The Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday about whether states can legally choose to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. It is a defining moment in our nation's history. Though marriage between a man and a woman has existed since the beginning, this time-honored institution is under fire. For nearly twenty years the debate has raged. Before federal judges began to overturn marriage laws, 30 states had protected normative marriage. Now the High Court is poised to decide for us all.
I have spoken and written on why marriage defined as the union of one man and woman matters as a social construct. But for Christians, marriage is not just another culture war issue. We know that it is not possible for our government to actually redefine what God has defined from eternity. Marriage is about more than a license registered at a courthouse. Marriage is about the benefit for society and the common good, but it is also the symbol of the union of Christ and the Church. Without a Christian vision of marriage, we have no accurate vision of the gospel.
Normative marriage should not be treated as if it were an institution of a bygone era standing in the way of supposed progress. Religious leaders from various faith communities have affirmed their commitment to promote and defend marriage—the union of one man and one woman. They proclaim that marriage is the foundation of the family where a child is raised by a father and mother.
In a statement last Thursday, An Open Letter from Religious Leaders on Marriage and Religious Freedom, the leaders stated, "The state has a compelling interest in maintaining marriage as it has been understood across faiths and cultures for millennia because it has a compelling interest in the well being of children. Every child has a mother and a father, and every child deserves the opportunity, whenever possible, to be raised by his or her own married mother and father in a stable, loving home. Marriage as the union of a man and a woman is the only institution that encourages and safeguards the connection between children and their mother and father. Although this connection cannot always be realized and sustained—and many single parents, for example, are heroic in their efforts to raise their children—it is in the best interests of the state to encourage and uphold the family founded on marriage and to afford the union of husband and wife unique legal protection and reinforcement."
They went on to say, "The redefinition of legal marriage to include any other type of relationship has serious consequences, especially for religious freedom. It changes every law involving marital status, requiring that other such relationships be treated as if they were the same as the marital relationship of a man and a woman. No person or community, including religious organizations and individuals of faith, should be forced to accept this redefinition. For many people, accepting a redefinition of marriage would be to act against their conscience and to deny their religious beliefs and moral convictions. Government should protect the rights of those with differing views of marriage to express their beliefs and convictions without fear of intimidation, marginalization or unwarranted charges that their values imply hostility, animosity or hatred of others."
The question remains why the movement toward approval of same-sex marriage? To quote G.K. Chesterton: "Don't take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up." Social science research shows that people are willing to be wrong if it allows us to get along. Maybe the rise in approval is simply the fact people don't want to disagree with the perceived prevailing mood. What people really think may be hard to know. The last time there was a vote about same-sex marriage was three years ago in North Carolina. The polls all said the same-sex marriage amendment would pass but it did not. When people voted their conscience in a private voting booth the decision was against same-sex marriage.
For some Christians the motivation may be the desire to show Christ's love. We do not want people to think we are being hateful or intolerant. But Jesus taught other truths besides love. He said, "Carry your cross and follow me." He said, "Narrow is the way." Jesus preached morality not just love. To balance grace and truth is difficult to do, but it has to be done. We have a desire for moral conviction as long as we are liked for that conviction. Yet, Jesus taught his followers would not always be liked and may be hated.
If the Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage would churches that do not embrace same-sex marriage find their legal status challenged or even eliminated? What about Christian colleges, parachurch ministries, Christian humanitarian ministries and all other religious institutions, Christian and otherwise, that support the traditional view of marriage? In the past Christian leaders like Dietrich Bonheoffer and Martin Luther King have gone to jail for their Christian convictions. Is this where leaders like myself may be headed?