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Reframing the Gay Marriage Debate

John Stonestreet | BreakPoint | Friday, June 22, 2012

Reframing the Gay Marriage Debate

The first lesson in debating is “He who frames the issue wins the debate.” It’s absolutely true, and we’ve seen it before.

Recent numbers from Gallup show that pro-life Americans are now in the majority, leading pro-choice Americans by nearly 10 percentage points. This is a complete reversal from just a few years ago.

Or take the civil rights movement. Some of you might remember a time when America was bitterly divided on whether to grant blacks equal rights as citizens. Today, by the grace of God and the courage of activists, this question is largely settled.

Tectonic shifts in public opinion like these take place because movements that were once in the minority successfully reframed the debate around the right questions and definitions.

Unfortunately, too many Christians who fought segregation and abortion are staying on the sidelines when it comes to defending marriage against redefinition.

But in an open letter to pastors nationwide, congressmen Frank Wolf (a Republican) and former congressman and U.S. Ambassador Tony Hall (a Democrat), explain that the tide of public opinion is turning away from traditional marriage, especially among the young, because advocates of “gay marriage” have reframed it as a civil right.

“Reframing the debate in this way,” write the congressmen, “is a triumph for those who seek to redefine marriage. It follows that those who dare disagree and who align themselves with the historic Judeo-Christian understanding of a God-ordained union are … intolerant, bigots or worse.”

Last month when President Obama endorsed so-called “gay marriage,” he used the Bible and civil rights to justify his position. The Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount, he said, convince him that Jesus would have supported “gay marriage,” despite the fact that Christ defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman in Mathew 19. Just as in the civil rights era, Obama says, we should “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”

But according to many Christians who actually fought for civil rights, this is not a valid way of framing the debate. The Coalition of African-American Pastors, a national group of black clergymen, recently appealed to President Obama, urging him to reconsider his stance on “gay marriage,” and objected to his comparing it with the struggle for civil rights: “…to link [homosexuality] to the righteous cause Martin Luther King gave his life for is abominable…” they say. “There is no civil right to do what God calls wrong.”

These pastors echo the sentiment of much of the black community, which opposes same-sex “marriage” by such a wide margin that one Time magazine columnist says that it could doom Obama’s hope for reelection.

Would public opinion continue to shift in favor of “gay marriage” if word got out that those who marched alongside Dr. King aren’t buying the “civil rights” comparison? What if we reframed the debate around the right questions?

According to Congressman Wolf and Ambassador Hall, that is exactly what needs to happen, but not just among African-Americans. Christian leaders across the board must confront the illegitimate connection between civil rights and sexual impulses and behavior.

Challenge those in your circle of influence: Is marriage really nothing more than an institution to legitimate one’s feelings, or is it about society reproducing itself and passing on values?

Look, every citizen has the right to pursue marriage with someone of the opposite sex. But does a sexual inclination to the same sex give one the right to redefine what it means to be married?

From across the political aisle, Frank Wolf and Tony Hall remind pastors and all of us that questions like these will be settled in the culture, not Congress or the courts. Come to and click on today’s commentary to read both of these letters that I’ve mentioned. Then, let’s talk about the questions we as the Church must be asking if we hope to reframe this debate.

Publication date: June 25, 2012

Reframing the Gay Marriage Debate