One of the more contentious topics tied up with the ongoing “gay marriage” debate in our western society is the question of adoption—that is, the adoption and fostering of children by homosexual couples. At one level, the concern is a very pragmatic one: why, the argument goes, should we be denying children loving homes?
If that were as far as the issue went, then the argument might have some strength—however if we examine the statistics it is clear the argument is an ideological one rather than something driven by real, practical need. In short, there is simply a very small and decreasing number of children requiring adoption.
Broader social trends, such as declining fertility rates, the wider availability of effective birth control and the emergence of family planning centres have also likely contributed to a reduction in Australian children requiring adoption.1
That rather chilling sentence comes from the latest Australian government adoption report. You’ll notice that ‘effective birth control’ is distinguished from ‘family planning centres’, as the latter are the places where abortions happen. There are far fewer adoptions today because abortion is simply much more readily available.
I’ve been looking into adoption numbers over the last several decades, and there’s a general pattern across Australia, the UK, and the US. The numbers and dates are slightly different in each country due to differing legislation, although the overall trends are similar. The number of adoptions tracks fairly closely to the fertility rate, which rose to a peak in the early 1960s, then dropped off sharply. The drop-off in all three areas seems to be firstly correlated with a gradual uptake of the oral contraceptive pill in the early part of that decade, leading to declining fertility. Compounding that effect, however, is the liberalisation of abortion laws in the late 1960s and early 1970s, resulting in a rapid increase in the number of abortions and a corresponding decrease in the number of adoptions.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics expresses it this way:
The reinterpretation of abortion law in New South Wales in 1971 was associated with a substantial fall in births to young women and an increase in the median age of mothers.2
Now, here’s the crunch. It has often been observed that many of those campaigning most strongly for “gay rights” (not least in the area of adoption) are also those who are campaigning for “reproductive rights”, i.e. the right to abort. It seems to me there’s a basic disconnect here: on the one hand the push for adoption is couched in the language of providing loving parents for unwanted children; on the other hand the push for abortion is all about the disposal of unwanted children.
A close look at the statistics on adoption totally undermines the latter argument. Prior to widespread abortion there were increasing numbers of adoptions. The children that were aborted after this change could hardly be said to be ‘unwanted’, since every year previously there had been growing numbers of adoptions and therefore prospective adoptive parents. There were homes that were willing and ready to accommodate those children.
I suspect, therefore, there’s a more basic common motivation that influences the push towards both abortion and gay adoption—that of the increasing perception of children as commodity. When the children are ‘wanted’ then who dare stand in the way of a prospective parent, homosexual or otherwise? When the children are ‘unwanted’ then who dare stand in the way of the soon-to-be-non-parent? Either way, it is the desire of the adult that is the driving motivation to which we are told we must conform, not the needs of the child.
So is there a better way forward? Surely there must be. It must hang first and foremost on the value of each life and also a proper understanding of how life is intended to be nurtured. It’s wrong to stop at the first without tying in the second. As Christians we take our understanding of this care for life from the Bible’s account of marriage and family, and, not least, the created order. The first two chapters of Genesis provide the beginnings of this framework:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” (Gen 1:27-28)
There is further explanation of marriage in the next chapter where, having described the first ‘marriage’, the narrator stops and comments:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Gen 2:24)
The biblical model is therefore one of a man and woman united together in monogamy, producing children. Now, of course, it all spins out of control after that—we see sin breaking into this good created order—but the original intent is simple to understand, and has long been accepted as normative and good in Western society until very, very recently.
So I’m led to conclude that one of the reasons that gay marriage should be vigorously opposed is not because it is somehow the thin end of the wedge but, more accurately, that it is the capstone that marks the crystallization of a remarkable shift in our culture. We have utterly divorced marriage from procreation and the raising of children. We are seeing the outworking of this divorce between marriage and children across the board: single parents struggling to raise children, increased abortion, cohabitation, and so on. These are all symptoms of the same basic disease. As we move further and further away from the way it was intended to be, downplaying heterosexual marriage and child-rearing as normative, we get more and more messed up. People live together and then split up causing immense emotional pain. Children are raised without the optimum parental situation, if they’re lucky enough to be born at all. Gay marriage is just one step further.
This is why the debate over gay marriage is so important. It’s almost as though we have one final attempt, out of love, to speak to our culture and implore those around us to stop and think about what they’re doing. as they continue in the relentless push to endorse self-fulfilment as the great moral good. Every time someone says “why shouldn’t I be allowed to do what I want?” they’re taking part in this broad, relentless push to endorse self-fulfilment as the great moral good.
