I think this song got cut from Sesame Street…watch it to the end
I’m going to write about an issue that I have been thinking about for some time now. I have put the issue off for some time because…well its sort of an explosive issue. Dealing with issues on the Federal Reserve are much more fun. But given the U.S. Supreme Court’s oral arguments this week on California’s Proposition 8 and the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, I thought this is probably as good a time as any to weigh in. Real quick prediction on the Supreme Court case, United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court will send the issue back to the States and determine the federal government does not have the power to hear such issues by overturning DOMA. I think it is unlikely the Court will issue a universal declaration for gay marriage rights in all 50 states, though I’m sure Justice Ginsburg will write a dissenting opinion saying so. The least likely scenario is that everything will be left alone.
But what I really want to address are the arguments being offered by two different groups of people. The first is the argument often made by Christians (of which I am one) that marriage should be defined solely as between a man and a woman and therefore the government should enforce this definition. I’ll deal with this argument in this post. The other argument I want to address is made by those who support gay marriage, who state there is no slippery slope to such legal decisions. I’ll deal with that in a second post.
Message to the Church:
The Christian Church often makes the argument that marriage should be solely between a man and a woman. Therefore the government should not acknowledge marriage between a homosexual couple. I think this argument is clouded by actually two issues rolled into one. The two issues that are combined are:
1.) Is Homosexuality a sin (morally wrong)?
2.) What should be the government’s authority to enforce a specific definition of marriage?
Question 1: Is Homosexuality a sin (morally wrong)?
On the first issue, Christians argue that the Bible is pretty clear that homosexuality is a sin and is thereby morally wrong. Some examples from the Bible include Romans 1:26-27, Genesis 18-19, Jude 7-8, among others. I think it is very difficult to argue that the Bible does not state homosexuality is wrong. Of course some within the Christian Church do make such an argument, such as Bishop Gene Robinson from Concord, NH who does so very openly. However, I believe selectively picking parts of the Bible you like and do not like is being a buffet Christian. That is, you only pick the parts of Christianity you like while ignoring other parts. Additionally I should add that though Christians (myself included) believe homosexuality is wrong we believe that we must treat our brothers and sisters with the same dignity and love as everyone else. I do not wish to harp on the issue of morality of homosexuality here though, as that is not the main point I want to drive home. For more of an argument on the Biblical perspective on homosexuality a great discussion can be found here, here, and here.
Question 2: What should be the government’s authority to enforce a specific definition of marriage?
In Matthew 22:20-22, Jesus tells the Pharisees famously to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to render unto God what is Gods”. While many people look at this passage as a reason to obey the government (which it is), Jesus also distinguishes the holy from the earthly. Jesus separates the spiritual from the present government by showing that they are two separate issues. In the gay marriage debate Christians often say that marriage should be only between a man and a woman and then point to scripture. Though I agree with them that the Bible does say so, I do not think that naturally translates to what the government should do.
Christians intuitively know that God cares about the heart and unless that changes no form of outward action or form of coercion can correct that. For example, (not saying they are the same) the Spanish Inquisition certainly did not create more Christians nor did the fact the Pharisees spent all their time praying and reading from the Scripture make them saved. Yet, for some reason we think by the mere label of marriage we can save souls and convert minds. So though I agree that homosexuality is wrong, the use of force (through government action) is likely a greater harm that perhaps puts more friction between the Church and homosexuals. I do agree that homosexuality is wrong but using the force of law will only separate non-believing homosexuals further from the Gospel.
As a side legal argument, in addition to the federalism arguments and equal protections argument that are being made in the Supreme Court the last few days; I would say that marriage is inherently a religious institution (as most Christians would agree). Therefore, in this country where we have the freedom of religion- the same right that would allow a church the freedom to marry a homosexual couple if they wished is the same right that would allow a church to deny to do so. The law is only as powerful as the variety of people it protects.
To those who believe that if gay marriage is allowed to pass it would infringe on the Church’s ability to marry who they want-I point to the recent Supreme Court case Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In that case the Court held by a 9-0 decision that churches are immune from employment discrimination claims and can hire whoever they want as pastor. I don’t think its a stretch to say that precedent would also apply in cases where churches decide whether or not they wish to marry individuals. Yes, the Church will likely be called bigots by people, but their right to do so will be the same right for the Church to act upon their own conviction. So I say to you Church, the battle was never for the government to fight and it has always been ours. I know we will respond with conviction and love.
I guess I’ll end with this example of when the power of law is used to enforce morality:
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” -John 8:3-11