March 31, 2004
Posted at Liberty
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When I was growing up somewhere in the swamps of Jersey, I had a friend who said the following whenever an issue was blown out of proportion: “Do you have to make a federal issue out of it?”
Such was my reaction when I first heard about the proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The text of the amendment reads as follows:
"Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union between a man and a woman. Neither this constitution nor the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."
While this seems harmless enough, there is plenty wrong with it. Its proponents deem it The Only Solution to the dual problems of judicial activism and the gay agenda. If you oppose it they will label you -- with all the intellectualism of Al Sharpton -- pro-gay, anti-God and all manner of other diabolical, anti-American things.
Add this to the coming election and you have a perfect recipe for a long, hot, mind-numbing summer. In Macbeth, the lead character calls life “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” The summer of 2004 will feature the sound and fury of endless idiots, signifying nothing.
Let me be blunt: homosexuality is a depraved and perverted lifestyle. The thought of going at it with one of my own positively makes my stomach do 360s. Christianity and numerous other faiths condemn it. It is a lifestyle fraught with peril. God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. However, no matter what I say about homosexuality and those who practice it, many others will call me pro-gay, anti-God and all kinds of other unfounded names.
There is a lot about the Constitution, amendments thereto and about the Bible itself that these folks do not understand. Hence, they are just as wrong as those who would have the state sanction homosexual marriages and force everyone to recognize them.
Let us begin with the question of activist judges. For decades, there has been much ranting about “activist judges legislating from the bench.” Numerous constitutional amendments have been proposed in response to this. These proposals have dealt with issues such as abortion, school prayer, flag desecration, the Pledge of Allegiance and, now, gay marriage.
The Constitution contains remedies for judges who overstep their bounds. Article 3, Section 2 spells out the cases in which the Supreme Court shall have original and appellate jurisdiction “with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.” Congress has the power to limit the authority of the courts. It is high time that we stopped whining about activist judges and demanding that our legislators read their job description.
Article 3, Section 1 of this job description states that, “The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their offices during good Behaviour.” Judicial appointments, contrary to popular myth, are not lifetime appointments. Congress may impeach rogue judges. Why are they not doing it?
Another myth is that judicial decisions have the force of law. They only have this clout because several generations of Americans, in their abject ignorance, have given the courts such power. The Bible calls on Christians to resist ungodly authority. (See Daniel 3, Daniel 6, Acts 4:19 and Acts 5:29.) Why are Christians not leading the resistance against court rulings on things like school prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance? Why are they not demanding that their states simply ignore Roe v. Wade? This would be far easier than amending the Constitution.
The Declaration of Independence states that “governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.” With this in mind, the framers of the Constitution made it very difficult to amend. To pass constitutional muster, an amendment must be approved by two-thirds of both houses of Congress plus the legislatures in three-quarters of the states. Thousands of amendments have been proposed. Only 27 have succeeded.
Homosexuality is no “light and transient” matter. The renowned British historian Arnold Toynbee pointed out that, “Of the 22 civilizations that have appeared in history, 19 of them collapsed when they reached the moral state America is in today." Toynbee died in 1975, long before anyone foresaw the influence that the gay lobby exercises today.
However, there are other – and better – remedies than constitutional amendments. And if no one is paying attention to the Constitution now, what makes proponents of the Marriage Amendment think anyone will pay attention to their amendment?
Much of the current uproar about gay marriages stems from events in places like San Francisco and New Paltz, New York. The mayors of these towns have caused uproars by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“We cannot have this!” cry the traditionalists. “Marriage licenses should only be issued to couples consisting of one man and one woman.”
What is their basis for this belief in the need for a marriage license?
Marriage licenses – documents conferring the state’s blessing on a marital union – have no biblical basis. There is no scripture mandating such authorization for marriage. In Genesis 2:24, when God ordains marriage, He says that “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Neither Genesis 2:25 – nor any other Scripture – states that this union can only be official with a piece of paper from the local magistrate.
During the late 1960s, it was common for couples who shacked up out of wedlock to say that “marriage is just a piece of paper.” This is what we – including about 99 percent of Christians – have reduced marriage to in the modern age. Today, Christians and conservatives insist on the need for the government to issue a document before a marriage to be genuine. They, too, have "redefined" marriage.
Matt Trewhella pastors the Mercy Seat Christian Church in Milwaukee. For years, he has been marrying couples without licenses. He has some fascinating things to say about why Christians should not obtain a marriage license.
Pastor Trewhella quotes the Black’s Law Dictionary’s definition of a license as "the permission by competent authority to do an act which without such permission, would be illegal." Why do we need permission from the state to participate in something ordained by God? Also, when you obtain a license to marry, you give the state unbiblical authority over your marriage and over your children, as well as placing yourself under all sorts of immoral laws. You may read Pastor Trewhella’s entire message here.
Pastor Trewhella goes on to give a brief outline of the history of marriage licenses in America. Marriage licenses were not issued in America until the mid-1800s. In 1923, the federal government passed the Uniform Marriage and Marriage License Act. It was not until 1929 that every state had marriage license laws. Is it merely a coincidence that the demise of the traditional family in America only took place after we gave the government the authority to regulate marriage? I don’t think so.
Big government groupies – this includes Republicans, Democrats and most pastors – will always seek big government solutions. The proposed marriage amendment is just such a thing. It may make its proponents feel good, but it will solve nothing. It will merely intensify a trend – government regulation of marriage – that has been going on for decades.
Benton County, Oregon, the home of Oregon State University, is a pretty liberal place. On March 24, Benton County commissioners did the right thing, albeit for the wrong reasons: they stopped issuing marriage licenses. According to one commissioner, the ostensible purpose of this action was to “uphold Oregon's Constitution's anti-discrimination provisions.”
Tim Nashif, of the Defense of Marriage Coalition stated the following with regard to the Benton County decision: "We are happy Benton County is not going to violate the law by issuing illegal marriage licenses, but we are perplexed as to why they would not issue legal licenses."
Here we have a classic example of the contemporary confusion over what defines marriage. Since the Bible defines marriage, a license (i.e. permission) from the secular authorities is not necessary.
What then shall we do?
If two men or two women want to shack up and call it marriage, I cannot forcibly stop them. Utopia is not an option. However, calling it marriage does not make it marriage. Calling book a telephone does not make it a telephone. Calling a dog a cat does not make it a cat.
In a free society, which America has not been for many decades, no one would be compelled to recognize such a union as a marriage. No employer would be required to pay benefits to your same-sex significant other. No insurer would be required to write life insurance if your same-sex partner was a beneficiary. No landlord would be required to rent to two people of the same gender if he thought they were living immorally.
A few years ago, a well-known evangelical Christian broadcaster commented that if gay marriage were to become legal, schools would be required to teach your children that there was nothing wrong with it. In a free society, you would not be required to send your child to such a school, or even to pay for it through taxes.
Both sides in the debate over the proposed marriage amendment, as portrayed by the media, are wrong. Those who advocate gay marriage are wrong for openly promoting a perverted and perilous lifestyle.
Those who propose a constitutional ban on gay marriage are also wrong. They only intensify the problem by putting the kingdom of man before the Kingdom of God. From the Garden of Eden until about 150 years ago, marriage was a covenant made before God. The state had nothing to do with it. It is only when the state got its tentacles all over the sacred institution of marriage that it -- as well as the traditional family in general -- started to come apart. Surprise!
It all reminds me of a quote attributed to Beatle drummer Ringo Starr: “Everything the government touches turns to crap.”
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Freely Speaking: Essays by Doug Newman