In Defense of Marriage

By William Murchison (2011): 

“I think eyes have opened,” says California Senator Dianne Feinstein, touting her attempt to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 and thus remove a boulder from the path leading to acceptance of gay marriage.

“ I once was blind, but now I see,” the Rev. John Newton noted in a rather different context. We’ve learned; we get it now; time to move in a new direction. President Obama underlines, without quite endorsing, Senator Feinstein’s point and mission. As to gay marriage, the president’s views are “evolving.” Once, he saw marriage as reserved for a man and a woman. Now… well… 

A growing number of Americans claim acquaintance with the same ocular miracle Feinstein identifies. As eyes open wider, many call for easing discriminatory practices that deny gays the same rights as straights. Could the Defense of Marriage Act – which specifies marriage as the union between a man and woman – be headed for the political scrapheap?

Wherever it lands, or doesn’t land eventually, by congressional or U. S. Supreme Court action, an urgent point cries out for recognition. A political agency is powerless to alter anything whose place of origin is the mind and will of God.

The gay rights marriage debate rises and swells and tosses to and fro whenever a state -- New York most recently did so -- declares the right of same-sex couples to marry. This is proof supposedly that “eyes have opened.” We’ve got this thing figured out at last. What we thought before was wrong. We’re sorry, we’re sorry. 

But this line of argument works only if the state is interested in setting up a matrimonial institution that parallels without intersecting in fundamental ways the institution called “holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God, signifying unto us the mystical union that is bewixt Christ and his Church: which holy institution Christ adorned and beautified with his presence and first miracle that he wrought in Cana of Galilee…”

Something more is clearly going on here than just the signification of a claimed civil right: the right, say, to spousal benefits under a company insurance policy. The man and woman are pledging themselves each to the other in fulfillment of God’s purposes for human existence; in physical and emotional complementarity, in commitment to the projection of life into the next generation and the next and so on forward.

The Defense of Marriage Act arose from alarm over the presumption that Hawaii was about to legitimize gay marriage and thus potentially introduce it nationwide under a U. S. constitutional provision according “full faith and credit” to the lawful actions and contracts within and among the several states. DOMA – the legislation’s acronym – encountered little real opposition. Healthy majorities in both houses of Congress affirmed it. Bill Clinton -- in his very special way a very special friend of the male-female relationship -- affixed his signature, and there we were. Until the relentless push for gay rights moved the matter to the top of the liberal political agenda. Obama, he of the “evolving” views, no longer supports the act (if indeed he ever accorded it two passing thoughts) and now is so eager to be rid of it that his administration declines to defend it in court challenges.

The idea of two side-by-side matrimonial institutions – one shaped by the preferences of man, the other by the will of God – is not entirely novel. Purely civil marriages, performed by civil magistrates, have long been common. Such marriages have nevertheless always affirmed the Christian view that man and woman are properly the partners in a marital venture. So deep, presumably, is the natural law sunk in the brains and hearts even of men with no special allegiance to the Author of the natural law. There is overlap, in other words, between civil and religious marriage: recognition of similarities and premises. 

Apostles of gay wedlock claim their premises are the same as those of any minister joining a man and a woman, but this is eyewash. Some of the ideals are the same -- commitment, loyalty, and the like. This is well enough. When it comes to merging the purposes of man and woman, the mock institution known as gay marriage merely mocks. Its meaning is political and social, not theological, not religious. This is despite the large number of well-meaning ministers who claim the right to put a new, clean, modern stamp on the purposes of a God they barely acknowledge as sovereign.

The Defense of Marriage Act deserves to stand and flourish. But the church’s challenge is less to fret over the shape and fate of man-made instruments than it is to present Christian Truth as Truth indeed: definitive, unrepealable, sure of victory over human distortions and circumstances. 

All we have to do is talk the modern church into believing such old-fashioned stuff.

William Murchison is an author and journalist, living in Dallas, Texas.

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