Defining Marriage Away

By Dr. Mark Hamilton

Do you remember the 1960’s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)? From looking at their title one would think they supported the concept of democracy, but in reality it was a Marxist group. How about Hitler’s Final Solution which was no solution only a horrendous problem? I had a college religion professor who used to speak about the resurrection. But once you began to understand what she was saying one would discover that she did not believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead but only that the metaphor of the resurrection was a meaningful symbol. One thing we have learned in the past century is that whoever controls the definitions has the power.

So who defines what marriage is? Is this a changing definition or should we look to what it is objectively or how it has been defined for thousands of years? In sections of Canada, British Columbia and Ontario, gay marriage is already legal. Is this the end to marriage as we know it? Our culture has already defined sin away and now we are attempting to define away marriage. I remember hearing an interview with a performance artist who arranged to have a naked couple wrestling and he called it art. During the interview he was asked what made this art and he replied, “Because I say it is.” Art had been defined away. This is how many want to define marriage. Marriage is whatever any one claims it to be or it becomes what whoever has the power says it is. Most recently it has been the Massachusetts Supreme Court declaring that they have the power to define what marriage is and that it does not matter what the intents or beliefs of John Adams were when he wrote the Massachusetts’ State Constitution or what the people of Massachusetts believe that marriage is. But the Court is declaring they know what marriage is and that they have the exclusive right and authority to tell the rest of society. And on February 12 Gavin Newsome, the Mayor of San Francisco also took authority over the definition by sanctioning same-sex marriage in San Francisco.

Obviously there is an assault on marriage taking place, but this war on marriage began long before the attack on it by the Massachusetts Supreme Court. As far back as 1971, the Declaration of Feminism stated, “Marriage has existed for the benefit of men; and has been a legally sanctioned method of control over women….We must work to destroy it.” But the destruction of marriage began even before then.

Do you really believe homosexuals with a habit of promiscuity would want the burden of marriage if we had commitment and the laws of a generation ago when fault would be found in divorce accompanied by ongoing financial commitments beyond child support to the injured party (alimony) and the loss of property rights by the offending party? The reason that marriage has become an attractive option for the contemporary gay couple is due to the fact that marriage already has been so watered down in our society, has become too easy to enter into and get out of, has lost so much meaning and value that all that remains are some minimal benefits being sought out by the gay lobby, and little or no responsibility to the other person and certainly no obligations toward society. The blame for this should be placed on those Christians who were sleeping while our marriage and divorce laws were watered down over the past fifty years. The development of no fault divorces and easy dissolutions of marriage have made marriage something that regardless of one’s vows can easily be slipped out of. Do you really think that many gays would seriously consider marriage if it was like it was fifty years ago where the divorce would have to go through the courts? It is a matter of fact that gays generally have more partners and have fewer lasting relationships than heterosexuals. Why should gays want to be married? It is because there is no real threat of loss in it. They can get out of it just as easy as they got into it. In the Akron Beacon Journal New York Times columnist David Brooks writes, “Marriage is in crisis because marriage, which relies on a culture of fidelity is now asked to survive in a culture of contingency. Today, individual choice is held up as the highest value: choice of lifestyles, choice of identities, choice of cell phone rate plans. Freedom of contingency means that the marriage bond, which is supposed to be a sacred vow till death do us part, is now more likely to be seen as an easily canceled contract” (November 25, 2003). The idea that gay marriage would weaken the institution of marriage is not a strong argument today. This is because marriage is already about as weak as it could become.

The problem is also in the church which has defined down marriage. When was the last time you heard a sermon in church on the sin of divorce? When was the last time you knew of someone being excommunicated for the sin of divorce? Unfortunately in the church today divorce has become an acceptable way of life. “Till death do us part,” is said with the fingers crossed by many Christians. To justify divorce, there are those who whine, “But I believe God wants me to be happy.” And so sin becomes acceptable because happiness is more expedient. This has led to Christians accepting easy divorce including no fault divorce and dissolutions. This adds to the low view of marriage. Parents have been afraid to disinherit those sinful children who cohabitate without marriage (a nice way of saying shacking up) and who justify it by thinking of it as a trial for marriage. And the Catholic Church has not helped. Yes, it has been slower to accept divorce and remarriage, but has circumvented the whole process by reinventing the convenience of annulments. Now of course an annulment is more difficult to get than a divorce, but how absurd is it to say that a couple who were married several years were not ever really married and thus not really divorced. All of this has prepared us for what could be called the “end of marriage.” As an institution it is receiving one death blow after another. Recently a man and two women asked a federal court in Utah to strike down the ban on polygamy. According to their suit, they hold “sincere and deeply held religious beliefs.” And that laws which prohibit polygamy or plural marriages deprive them of religious freedom. Why not accept marriage to multiple people? Why not accept group or communal marriage? Why not allow someone to marry their dog or cow? Because that is not marriage. Why not allow a gay couple to marry? Because that is not marriage. Every time we hear this issue of gay-marriage and see it promoted and rammed down our throats, just remember that the gay community is not to be blamed alone for this. It is also the fault of the church. Each marriage accepted as annulled by the Catholic Church, every divorce which becomes no fault and is not seen as sin, every marriage by Christians which ends by easy dissolution has led us to this day.

