In an interview published by First Things, the prominent Anglican bishop and theologian N.T. Wright sounds a caution about the wholesale and enthusiastic embrace of same-sex marriage. He says the fact that same-sex marriage has never before existed in history tells us something about the complementary nature of marriage:
Now, the word “marriage,” for thousands of years and cross-culturally has meant man and woman. Sometimes it’s been one man and more than one woman. Occasionally it’s been one woman and more than one man. There is polyandry as well as polygamy in some societies in some parts of history, but it’s always been male plus female. Simply to say that you can have a woman-plus-woman marriage or a man-plus-man marriage is radically to change that because of the givenness of maleness and femaleness. I would say that without any particular Christian presuppositions at all, just cross-culturally, that’s so.
We have undertaken something radical and unprecedented by redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, Wright correctly says. Maybe it will work out. But we should consider his point:
The other thing I find worrying is that I was struck this week—this is a memory, and you may not agree with the judgment that precedes it—but eleven years ago, no, actually ten years ago, almost right now, we were about to go to war against Iraq. I sat in my kitchen and I listened to Tony Blair making the great speech on how we should go and bomb Iraq (it was the day before they actually started). I thought at the time and I still think that that speech was absolutely full of holes. It was begging questions, it was missing points, it was slipping cogs in the logic. Yet all the papers were on board, almost everyone in Parliament was on board, with only a few grouchy people, and I remember thinking at the time: This is absolutely crazy. We should not be doing this and there’s all sorts of what-ifs which we haven’t thought through. I have to say, over the last ten years I have seen no reason to change that judgment at all.
I sense something of the same mood this week. All the press is on-side, most of Parliament’s on-side, and people are saying—get this—that unless you support this, you’re on the wrong side of history. Excuse me. Did you see University Challenge last night? There was a nice question: Somebody said, who was it who said in 1956, “History is on our side and we will bury you”? One of the contestants got the answer right: It was Nikita Khrushchev. When people claim, “We’re going with the flow of history,” that’s just a rhetorical smokescreen. So, that’s where I am.
Now we will hear the moralistic denunciations of Wright, along the lines of the way people like me denounced those who opposed the Iraq War back in 2002 and early 2003 as being either loony or motivated by bad faith.
UPDATE: If you’re tempted to write a response saying “how DARE you compare love to war,” don’t. I’ve posted several of them, and that’s enough. Wright is not saying that SSM is as bad as war. He’s drawing an analogy to something very many people at the time thought was going to go well, and demonized naysayers for their skepticism, but that turned out in the end to be a disaster.