Marriage and Culture Change

My marriage is a sacred compact between my wife and me before God. No law, proposition, or court decision can ever change that. The government’s recognition of my marriage did not make it the sacred compact that it is; the government’s recognition of anyone else’s relationship does not affect what mine is; and no legal definition or redefinition of any term touches it in the least.

To paraphrase Psalm 27: Whom, then, shall I fear?

The recent Supreme Court decision did not redefine Christian marriage, because no court could ever do so even if it wanted to. For a Christian, a marriage was and remains a sacrament before God between a man and a woman, and its authorities derive from sources other than, indeed beyond, those of the state. The fact that others have different conceptions of marriage, or that some want to call a relationship a “marriage” that a Christian does not recognize as counting as a “marriage,” is, frankly, irrelevant. I am thankful to live in a country where we do not have to agree on everything in order to live with one another peacefully and respectfully.

It is beyond passing strange, however, that some of the same Christians so vehemently resisting the Affordable Care Act’s decrees that violate their religious freedom—and they are right to do so, in my view—are among those so anxious to have the government validate their religiously based conception of marriage. As Albert Jay Nock reminded us, whatever power you give the government to do something for you, you give it also to do something to you. You lose your right to complain when the government you have empowered and supported when it aligned with your worldview then decides to stray from your worldview and begins employing the power you gave it in the service of other ends. As the saying goes, government is, like fire, a dangerous servant and a fearful master: You should have known what deal you were making. 

The solution, it seems to me, is to return to the beginning: We must recognize freedom of religion, and the freedom of conscience it implies, as our first freedom, and abolish all government connection to it. No special favors, no legal protections, and no legal restrictions. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” as a wise man said a long time ago.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of this affair, however, is the incredible speed with which public opinion changed on the subject of same-sex marriage. Remember, the Defense of Marriage Act passed overwhelmingly (342–67 in the House; 85–14 in the Senate), enjoyed broad bipartisan support (even among many who subsequently called for its repeal and who now applaud the Supreme Court’s decision), and it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton (who also later decided to oppose it). And all that happened only in 1996. Contemplate for a moment that in the compass of just seventeen years, our culture went from broad and deep opposition to same-sex marriage to not only support for legalizing same-sex marriage but finding it obvious, even self-evident, that it should be legal and assuming that any opposition to it could come only from gross stupidity or blind bigotry—or both. I cannot think of another complete cultural about-face of this speed and magnitude.

In light of these recent events, I say to those who are disheartened by the Supreme Court’s striking down of DOMA: take heart! You now have the opportunity to witness to the world what your conception of marriage is not by relying on statutory props but by living your conception. Have the marriage you espouse; be the parents you extol; live the life you preach. Do not underestimate the power of personal example.

Moreover, if our culture can change this quickly about one matter, it can change this quickly about other matters as well. Perhaps this decision, along with other recent government mischief, can awaken from its dogmatic slumbers the American spirit of liberty—a spirit, that is, that once chafed not only at one or another particular invasion of conscience and privacy, but at invasions of conscience and privacy generally. Lord knows there remain many threats to our liberties to which a revivified love of personal choice and freedom could fruitfully turn its jealous scrutiny.

5 thoughts on “Marriage and Culture Change

  1. The state is involved in marriage for two reasons: to ensure that children do not become wards of the state and to ensure the orderly transfer of property between generations. It has nothing to do with the nature of the marriage itself. To do what you are suggesting, those of us who oppose redefining marriage to accommodate homosexuals would have to withdraw entirely from society. I do not believe you can do this –

    Those supporting same sex marriage aim to abolish it – a longterm goal of the left. Strong, blood related families are the best defense against an overambitious state. Communist theorists made clear these goals decades ago and same sex marriage is just one more assault. No homosexual advocacy organization is advocating monogamy, exclusivity and permanence as necessary to marriage. The argument is that all marriages will benefit from adopting the norms of male homosexuals. The state will now be used to enforce this view – in fact, it is already forbidden to criticize adultery to school children and this has been the case since my children were in elementary school in the 80s.

    Most of the people I know who support ssm argue that marriage should not be limited by gender, number of participants, or age of the parties. Some also are open about their contempt for religion (Christianity, really) and openly state they look forward to forcing religious adherents to conform. The contraceptive mandate is one method but mostly it will be accomplished through the public schools.

    I don’t think there’s much hope for us – thousands of years to climb out of the mire and less than a generation to get back in.

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