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Marriage, Nature's Definition

The issue of polygamy made its way to the United States Supreme Court in 1878.  George Reynolds, a Mormon in Utah, said that his religion required him to have more than one wife. Since the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, Reynolds claimed it gave him the right to practice polygamy. His reasoning failed to convince the Court, and the practice was struck down by the Court in Reynolds v. United States. The First Amendment, they contended, has limitations. Otherwise, human sacrifice could be justified as freedom of religion. The opinion of the Court was that “Marriage, while from its very nature a sacred obligation, is nevertheless, in most civilized nations, a civil contract, and usually regulated by law. Upon it society may be said to be built, and out of its fruits spring social relations and social obligations and duties, with which government is necessarily required to deal.”

The Court admitted in this case that “The word ‘religion’ is not defined in the Constitution.” This was an honest admission. The only way to understand the nature and extent of religious liberty of the First Amendment is to define it as the founding fathers did.

This is precisely what should be done today regarding the definition of marriage. Let us begin with the Declaration of Independence. That document acknowledges God as “Creator.” It recognizes “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” Our founders understood that God is the author of the very concept of male and female. Even in the animal kingdom, a male and female unite to produce offspring. That is the law of nature, and that law was designed by God. Animals are not accidentally drawn to the opposite sex. They are this way because of instinct given by God, and to try to change this would be unnatural and against the will of the Creator. The creation of mankind is no different. God made us “male and female” (Gen. 1:27). Nature itself declares that marriage should be between a man and a woman. This is why Paul said same-sex relations are “against nature” (Rom. 1:26-27).

In 1828 Noah Webster released An American Dictionary of the English Language. His research went back to at least 1783. Webster was in a good position to know what “marriage” meant when this nation began. His definition was: “The act of uniting a man and woman for life; wedlock; the legal union of a man and woman for life. Marriage is a contract both civil and religious, by which the parties engage to live together in mutual affection and fidelity, till death shall separate them. Marriage was instituted by God himself for the purpose of preventing the promiscuous intercourse of the sexes, for promoting domestic felicity, and for securing the maintenance and education of children.”

Webster did not decide that marriage should be between a man and a woman. He merely admitted the laws of nature and nature’s God in defining the word, and his definition reflects the common understanding of the day. The chief argument against same-sex marriage is not tradition. It is nature as it was designed by God. The Bible clearly condemns homosexuality (Gen. 19; Rom. 1:26-27; I Cor. 6:9-11; I Tim. 1:10-11), but even nature itself shows that it is wrong.


Kerry Duke is minister at the West End church of Christ in Livingston, TN

and Vice-President of Academic Affairs at

Tennessee Bible College in Cookeville.

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