US Supreme Court, June 26, 2015
Knowing this would be the likely result does not soften the blow. American Christians weep for their country. Caesar’s law now says that gender difference is not an essential element of marriage. Those who’ve read to the end of the book know that God wins. But we’re not living at the end of the book, at least not today. So whither now?
First, Christian, do not be deluded. Can we now pause and acknowledge that ours is not a Christian nation, though many Christians reside here; that the interests of the state diverge from those of Christians; and that the state can and will respond negatively to Christians? It’s nothing to cry about, today, but neither is it a reality to ignore.
Implicit in the Supreme Court decision is the notion that marriage is a concession of the state. How did we come to this pass? How did we come to think of a marriage “license” as being truly a grant from the government?
One of the guiding rationales of the majority of the Supreme Court was that homosexuality is an immutable trait, and as such, those “oriented” to it were rendered unable, as a practical matter, to enjoy the rights and privileges of marriage. They meant the rights and privileges accorded under the law, of course. The assumption is that the provenance of those rights and privileges, and therefore of marriage itself, is the state, speaking through the law that the state enacts.
There are indeed legal rights and privileges accorded to marriage, and the more so as the state accretes more and more into the personal space of citizens. Think of invasive tax laws; the socialization of family medical plans; the legally-mandated family benefits required of private employers. If people of the same sex can “marry,” then that “marriage” is necessarily solely a creation of the state. For a same-sex “married” couple, the state truly is the grantor of the right to marriage. The sole grantor.
Marriage precedes state
Marriage was embedded into the law of England long before westerners were aware of the existence of the American continent. And so in America it continued to be embedded into laws concerning person-to-person legal relationships, such as with inheritance and property ownership. But marriage became embedded in the law as it related to state-to-person relationships, as well, such as with taxation and immigration.
But the state didn’t invent marriage. The state only recognized the existence of an institution that had long preceded it. Men and women have paired off since time began, and usually considered that pairing to be an element of their relationship to God, or to gods. Families were a fact of human life, not a state-driven social formation. Marriage was not originally a state matter.
Inversion of origin of marriage
Now it’s different. For one thing, the state religion is secularism. The law is built on a positive repudiation of any allegiance to God, or made-up deities. (See False Neutrality, How Secularism Eclipses Faith). The state recognizes marriage and family, but no longer recognizes them as primarily an institution of citizens’ disparate religious beliefs. Marriage has come to be seen more and more as a legal construct; less and less as a moral or religious one. As primarily a legal construct, it has come to be perceived as a creation of the state.
For another thing, we live under a managerial state. This is true of most prosperous western nations, and is especially true of the United States. Its recognition of marriage as a legal relationship is ineluctably entwined into a vast network of interconnecting statutes, regulations, ordinances, policies, taxes, and indirect mandates imposed on us through employers and other private entities, not to mention the inhibition in our activities resulting from the expectation of government omnipresence.
Given this combination, it’s no surprise that marriage would be twisted to some purpose or form unrecognizable to those who understand marriage outside of its legal, state-sponsored, context.
Marriage vs. “marriage”
So, we must differentiate between marriage and the state’s “marriage.” There is no sin in getting the certificate from city hall, in order to enjoy legal rights and privileges of the state’s idea of “marriage.” But we should not be confused about the fact that the legal relationship is different entirely than that of the marriage Christians regard as the covenant relationship between man and woman, mirroring analogously that of God to His people.
The bright side
The Supreme Court’s decision is not necessarily a bad development. There is now a clearer divorce between what the state now means by “marriage,” and what people have meant by it down through the ages. Maybe we could come up with a different word than “marriage,” to describe the relationship that we have always understood as marriage, and which exists independent of the state. Unfortunately many will unthinkingly adopt the culture’s premise of gender fluidity, even in marriage, as the new normal. But for others who are more alert to the drift, this decision may cause the fog to part, and the danger to become more apparent.