Marriage Equality

Christian Marriage in a Post-Christian Age

wedding rings“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14–16

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled. June 26, 2015, is a date to be remembered for generations. According to the majority opinion of the Court, the Fourteenth Amendment provides a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry. And according to Chief Justice Roberts’ dissenting opinion, the majority has also paved the way for polygamous and polyamorous marriage. So what are we to do now? How are Christians to live in a post-Christian age?

There is much to be said about the SCOTUS decision, but I will save that for another day. Right now I want to offer a positive spin on the future of Christian marriage in a post-Christian age.

I am fully convinced that by the time my children are old enough to marry, the status of marriage in the United States will be completely different than when my wife and I married over 12 years ago. This will create a number of challenges for us as parents and as Christians, but these are challenges that we can and should take on with confidence.

Here are a few thoughts about what Christians should do regarding marriage in a post-Christian society.

  1. Teach what the Bible says about marriage.

The foundational passage of Scripture about marriage is Genesis 2. In fact, when Jesus and Paul taught about marriage, they both referred back to the creation narrative to make their case. Genesis 2:24 reads, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” There are a few key points that we see in this verse that are also affirmed in the New Testament.

  • Marriage is created by God to be monogamous. When we see the divine commentary on the first marriage in Genesis 2, we see the original model for marriage—“a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife.” When Scripture speaks of marriage, it speaks in terms of monogamy. Yes, polygamous marriage was a reality in the Old Testament, and a number of the early patriarchs participated in such marriages. However, in each case, polygamy led to very difficult marital circumstances. Jealousy, backbiting, and ridicule were the norm in these relationships. If you fast forward to the New Testament, Jesus and Paul both affirm the monogamous nature of marriage and appeal to the creation narrative in order to do so (see Matthew 19:1–12, 1 Corinthians 7:1–40, and Ephesians 5:22–33).
  • Marriage is created by God to be heterosexual. Before God instituted the first marriage, he had a choice. He had only created the man, and he declared that it was not good for him to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Thus, God decided to make a woman and bring them together in marriage. Thus, the first marriage was intentionally heterosexual in nature according to God’s design. Jesus affirms this directly in Matthew 19:4–6a when he says, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” Jesus declared that marriage was designed around the fact that God created male and female. This was the design of marriage in the garden of Eden. It was the design of marriage that Jesus upheld in his teaching. It is the design of marriage that we should teach.
  • Marriage is created by God to be permanent. The Supreme Court did nothing specific to undermine this aspect of marriage, but we have already been undermining it as a culture and the church for decades. In Genesis 2:24, we see that a man and his wife will join one another. The old KJV uses the term “cleave.” The idea is simple. The man and woman join together and become one. This is more than a partnership or contractual relationship. They become a single unit. After quoting Genesis 2:24, Jesus then gives a brief explanation of the verse. He says, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6). Notice the last phrase of the verse. We are not to separate what God has joined together. In a culture that celebrates individuality and recommends divorce when life gets difficult, we need to teach the permanency of marriage.
  1. Model biblical marriage in the church and culture.

Marriage is not a random social arrangement. It has clear public goods, such as ensuring that children have the right to be reared in the home of their biological mother and father. It is also the most effective and efficient way to move the next generation from helpless infants to productive members of society. But more than that, marriage is one of the clearest illustrations of the gospel that we have. It illustrates the relationship between Christ and the church. In Ephesians 5, Paul quotes the foundational marriage verse of Genesis 2:24 and then states, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). This is all part of his lengthy description of the relationship between a husband and wife. Thus, he declares that God’s design for marriage even in the garden of Eden was to point us to how he relates to his people.

Therefore, we should take the instructions of Ephesians 5 very seriously. Husband, love your wife as Christ loves the church. Care for her. Protect her. Sacrifice your own interests for her good. Wife, submit to your husband as to the Lord. Follow him. Respect him.

Even in the church, we have undermined biblical marriage by making light of the model that God created. We should not quickly jump to divorce as the answer to difficulty. We should not mock or ridicule our spouses for a cheap laugh. Instead, honor and cherish each other—just as our vows promised. If we follow the biblical model of marriage, our marriages will be different. They will be as a city set on hill giving a public witness to the world of the power of Christ in our lives and our marriages.

