“But which is the stone that supports the bridge?” – Kublai Khan
Earlier this week, the Maryland state senate passed a bill to recognize same sex marriage (story here). This issue serves to show, quite interestingly, how pro-freedom and pro-liberal-theocracy policies may end up at similar outcomes via wildly different paths. It also serves to show the difference (to my mind) between good policy and good morals. First, the outcomes.
The proper role of government in this venue ought to be the enforcement of contract laws. That is, if two people (or multiple people) enter into a contract of whatever form, being of sound mind and body, then the role of the government is to enforce the contract if the parties break agreement. Whether you define this as marriage, or domestic partnership, or limited liability corporation is of little matter from the standpoint of enforcing a contract (legal minutia aside).
The problem of course is when specific contracts carry with them special privileges. For instance, governments have mandated in various forms that businesses must offer insurance and other benefits for spouses of employees. Also, nearly every state has some form of “spousal immunity” so that conversations between husband and wife are privileged. This gives rise to claims of unequal treatment under the law for those who do not exist in the specific one-man-one-woman marriage covenant.
To this I say there are simple solutions, such as dissolving the special privileges. (The “spousal immunity” one is tricky – it runs pretty deep, but unwrapping the entirety of it is a bit beyond this post.)
The pro-liberal-theocrat approach is to simply enforce everything on the governed. They move to recognize traditional and gay marriage. They tell businesses that they cannot deny services based on personal feelings about these marriage institutions (i.e., a bed and breakfast cannot deny service to a homosexual couple). They even hint at (though not necessarily in the Maryland case) forcing churches to recognize all things recognized by the state. In the end you have about the same result – people can marry who they want – but with a whole lot less freedom.
Secondarily, I’d like to point out that this speaks to the difference between policy and morality. I don’t think the state should have any role in defining marriage, for good or bad, but that does not mean that I find no moral differences. I am a Christian, after all; and the Bible is not silent on the issue. Consider:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 [nomasir: this is not ambiguous – nor is it a short list.]
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” – Leviticus 20:13 [nomasir: this is not ambiguous. Also, we do not, as a Church or a nation, live under the Levitical covenant with God – and therefore we do not practice the death penalty for homosexual acts, or fornication for that matter – but the moral implications remain.]
“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” – Romans 1:26-27 [nomasir: shall we go on?]
For crying out loud, God destroyed the cities of the valley, including Sodom, declaring His intent beforehand to Abraham that He would go down to see just how bad things were “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave” (Genesis 18:20). He destroyed the whole place, saving the few righteous that were there; sending them away to a nearby city and declaring “for I can do nothing till you arrive there” (Genesis 19:22).
Make no mistake, dear reader, I hold these convictions firm. But I also hold that it should not be the place of the government (or my neighbors, who are the government that is “of the people, by the people and for the people”) to enforce these convictions upon the public. So long as these relational contracts do not violate the individual human rights to life, liberty, property; of the participants, then the government ought not intervene.
As for the Church, we live in the age of grace. We recognize the fallen nature of man. We know that we are saved by grace: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9. Let us not use the force of government to enforce our moral code, but let us use the gospel to reach all who are lost in this dying world.
Now, there are many conservative Christians who will respond that marriage is more than a simple contract, but a necessary, foundational building block of the society [thus the Kublai Khan quote]. They will argue that societies that have cast off traditional marriage (e.g., Europe and Russia) have suffered dramatically because of it. I disagree with none of these points. But please, tell me that our commitment to marriage is greater than what can be enforced by the arm of government. Please tell me that we don’t stake our hopes to have a more moral society on the ability of government to enforce morality. Please tell me that our message to the people is based on the power of God not government. To mold and shape the society to our desired image through legislation is the way of progressives, liberals, and Fabian Socialists – not Christians.