This article was originally published last May, but the issues remain current. In fact, they are more current now than they were a year ago.
This past March saw the United States focused on the issue of same-sex
marriage, as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on two important
cases having to do with the subject. The first focused on the
constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, which defines marriage
as being between a man and a woman. The second dealt with the
constitutionality of the federal act DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act)
which also defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.
a great extent, the US is divided on the issue of civil recognition of
same-sex marriages along the predictable liberal vs. conservative line
(although a few noteworthy Republicans and conservatives have recently
embraced the legality of same-sex marriage as well, as the cause rapidly
gains cultural popularity). The liberal arguments tend to focus on the
demand for equality and the protection of civil rights. To grant legal
recognition to heterosexual but not same-sex marriage, they say, is
discriminatory against the LGBT community and denies them full access to
all the rights they are entitled to as equal citizens.
arguments have tended, especially recently, to focus on the need to
preserve a traditional two-parent two-gender family structure for the
raising of children, arguing that same-sex relationships are incapable
of providing children all the resources they need for a proper
What is notably absent on both sides to a great
extent is an explicit appeal to any higher standard than that of human
need and desire. Although liberals typically claim that opposition to
legal recognition of same-sex marriages is driven by "religious
concerns"--by which they mean any concerns that aren't rooted in an
Agnostic worldview--you would not know this from listening to how
conservatives typically argue their position, particularly when you get
to the level of courtroom arguments. Conservatives act as if they are
just as much committed to a secular government, where the established
religion is Agnosticism, as their liberal counterparts.
Why is this? No doubt a good deal of it stems from pragmatic motivations. You can just hear the thinking going on (whether consciously or subconsciously): "We have to use secular arguments. We can't refer to God and the Bible! Why, if we do, we'll be swept right out of court easily by our adversaries! If you want to win the game, you have to play by the established rules." The prevailing understanding of the nation's religious orientation these days by our leaders is that the US is a secular nation which must remain neutral on religious matters (neutrality turning out to be the rejection of how everyone but Agnostics look at everything). The feeling is that if we don't bow to that prevailing cultural trend and play by those rules, we won't possibly be able to win the battle for marriage, and therefore we must act prudently and try to win the game on secular grounds.
But there are a number of problems with this reasoning. One is that it tends to be disingenuous or at least question-begging, and it tends to gut the substance of the conservative arguments. A lot of conservatives seem clearly to be thinking about God even if they are not talking about God when they make their arguments. For example, conservatives will often argue that we cannot have same-sex marriage because "marriage has always been defined as a relationship between a man and a woman, and you can't just go and change the traditional meanings of words!" The answer to that? Sure, you can! We do it all the time. We've changed legal definitions of marriage in the past. Marriage used to involve, legally, the idea that the husband is the head of the household, but now that has been legally removed from the definition. In many states up until the 1960s, there were legal definitions of marriage which precluded interracial marriages of various sorts. And beyond marriage, we have redefined all sorts of words and concepts throughout human history. Words are invented by people, right? So people can change them whenever they need to, right? Makes sense to me, IF (big, gigantic IF here) we assume the Agnostic rather than the Christian worldview. So why are conservatives putting forward this silly claim that we can't redefine words and concepts when it suits us? Could it be, perhaps, that lurking under their argument is the assumption that the real reason we can't just change marriage is because God, not man, has defined it for us? If that were the case, as it is if we assume a Christian rather than an Agnostic worldview, I think they've got a knock-down argument. The problem is, the conservatives are smuggling in their Christian assumptions without explicitly expressing them in an attempt to avoid alarming the "separation of church and state" gatekeepers who watch all our language for any tiny hint of non-Agnosticism and are ready to pounce on anything they find and rule it out of bounds in political discussions on the grounds of the First Amendment. But by concealing their Christian assumptions, they end up masking their real motives as well as vitiating their argument.
And I would argue that this is the case with pretty much all the conservative arguments. They simply aren't very good arguments, from a secular point of view. From an Agnostic point of view, I think the conservatives deserve to lose this battle, and this is evident to many people watching this controversy drag on. The secularists simply have a better case on secularist grounds. (For a more full analysis of how this is so, and also a point-by-point exposure of how both sides in this debate stake their position on the principles of a secular worldview, see my two-part blog article examining in some detail the arguments that were presented by both sides in the California Proposition 8 court case back in 2010.)
But the most important problem with the strategy of playing on secular grounds for pragmatic reasons is that it is a betrayal of our calling as Christians to stand up for God and his truth in all areas of life. Our job is not to try to win individual battles in the culture wars by pandering to Agnostics and reinforcing their conviction that God has no place in the laws and policies of society. Even if we win such a battle in that way (and I would argue that we are far more likely to lose over time, for reasons mentioned earlier), we've only won the battle by throwing the war. It would be far better, and more honest and principled, to risk losing this one battle in order to engage in confrontation with the culture over the larger, ultimately fundamental, questions--What is the ultimate standard of morality? Is it human opinions and desires, or God's moral law? Who is the ultimate moral authority over all men? What are we meant to be as a society? Just a large group of people making stuff up and doing whatever we want until we die, or created in God's image to glorify him and find our joy in him and in conformity to his Word? In an ultimate sense, who really cares if we end up succeeding in getting a Godless culture to put off same-sex marriage for fallacious or at least weak reasons, while they continue on overall dishonoring God and on the path to destruction? Sure, in itself it's better for the society to not recognize same-sex marriage than to recognize it, but far, far more important is that our society learn to embrace the full truth that is the Christian worldview. For the sake of our calling as Christians, for the sake of honesty, for the sake of the welfare of our culture, and ultimately for the glory of God, let's fight the real ultimate battle and confront our culture with the full claims of the crown rights of King Jesus on this issue and on every issue!