Sexuality and Gender

Should a Christian Attend a Same-Sex Wedding?

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 03/07/2024

I’ve attended more than one same-sex wedding in my life. In retrospect, I was wrong to attend. I want to unpack my reasoning for attending, explain why it was mistaken, and offer a practical alternative.

Ever since same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States in 2015, American Christians have wrestled with whether they should attend a same-sex “wedding.” In many cases, they were invited by a family member or close friend who identifies as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB), and they wanted to communicate the fact that they love them, even though they disagree with homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

I understand the temptation to attend. I reasoned it would be permissible to attend if I clarified to the couple that I didn’t approve of same-sex marriage and they still wanted me to attend. Now I realize my reasoning was mistaken, and I can’t, in good conscience as a Christian, attend such an event. Here are the two main reasons why.

Marriage Was Created and Defined by God

First, marriage was created and defined by God. It was not created by the state. Rather, it is a pre-political institution. God made marriage in the garden after he made Adam and Eve. Scripture says, “A man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Jesus even quotes this definition of man-woman marriage in Matthew 19:4–6 and adds his own commentary: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” Jesus believes marriage is a God-ordained institution, something made and mediated by our Creator. Notice how Genesis (and Jesus) formulates this institution: one man with one woman becoming one flesh for one lifetime. In fact, a man and woman make up the only pair of people described in Scripture as being capable of creating a one-flesh union.

Since the garden, men and women have been forming lifelong covenants together, long before any government recognized them and especially before the United States existed. Today, the state has been in the marriage business for so long that people have forgotten that marriage occurs independently of the state’s sanctioning of the ceremony.

My wife and I were officially married when our pastor declared us “husband and wife” at the altar of our church. The ceremony took place before God and our family and friends. At a later time, we filed paperwork with the state to receive a legal marriage certificate and state-sanctioned benefits. That doesn’t mean the state’s role is irrelevant. Public vows that are formalized by the state and witnessed by friends and family serve to keep spouses accountable. That marriage certificate, though, didn’t make us married any more than a birth certificate made me born. The marriage certificate simply recognized the reality of our marriage just like a birth certificate recognized the reality of my birth.

When the U.S. government legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, it simply extended state-sanctioned benefits (property rights, inheritance rights, etc.) to same-sex couples. Even though it redefined civil marriage, it didn’t change the nature of marriage. Same-sex couples are still—and will always be—excluded from actual marriage. Marriage, after all, was not created by the state. Therefore, the state can’t redefine what it is.

A same-sex couple doesn’t get married during their ceremony. Sure, the state recognizes the couple has established a civil marriage (according to the new legal definition), but it’s not an actual marriage. The same-sex couple can’t covenant together before God in the way marriage was designed to function, as decreed by God. The couple is simply engaging in a ceremony that ends with a legally binding contract, no different than any other legal contract. That contract extends to the same-sex couple the same legal rights that the state has historically extended to heterosexual couples. Legal rights, however, aren’t what marriage is about. God defines marriage, not the state.

It’s also worth noting that marriage entails both covenant and consummation. The covenant is the ritual pledge a man and woman make before God. After the wedding ceremony, the couple consummates their marriage through a conjugal act (“become one flesh” Gen. 2:24). A man and woman possess the complementary sexual anatomy to create a one-flesh union. They complete their covenant by consummating it through sexual intercourse. Refusal to consummate by either party has historically been grounds for annulment of the marriage (unlike a divorce, it’s as if the marriage never happened).

Not only does God not sanction a covenant between two men or two women, but a same-sex couple can’t consummate a marriage, either. They lack the requisite anatomy. Sure, they can engage in physical acts that involve their sex organs, but they can’t engage in sexual intercourse. Their behavior is nothing more than mutual masturbation. Since two men or two women can’t engage in a conjugal act, this is further evidence their relationship can never be defined as a marriage.

A Christian Can’t Celebrate Sin

Second, a Christian can’t celebrate sin. A wedding is a particular type of event. It’s a celebration of what’s happening at the altar—a man and woman covenanting together before God. People who attend a wedding aren’t merely passive bystanders at the ceremony. They’re prompted to participate in customs that signal their celebration of the couple’s ceremony. After all, those who attend are usually family and friends of the couple and are present to inaugurate the couple’s new life together.

