Same-sex complementarity: A theology of marriage

A year ago the bishops of the Episcopal Church received a 95-page report by eight theologians to provide the church with a "theology of same-sex relationships." (The report was published in the Winter 2011 issue of the Anglican Theological Review.) As you might expect, the panel split into two parties, "traditionalist" and "liberal."

What you might not expect—if you follow such debates in mainline Protestant bodies—was how the sides began to meet. Certain familiar arguments disappeared. New arguments took their place. And some of the new arguments converged in ways their authors perhaps had not intended.

For example, the traditionalist report avoided sociological arguments about the sexual practices of gay men, nor did it offer an exegetical argument from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Nor did it focus on Romans 1, arguably the one biblical passage that still carries weight on the issue. Antigay arguments, that is, had disappeared. Instead, the traditionalists chose a positive focus on Genesis 1—"male and female created he them." Officially, their argument stressed the conditions for procreation. Yet it also made room for aged or infertile heterosexual couples to marry, giving others to think that being able to procreate supported rather than defined that vision of marriage. The primary issue for traditionalists, one might conclude, boiled down to male-female as an icon of creation. The case rested on two genders conceived as complementary, as fitting together.