says: ” Jesus replied, NOT EVERYONE CAN ACCEPT THIS WORD, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it. ” Couldn’t this passage apply to intersex individuals and/or gay people? A Biblical eunuch was a castrated male or a male with genital abnormalities who often lacked desire for women and had effeminate features. The passage doesn’t specifically say that because intersex individuals and/or gay people can’t accept marriage between a man and a woman, they should still be allowed to get married. However, isn’t the Bible at least recognizing that certain men and women have difficulty identifying with their sex and/or gender yet they should still be accepted rather than judged for the “sinful” choices that their disabilities cause? Also, how do we know what determines who is male or female? Is someone with a female gender and a male sex a man or a woman? Is a hermaphrodite male? female? both? The Bible doesn’t have a clear standard for whether society should judge maleness or femaleness by gender or sex or both. Should a woman(gender) with a penis(sex) only be allowed to marry someone of the opposite gender or someone of the opposite sex? If she is only allowed to marry someone of the opposite gender, this means the only sex she can have in marriage is sodomy. Isn’t this comparable to gay sex? If she is only allowed to marry someone of the opposite sex, this means she can now have vaginal sex in marriage, but her spouse will have female(gender) features. So what should determine marriage? One’s sex or one’s gender? How do we know based on the Bible that our sex rather than our gender determines who we can marry or vice versa? The quick answer is that we don’t know. Gender and sex aren’t the same thing. The Bible doesn’t mention the difference between sex and gender, but science does. Most of us are born with the same sex as our gender. However, this isn’t always the case. If a gay man changes his sex from male to female, does that imply that he’s all of a sudden a different person? Now that he has changed his sex does that mean he can marry his boyfriend? If that same gay man feels like he was born with the wrong gender and/or sex yet does not get a sex change does that mean he still shouldn’t be allowed to marry his boyfriend? If the only thing this gay man is changing about himself is his genitals why does it matter if he has a penis or a vagina when he finally marries his boyfriend? Every fetus starts out as female. There is a chance that although the fetus ends up to be male, something went wrong with the brain packaging to where a male’s brain might work more like a female’s brain. There is evidence that a homosexual male’s brain works more similarly to the brain of a straight female in terms of sexual attraction. My overall point is that the Bible doesn’t mention the discrepancies between gender, sex, and sexuality, while science does or at least is researching this phenomena. The issue of birth differences in gender, sex, and sexuality calls for the need that our society finally embraces marriage equality.


    April 7, 2013 at 5:08 pm

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