In a previous post I pointed out that two prominent paths to virtue are denied to homosexuals by the church: ordination and marriage. This post will focus on the latter.
It is often argued by conservatives that marriage is forbidden to homosexuals on Biblical grounds: that it is a gift from God intended for the uniting of two flesh - man and woman, and that no other understanding of marriage is acceptable. It is an oddly sacramental interpretation of marriage coming from protestants who have long held that marriage is just a civil institution. It is also a highly selective reading of scripture which has examples (and approves of) a variety of marital arrangements and never implies that any single configuration is a divine mandate.
The New Testament, especially, is very ambiguous about marriage. Paul seems to denigrate it and lift up celibacy as the nobler path - marriage being for those too weak to do the truly virtuous thing. Jesus himself never discusses marriage except in reference to divorce (an important point I'll bring up later), and we are given no clue about his sexual activity. Was Jesus married? The Gospels don't say, but the tradition of the Church has been that he was celibate. If so, and Jesus is truly the representative of perfect humanity, it seems that marriage has no place or is at least irrelevant to the Christian life.
Based on Pauline arguments the Roman Church had long been encouraging the clerical caste toward celibacy when Martin Luther objected and got married calling marriage a "school of virtue." The best reason from scripture to lean toward a monogamous consensual model of marriage is Paul's insistence that if you must get married the purpose of that marriage ought to be growing deeper into Christ. Paul encourages the people in his churches to use marriage as a means to develop in virtue. Jesus' comments forbidding divorce ought to be seen in the same light, in my opinion.
Here is why: the principal benefit of lifelong monogamy is depth. It is not the best arrangement from the standpoint of procreation (polygamy is better). What you get with monogamy however is a commitment to a single individual that demands greater empathy, patience, honesty, and trust. In order for a long-term consensual intimate relationship with a single individual to be successful you MUST learn to understand one another, to trust each other, to be patient with each other's flaws, and honest about your needs. Combine this with the egalitarian impluse of Christianity (neither male nor female...) and you arrive at a picture of a relationship that can only work at all with mutual commitment and effort. Surviving a monogamous marriage requires virtue.
In a polygamous marriage you don't have to be the only one to meet your partner's emotional or sexual needs. You can remain only partly available, only partly honest. You can afford to be less patient since the dynamic of a polygamous relationship is inherently un-egalitarian. The man's needs and rights always take priority.
As I understand protestant theology and as I read scripture - marriage is almost completely irrelevant for Christians. It is definitely NOT a sacrament. It is NOT a gift from God. It is NOT commanded for one configuration only. It is definitely NOT an institution for the preservation of society. The most important relationships for Christians are our relationships to fellow disciples and enemies. We are commanded to serve the first and love the latter, and this takes priority over everything else so much that it virtually negates familial ties altogether.
However, if we are to honor some kind of marriage arrangement, the one which seems best to commend is a consensual monogamous life-long (I would add egalitarian) commitment for the reason that it lends itself to the development of quintessential Christian virtues. If that is true - if we are to join Luther in praising marriage as a "School of Virtue" - then it is a travesty to deny anyone who wishes to make such a pledge access and support. Our responsibility as Christians toward the institution of marriage is not to control or define it, but to aid in its flourishing as a means of deepening discipleship. Conversely, where marriage is broken, violent, or otherwise a hindrance to the development of virtue it is a Christian responsibility to oppose it since marriage itself is purely instrumental, and not sacramental at all.
In conclusion, homosexuals should not only be permitted, but even encouraged to marry where they understand marriage in this way - as a means of developing virtues like empathy, patience, trust, and compassion.