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When Worldviews Collide: Why DOMA Matters

By Chuck Michaelis

God issued a mandate to man regarding His ordained institution of marriage just before the fall. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” -Genesis 2:24 (ESV). Contrast this with the statement about homosexual “marriage” made by the Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly practicing homosexual Episcopal bishop in the United States. He said recently “Don’t waste your time and energy defending marriage from something that doesn’t threaten it.” (1)

The incongruity of these two declarations is obvious. Like two giant ships speeding towards one another in a fog, two worldviews are headed for a collision. Both ships have a set course. The traditional marriage defenders use God’s holy word as their compass. Those who wish to change definition of marriage use man’s selfish, fleshly desires as their compass. The fog represents the majority of the electorate who are lost in the haze created by existential philosophical training that has dulled or destroyed their ability to think critically about issues in the context of absolute right and wrong.

The definition of marriage provided by Noah Webster’s dictionary of 1828 provides a telescope to view how Americans thought of marriage in the beginning years of the republic. It defines marriage as:

The act of uniting a man and a 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 promiscuous intercourse of the sexes, for promoting domestic felicity, and for securing the maintenance and education of children.(2)

Virtually every successful society in history has placed high value on the union of man and woman in marriage. The Encyclopedia Britannica explains the world’s view of the marriage institution

The universality of marriage within different societies and cultures is attributed to the many basic social and personal functions it performs such as procreation and provision for sexual gratification and regulation, care of children and their socialization, regulation of lines of descent, division of labor between the sexes, economic production and consumption and provision for satisfaction of personal needs for affection, status and companionship.(3)

From a strictly humanistic standpoint, this is a satisfactory explanation of the reasons that healthy societies value formalized commitment between man and woman and prohibit other types which pervert and weaken the structure. It is the basis of the traditional family, the bedrock foundation for any society. Dr. John Eidsmoe expands on the theme and explains the creation of the institution from the theological perspective

The institution of the family was not just God’s personal whim. In [H]is omniscience [H]e knew that people needed such an institution, and in their fallen state of sin they would need the family even more.(4)

The lessons of history also provide insight on the fate of societies that devalue the institution of marriage in its traditional sense. Roman society did this during its decline from the world’s most powerful and influential socio-political entity, as did the Greeks before them. Both societies progressively allowed easy divorce, promiscuity, homosexuality and viewed children as a burden rather than an invaluable cultural asset and investment during their declines.

In the United States, our laws are based on the English Common Law. Probably the most famous and astute commentaries on the Common Law were written by Sir William Blackstone. Blackstone was very clear about the basis of not only the Common Law but also all just law.

Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his creator, for he is entirely a dependent being …[a]nd consequently, as man depends absolutely upon his maker for every thing, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his maker’s will…

This has given manifold occasion for the benign interposition of divine providence; which …hath been pleased, at sundry times and in divers manners, to discover and enforce it’s laws by an immediate and direct revelation. The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed or divine law, and they are to be found only in the [H]oly [S]criptures. These precepts, when revealed, are found upon comparison to be really a part of the original law of nature… [a]s then the moral precepts of this law are indeed of the same original with those of the law of nature, so their Intrinsic obligation is of equal strength and perpetuity.(5)

It is on this absolute foundation of higher authority that the laws of our republic and its individual states were originally built. Sadly, the legal system of the United States is no longer built on the solid rock of God’s word but rests on the shifting sand of the doctrine of “living documents”. Philosophically, this approach to the law is based on Darwin’s theory of evolution and was championed by Christopher Columbus Langdell, a Harvard Law School dean in the late 19th century. According to David Barton, by the 1930’s Blackstone’s fixed approach to the law had been discarded in favor of Langdell’s sliding scale.(6) This approach has lead to a nightmare scenario where once solid foundational documents have been subjected to repeated deconstructionist judicial reinterpretations until none of their original meaning can be found in them.

The application of Langdell’s view of the law culminated in a recent pivotal decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The decision stated that same-sex marriage could not be prohibited because “…the Commonwealth had failed to articulate a rational basis for denying marriage to same-sex partners”(7), denying centuries old legal and lexicographic definitions of the word.

This would be a big enough problem if it were limited to one state. However, the Full Faith and Credit clause, article 4, sec. 1 of the US Constitution, requires that all states recognize the public acts, records and judicial proceedings of every other state within limits set by Congress. There is, then, a potential that one rogue state court can destroy the basic institutions of the other states. This potential was recognized by federal legislators and they passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It was signed into law by then President Clinton in 1996. In essence, the law suspends the interstate effect of state laws regarding the redefinition of marriage away from its traditional meaning and defines marriage as existing between one man and one woman in terms of any federal act.(8)

While Congress can define what it means by words like marriage, there is a legitimate constitutional question about how far Congress can go in limiting the effect of one state law on the laws of the rest. If the federal DOMA passes judicial muster, then a state definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman is imperative for the law to have the effect of protecting marriage in that state. Ohio took steps to ensure the maintenance of traditional marriage with the recent passage of its own DOMA, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Time will tell if an activist judiciary will obey its constitutional constraints or further usurp legislative authority and make new law redefining marriage from the bench.

  1. Malone, Bernadette “Same-sex Marriage Threatens Real Marriage” Manchester Union Leader On-line Edition Feb. 22, 2004 http://www.theunionleader.com/Articles_show.html?article=33528&archive=1
  2. Webster, Noah “American Dictionary of the English Language”
  3. Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. William Benton, Publisher Chicago 1965, Vol. 14, 926
  4. Eidsmoe, Dr. John “God and Caesar” Crossway Books Westchester, IL 60153 1984 Fourth Printing 1987, 115
  5. Tucker, St. George “Blackstone’s Commentaries: With Notes of Reference, to the Constitution and Laws, of the Federal Government of the United States, and of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Section the Second- Of the nature of Laws In General” Published by William Young Birch, and Abraham Small, Philadelphia 1803, On-line version editor Jon Roland 1997-2003, Constitution Society http://www.constitution.org/tb/tb-1102.htm
  6. Barton, David “Original Intent” 3rd Ed. 2nd Printing Wallbulders Press Aledo, TX 2000, 228
  7. Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court SJC-09163 “Opinions of the Justices to the Senate” http://www.state.ma.us/courts/opinionstothesenate.pdf
  8. http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/C?c104:./temp/~c104d7Fqhk


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