Therefore, a Christian shouldn’t attend a same-sex “wedding” because they shouldn’t celebrate what’s happening at the altar. A same-sex couple is forming a pseudo-marriage and committing themselves to a future of sexual sin. At both the ceremony and reception, you will be pressured to take part in the traditional customs that indicate your approval and celebration of the “union” taking place. For example, you’re supposed to applaud when the officiate announces the new couple, throw rice at them, dance at the reception, give a gift, sign the guest book, and clink your glass with silverware to encourage the couple to kiss. Every one of these behaviors signals to the couple and their guests that you joyfully affirm and celebrate the union that was solemnized at the altar. The alternative would be rude: remain seated with your arms crossed, don’t smile, applaud, or act joyful in any way. But then, why go? Better to stay home than to act this way at someone else’s celebration. The point of a wedding is to celebrate with the couple and the other attendees. God, however, neither sanctions that union nor approves of the homosexual sex they’ll engage in. Therefore, a believer should never affirm what God rejects nor celebrate what he condemns.

Two Illustrations

Two illustrations may help, one biblical and one modern. In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon commanded his officials to participate in a dedication ceremony of his golden statue. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused, however, because the ceremony involved behavior that affirmed and celebrated a sin. They knew that bowing to an idol would communicate worship of an idol and false god. Therefore, they wisely declined to participate, despite the dire consequences. Participating in a same-sex wedding also involves behavior that communicates affirmation of a sin and falsehood—the sin of homosexuality and the falsehood that same-sex marriage is a legitimate marriage.

Consider a modern illustration. Imagine we live in a society where abortion is preceded by a ceremony. The woman obtaining an abortion invites her close friends and family to a room adjacent to where the abortion will take place. She stands up and says, “Thank you for coming here today. I thank God that we live in a country where I can exercise my right to choose to do what I want with my own body. My actions today will allow me to pursue my education and career, and I’m overjoyed that you’re here to support and honor my decision.” After her short speech, the attendees raise their glasses and toast her decision. They applaud and hug her, after which she goes into the next room and gets an abortion. If such a ceremony preceded abortions, then Christians would be wrong to attend one because it would communicate celebration and affirmation of a sin—the sin of abortion.

In the same way, attending a same-sex “wedding” communicates the idea that you celebrate a union that God rejects and affirm a sin that God condemns. If you wouldn’t verbally say, “I affirm same-sex marriage,” then you shouldn’t attend a same-sex wedding because your participation says the same thing.

How to Decline

Instead, do your best to kindly decline to attend a same-sex wedding as graciously as possible. Here’s an approach that might help the couple understand your reasoning. I call it the “authentic dilemma,” and it entails three questions. First, ask if they believe it’s important for a person to live an authentic life, to live true to one’s beliefs and values. Most likely, they’ll say yes. Second, ask them what they call a Christian who lives inconsistently with their beliefs, who preaches one thing but practices something else. Most likely, they’ll answer, “A hypocrite.” Third, ask them if they expect you to be a hypocrite or to live authentically. Here’s the dilemma. The same-sex couple most likely believes people ought to live authentically—consistently with their own beliefs and values. A Christian attending a same-sex wedding would be living as a hypocrite, affirming a same-sex marriage when they don’t believe the ceremony is legitimate. If the couple prefers you live authentically, then they should honor your decision to decline to attend, without expressing contempt towards you.

Does the refusal to attend a same-sex “wedding” mean you can’t be friends or in a family relationship with someone (or a couple) who identifies as LGB? Of course not. You should lean into your relationships with your LGB friends and family. Once you’ve declined to attend their ceremony, you can still demonstrate your commitment to them in other ways. For example, ask the same-sex couple when they will return from their honeymoon. Then, schedule to visit them for dinner at their house a few weeks after they return (or make plans to do something together). Here’s the rationale. Declining to attend their wedding is likely to damage your relationship with them. By scheduling to meet them for dinner, you are saying you are still committed to a relationship with them. Ideally, you would schedule your event with them at the moment you decline to attend their “wedding” ceremony so it helps to mitigate the damage your relationship will suffer.

This World Isn’t Our Home

I know what it’s like to be in this situation. It’s a difficult decision. You’ll be pressured by many people (including Christians) to violate your conscience for the sake of maintaining a relationship with an LGB friend or family member. Don’t get me wrong. I agree it’s important to strive to nurture healthy, lasting relationships as best you can (Rom. 12:18). Love people—all people—and lean into your relationships with them. Remember, though, that fidelity to God is always more important than friendship with the world. Seek to do the right thing even if it means your relationship might suffer.

This world isn’t our home. We live as exiles. Don’t expect that living out biblical principles will be easy or celebrated by others. Pilate sought to “satisfy the crowd” (Mark 15:15) by betraying the Savior of the world to save his reputation. You, however, have a different calling, one that Paul reminds us of in Romans 12:1–2. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind to God’s will. That is your spiritual act of worship.