Marriage has become overly simplified today and commitment is taken far too lightly. Yet the ideas about marriage are often so mixed up and confusing. On one hand there are those who see it as serious enough that they do not want to enter into it and so they end up shacking up for awhile to avoid the commitment found in marriage, yet the commitment is so modest today in regards to marriage that people drift into it and out almost like going steady. It becomes as disposable as a contemporary television. TV’s are so cheap now-a-days that when something goes wrong we just dispose of it and get another one, just like with marriage partners. Forty years ago when a TV would break there would be elaborate testing to determine which tube had gone bad so it could be replaced, the TV fixed, and life would resume. There are few if any obligations that are placed on couples today and none placed on society. Marriage is mocked by Britney Spears, but is her brief marriage and annulment to her childhood friend any more of a mockery than the way the church has accepted a low view of marriage and easy divorce for the last generation? Just yesterday I heard a girl outside my office explaining to a friend that her boyfriend is taking her to a hotel for Valentine’s weekend but that he won’t be proposing yet because they are not financially secure enough yet to get married. What a crock! Is this taking marriage too seriously or too lightly? This is the confusing paradoxical perspective on marriage today.

The issue with Gay Marriage as a right also enters this part of the discussion. There are many claiming that marriage is a right that should apply to all people regardless of sexual orientation, but there has been no public discussion on what this obligation places on others or what responsibility is placed upon those who seek this status of marriage. And where does the State’s interest enter into this? What has not been spoken of is the notion that rights are always accompanied by responsibilities. Whenever any ethics text speaks of rights it is always accompanied by materials on obligations. If you claim a right and I acknowledge it as your right, there is now an obligation for me not to violate that right. Responsibilities and obligations are the unspoken other side to rights. How does this discussion fit into the discussion about the right to marry? Specifically if two men marry one another, what obligations does that place upon society and what obligations do they now owe one another?

Even a liberal state like California has shown that the voters are opposed to gay marriage. It is apparent that the homosexual community is pushing the issue to be decided by the courts. There a judge or a few judges can establish policy and create law. This takes it out of the hands of the people and creates a form of judicial tyranny. In mid-February as Mayor Gavin Newsome ordered his staff to sanction same-sex matrimony he decreed, “A little more than a month ago, I took the oath of office here at City Hall and swore to uphold California’s Constitution, which clearly outlaws all forms of discrimination….There is no rationale for discrimination against any individuals in California.” But what is the implication of such a statement? As Pastor Kelly Boggs has written, “How can he deny the sanctioning of an incestuous union if there is ‘no rationale for discrimination?’ Would the mayor of San Francisco issue a marriage license to a person wanting to wed his or her pet?…Newsome’s statement is as foolish as it is arrogant….Moral discrimination is a necessary component for an orderly society. Without it, no behavior can be considered perverse.”

Note what the various Christian traditions say as they introduce the marriage service. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this company, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony.” It goes on to say that this is “an honorable estate instituted of God” and should not “be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God.” Let us be people who promote the sanctity of marriage, who promote the blessedness of this estate, who understand it as God does and who value it as “till death do us part”

We are being blindsided by this onslaught of secularism which creates a tyrannical court which makes rulings based on the ideas of just a few. But they are not the only problem. Once again we have judicial activism walking all over the democratic process. John Leo has called the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court an act of “stupefying arrogance” and an attempt to “stretch a state’s constitution beyond all previous understanding, and impose what many people believe is a fundamental redefinition of marriage.” Let us stop the floodgates of the assault upon marriage by supporting the strong policy definitions of marriage between one man and one woman. But let us also go back and try to regain some ground by finding fault in divorce particularity in cases of abandonment and adultery, reinstituting alimony, viewing divorce for nonBiblical reasons as sin, and reestablishing the idea that commitment in marriage means something.

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