  1. Instill in our children the importance of biblical marriage.

For many of us, we have a historic understanding of marriage that will most likely not be impacted that much by the changes wrought by the Supreme Court decision. However, our children will grow up in a culture that will be inundated with unbiblical models of marriage. Already we are beginning to see commercials, children’s literature, and school curriculum seeking to normalize same-sex marriage, cohabitation, plural marriage, and divorce. There is no way to shield them from seeing these things, so we must learn how to counter them.

First, we need to model marriage in our homes. Make sure that your children see how you interact with your spouse in a godly way. Demonstrate the truths of Ephesians 5 right in front of them. Second, talk about biblical marriage with your children. I don’t ever recall having long conversations with my parents about God’s design for marriage, but it is not because my parents ignored the issue. They didn’t need to explain it to me. I saw it all around me—in our home, in our church, and in my school. That will not be the case for my children. We must talk about marriage as a key doctrine at all times in the model of Deuteronomy 6:7. Third, we must encourage our children to marry when the time comes. I recognize that some of our children will be called to singleness (1 Corinthians 7:8), but most of them (from a historical standpoint) will not. However, many in the next generation may see marriage as a pointless, cultural relic by the time they are old enough to get married. We must encourage marriage as God’s model for joining together in intimacy and rearing future generations. Without such encouragement, even Christian young people may give up on marriage.

So what should we do in light of the Supreme Court ruling? While we could start wringing our hands and fretting about what the future may hold, I believe we should instead redouble our efforts to live out the biblical model of marriage in a watching world. Trust me, the world is watching, and they will want to know why our marriages are different if we truly model the biblical pattern.

Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments on Same-Sex Marriage Today

Supreme_Court_US_2010The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for Obergefell v. Hodges regarding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage this morning. The Court will consider two primary questions:

  1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
  2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

The answers to these questions will decide the future of marriage across the United States. If the answer to the first question is “Yes,” then same-sex marriage will be legalized nationwide, and the second question would be irrelevant. If the answer to the first question is “No,” but the second question is answered “Yes,” then it will authorize de facto same-sex marriage across the country. If both questions are answered “No,” then the status quo will continue.

You can follow a live blog of the oral arguments from SCOTUSblog at http://live.scotusblog.com/Event/Live_blog_Obergefell_v_Hodges. The live blog launches at 9:45 a.m. (CDT).

This case has the potential to be a defining Supreme Court decision for this generation. It could possibly change the definition of marriage for generations in our country. It has the potential to undermine the most fundamental institution in society, and I do not believe that to be an overstatement.

I encourage you to join with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and others as we pray for marriage. A sample prayer guide can be found at http://erlc.com/article/prayformarriage. We should also pray for the Supreme Court justices by name as the hear the arguments today. They are John Roberts (Chief Justice), Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Let us heed the words of Paul to his son in the faith, Timothy, as he wrote:

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. (1 Tim 2:1-2)

Supreme Court to Decide Constitutionality of Same-Sex Marriage Laws

Supreme_Court_US_2010The Supreme Court has just announced that it will hear four cases involving the constitutionality of same-sex marriage laws around the United States. The hearings will most likely be in April with a decision in June.

Two central questions will be considered according to the Court’s statement granting certiorari:

  1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
  2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

The answers to these questions will decide the future of marriage across the United States. If the answer to the first question is “Yes,” then same-sex marriage will be legalized nationwide, and the second question would be irrelevant. If the answer to the first question is “No,” but the second question is answered “Yes,” then it will authorize de facto same-sex marriage across the country. If both questions are answered “No,” then the status quo will continue.

The New York Times notes:

The pace of change on same-sex marriage, in both popular opinion and in the courts, has no parallel in the nation’s history.

Based on the court’s failure to act in October and its last three major gay rights rulings, most observers expect the court to establish a nationwide constitutional right to same-sex marriage. But the court also has a history of caution in this area.

This could be one of the most pivotal decisions of the Supreme Court in a generation. It will impact the future of marriage in this nation for generations to come. This is a time for us to be in earnest prayer for the justices of the Supreme Court. I pray that they will uphold the design for marriage that God has created and has been recognized for all of human history up to the last decade. The future of marriage is at stake.

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Supreme Court Order 574 U.S., January 16, 2015.