Marriage used to be understood to be the regulation of those desires for the sake of the weakest parties in the relationships—the women and children. It is, of course, more than that—but it is not less. These days, however, our attitudes to marriage are more often redefined as “me doing what I want to do and insisting that you recognize and affirm it”. Sacrifice and self-giving love have been replaced with gratification and self-fulfilling love. We wouldn’t put it so starkly, of course, but that’s where it is. For example, I’ve lost count of the number of couples who, when I prepare them for marriage and ask them why they’re marring their fiancée, couch their response as an expression of how that other person makes them feel.
We used to understand ‘love’ far more in terms of what we can do for the other person, both personally and corporately. To steal the words of Kennedy, “ask not what your spouse or child can do for you, but what you can do for them”. More and more this whole mind-set is being eroded under the constant barrage of a culture that prizes autonomous freedom and action above all else. We increasingly refuse to accept any constraint upon ourselves. No wonder we’re such a mess.
Into this calamity Jesus still walks, the one who came to serve, not to be served. He laid down his life for others, not least for his own bride. He bade little children come unto him when others pushed them away as being less important. He affirmed that “in the beginning God made them male and female”—indeed Jesus made them male and female in the first place. And, of course, he went to those of his own day who had messed this all up so much with their own sin and who suffered from others’ sin—prostitutes, a socially outcast woman at a well, sinners—and offered them mercy.
What we ought to recognize is that while some things have certainly changed in the past 2,000 years, others have not. The basic mission statement for Jesus announced by the angel to Mary is equally relevant today:
…he will save his people from their sins. (Matt 1:21)
We are still the same sinners that we were back then, indeed that we were since the first man and woman chose to do things their own way back in the Garden. Jesus still is the answer. The expression of our sin may have changed, but the basic problem of it has not. Christians must always turn to Jesus for the answer to the disaster we see unfolding around us.
His way is the better way. In the context of this discussion let’s not forget that his way is not simply the way of heterosexual marriage and the affirmation of the precious value of life (although it certainly is those things), it’s also the way of the offer of forgiveness and a fresh start. It occurs to me that we are in danger of losing sight of that as the debate intensifies.
It’s easy to respond to what we see as a gradual moral erosion around us with our own morality. We do it both personally and corporately through organizations who identify themselves as Christian, seeking to defend ‘Christian values’ in the public arena. I have the utmost respect for them, but there are moments when I wonder if it’s the right approach. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying we shouldn’t engage on the question of morality! Far from it, I think one of the most useful things we can contribute to our society is our own measured critique of prevailing philosophies and their results. In that respect, the answer to the person who insists upon the ‘right’ to ‘equal marriage’ is not to respond with a clear “but marriage is between a man and woman” (as correct as that certainly is) but, rather, to engage in a debate over where we get our rights from, how one measures equality, and how far that principle actually extends. Then we can begin to return to our own position and hold it up as far more cohesive and sensible. But as we do this kind of measured critique there’s more to the story, and this is where I fear we’re just not getting it right.
A long time ago I worked in a major children’s charity in London which was drifting away from clear Christian convictions. An explicit gospel imperative was no longer anywhere to be seen. One day I heard one of the few remaining evangelical case-workers bemoan, “we’re sending children to hell with full stomachs”. So it could very well be with our approach on broader social issues. Are we in danger of sending people to hell with better morality? I imagine there are very few readers of this article (if any) who will for one moment countenance the suggestion that people are saved by moral behaviour, yet the danger for most of us in this debate is that we will end up being understood in this way.
Jesus doesn’t want us to be more moral. Well, actually, he does, but moral behaviour is only the outworking of a deeper change brought about by the Spirit as he applies the gospel of Jesus to our hearts. So Jesus doesn’t want us only to be more moral—he wants to effect a change in our hearts that brings, amongst other things, a new morality. The danger in our lobbying is that we fail to communicate the first and most important of these two steps and so end up promulgating a form of justification by works. Surely we don’t want to do that? I’m not yet sure what the answer to all of this is—we can’t set out a full exposition of the gospel every time we make a statement in public—but we can talk about Jesus a lot more than we do. Let’s face it, sometime’s we act like we’re ashamed to mention his name.
Let’s not give up on this issue of marriage and children. Keep speaking, thinking, praying, engaging out of love for the nations we live in, because we want the very best for the people around us who cannot tell their right hand from their left. Let’s not give up on speaking the gospel rather than mere moralism. As we do so, we’ll be pushing our culture towards not only recognizing and diagnosing the problems we face (problems far more profound than who we allow to marry), but also holding out the solution—the forgiveness and fresh start that Jesus brings.