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The Supreme Court is Missing the Point

If we are going to discuss marriage, then we should have a go a defining what marriage is before deciding on who might take part. Defining marriage should, at the very least, seek to define marriage. It is no good arguing about whether one might marry one person or two, whether it is okay to marry someone of the same sex or whether it is somehow immoral to exclude a coupling based on age, gender or quantity if one does not actually talk about what it is that unites someone in marriage.

There are at least three ways of thinking about the actual relationship between people. First, and most popular presently, is as an expression of romantic love. Marriage, then, is a public, state/society approved love bond between two gooey eyed people. If that is what marriage is, then, given such a narrow definition, it seems difficult to find any grounds for excluding any willing participant. And it follows that when gooeyness ends so does marriage. But surely we think marriage is more than being bowled over.

The second way to think about marriage is in terms of contract. The government plays the role of defending a contract between two people that guarantees a unique status in society and material benefits pertaining to rights of partners in post-mortem redistribution of wealth. Again, on these terms, given the willingness of both parties and if this is what defines marriage, there appears little moral ground for exclusion. One might object on utilitarian grounds - "families with stable heterosexual marriages produce children more likely to contribute to the wealth of society" or something along those lines - but this is not really a moral ground at all.

The third, and largely ignored, definition is the "traditional" version. And by "traditional" I do not just mean old. Tradition is something passed on from one generation to the next. There is nothing wrong with something just because it is passed on from one generation to the next. Nor is something justified merely because it is passed on from one generation to the next. However, what is ignored is what this version is. The term most useful is covenant or promise. And this covenant is explicitly made before God and fellow human beings. It is binding not because of emotional impulse nor because of state recognized contract, but because it is made before God and human beings.

Furthermore the promise is not human in origin; it is a gift from God for the benefit of human beings. If it is a gift, then what it is is defined by the giver and not the receiver. Clearly scripture defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Marriage is exclusive by definition. Marriage excludes polygymy, same-sex relationships, serial monogamy, adultery, infidelity, pornography, lusting after another's wife and any drift of the heart. Vows taken in marriage are binding, binding in heaven and on earth. They are also impossible to live up to given our fallen human nature. But what is impossible for human beings is possible for God who can sustain even the most difficult of marriages and ultimately blesses human beings within marriage.

Whatever one thinks of the latter definition it is what we have meant by marriage for a long time. To change it one needs to come up with a moral ground for its termination. The trouble with removing this definition is that one has to remove God. And to remove God one has no ground of any sort, moral or otherwise - let everyone do what is right in his own eyes.

In the present debate God has been replaced by the idol of romantic love and the state has taken over from the church. It is as if the state has been loaned the term "marriage" and made a mess of it. They have taken it out on loan and made it meaningless, a matter of whim and who-gets-what-when-I-die. Don't get me wrong, people pervert themselves in sexual behavior before the state ratifies what they are doing, but, at least in our society, marriage is treated as possible because the state determines it to be.

Some Christians, sensibly I think, realize that the cultural fight is all but over. This is not because the argument is defeated (as I have said there appears very little public debate about the definition of marriage), but because we can see who holds the reigns. I might hope this to be different, but a quick look at opinion polls dashes any hope pretty quickly - God, have mercy on us and bring this nation to repentance. The main focus, even while we keep voting with our values, becomes a demonstration of what Christian marriage is. If the state deviates, the church cannot follow. Instead it should teach the truth and practice Christian marriage, Christian parenting. This might produce some flack from a media bent on beating up Christians, but they beat us for their own envy not because they have some ground for believing we are wrong.

The ironic thing about marriage is that people who wish to be married are actually looking for more than self-fulfillment, gooey feelings or material benefits. They want something that transcends all that, that is somehow spiritual. They want, like it or not, Biblical marriage. And if the Bible is what defines marriage then not even the supreme court can give them that. In fact the church cannot give that away. Even if 100% of the population desired marriage to be redefined it cannot be redefined because no human beings defined it in the first place. And to defend it the Christian can only act - live out his or her life within the blessing of God in marriage.

I hope that many who know the Lord might experience the joy, the mystery, the bounty of married life. I would love for people to be married. I want people to be blessed, but it is the blessing of a gift given by a gracious God, not a right bestowed by a state.