Adam Liptak, “Supreme Court to Decide Whether Gays Nationwide Can Marry,” The New York Times, January 16, 2015.

Lyle Denniston, “Court will rule on same-sex marriage,” SCOTUSblog, January 16, 2015.

Next Stop, Supreme Court (?)

wedding ringsA panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the traditional definition of marriage today in cases involving Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky. This is the first time in the recent round of cases that a circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of laws limiting marriage to one man and one woman. This also creates a point of tension for the Supreme Court since they decided last month not to take up other cases related to the definition of marriage.

Robert Barnes reports the following in The Washington Post:

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld same-sex marriage bans in four states Thursday afternoon, creating a split among the nation’s appeals courts that almost surely means the Supreme Court must take up the issue of whether gay couples have a constitutional right to marry.

The panel ruled 2 to 1 that while gay marriage is almost inevitable, in the words of U.S. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton, it should be settled through the democratic process and not the judiciary. The decision overturned rulings in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky, and makes the 6th Circuit the first appeals court to uphold state bans since the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

In the conclusion of the majority opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton chastises the courts that have overturned marriage laws in other states. He writes:

When the courts do not let the people resolve new social issues like this one, they perpetuate the idea that the heroes in these change events are judges and lawyers. Better in this instance, we think, to allow change through the customary political processes, in which the people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in a court system but as fellow citizens seeking to resolve a new social issue in a fair-minded way.

Now there is a split in the U.S. Circuit Courts. Now we have to wait and see if the Supreme Court will take up the cases.

Good Reading: The Empty Language of Equality

The buzzword flying around the debate regarding same-sex marriage is the phrase “marriage equality.” What does that phrase mean, however? Steven Smith, Professor of Law at the University of San Diego offers a word on that issue in an article posted at the Public Discourse. Here are some of the highlights:

[T]hink for a moment about the meaning—and the rhetorical uses and abuses—of equality and inequality. Do we treat blind people unequally by denying them drivers’ licenses when others are permitted to drive? Do we treat convicted felons unequally by putting them in jail when other people are free to move about as they wish? In the purely descriptive sense of different treatment, inequality is ubiquitous. Thank goodness. But we have something different in mind, obviously, when we talk about equality and inequality in political contexts.

Here, as Aristotle long ago observed and as Michigan law professor Peter Westen explained some years ago in a much-discussed article in the Harvard Law Review, equality has a more normative sense. It means that like cases (or, as lawyers say, “similarly situated” instances, or similarly situated classes of people) should be treated alike.

But in that normative sense, equality is wholly uncontroversial—and entirely useless. Everyone favors equality: Everyone thinks that like cases should be treated alike. Nobody argues, “These groups are alike in all relevant respects, but they should be treated differently.” So when people disagree about legal or political issues, they aren’t arguing for and against equality. Instead, they are disagreeing about whether two cases, or two classes of people, actually are alike for the purposes of whatever is being discussed.

Smith goes on to explain his illustration of the blind person and a driver’s license:

Consider an example. We would treat blind people differently either by denying them the right to vote or by denying them drivers’ licenses. But we would treat them unequally only in the first case, not in the second. That is because an ability to see is not a relevant qualification for voting, but it is a relevant qualification for driving. We know this, though, not by applying the idea of “equality,” but rather by thinking about the nature of voting and of driving. Probably there is no disagreement about these particular conclusions. But if you did happen to encounter a good-faith disagreement, you would not be saying anything helpful if you thumped the table and declared that “blind people should be treated equally.” You would only be begging the question.

Ultimately, Smith argues that the use of the language of equality in the same-sex marriage debate is a red herring. It draws on emotion and rhetorical power without addressing the real issue. He states:

Even so, the rhetorical power of “equality” arguments is plain enough. An advocate who frames arguments in terms of “equality” can get rhetorical mileage out of the descriptive sense of inequality—after all, people are being treated differently—and even more rhetorical mileage out of the irresistible injunction to “Treat like cases alike!” Meanwhile, the real substantive disagreements are kept mostly out of sight. Concealing the hard questions while free riding on truisms can be a powerful rhetorical strategy.

I encourage you to take a few minutes and read the entire article. It will be worth your time.

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Steven Smith, “The Red Herring of ‘Marriage Equality,'” The Public Discourse, March 27, 2013.