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The Flag of the World

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This here blog is a glimpse or two or three at the condition of the 'fortress of our family' through the eyes Timothy Goddard, a Christian writer with an unhealthy interest in politics living in the Puget Sound area.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2003


Gay marriage: two responses
You have likely already heard about the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's decision to declare state law disallowing gay marriage to be unconstitutional. Hopefully, you've also read some of the good commentary already out there on the blogosphere, including Eugene Volokh's suggestion that this certainly validates quite a few "slippery-slope" arguments from days gone by, and David Cohen's suggestion that the slope does not end here, and the very good discussion that ensues in the always illuminating comments at Brothers Judd.

One thing I picked up from the comments there, and proceeded to confirm, is that the court never denies the fact that marriage is, by definition, constitutional amendment or no constitutional amendment, the union of a man and a woman. In fact, in the text of the decision itself, the Chief Justice acknowledges that
The everyday meaning of "marriage is "[t]he legal union of a man and a woman as husband and wife," ... and the plaintiffs do not argue that the term "marriage" has ever had a different meaning under Massachusetts law... This definition of marriage, as both the department and the Superior Court judge point out, derives from the common law... Far from being ambiguous, the undefined word "marriage," as used in G. L. c. 207, confirms the General Court's intent to hew to the term's common-law and quotidian meaning concerning the genders of the marriage partners... The only reasonable explanation is that the Legislature did not intend that same-sex couples be licensed to marry. We conclude, as did the judge, that G. L. c. 207 may not be construed to permit same sex couples to marry."
However, the court goes on to determine that this distinction, however valid, is unconstitutional. But instead of taking this to its logical but unworkable conclusion, which is that the State cannot sanction or promote marriage at all, since it is by definition unconstitutional, they must permit gays to marry. This is despite the fact that, by definition, they cannot do so any more than an egg can fertilize another egg, or a sperm another sperm (they can do other things, but we would not call it 'fertilization,' but rather 'fusion,' and the outcome is very different), and seems to me logically inconsistent.

I have two immediate reactions to this. As a Christian, it confirms for me the nagging suspicion I have always had that the Church ought to cut the ties between religious marriage and civil marriage. Should this decision stand, the two institutions will resemble each other no more than the Bible and the UN charter do. It should be accepted and made clear that a marriage recognized only by the State has no more moral standing than a common law marriage that kicks in after two people have lived together for a certain length of time (common law marriage provisions could have rather sticky results for everyday roommates under this ruling, come to think of it). The same should be true of divorce. Denominations, churches, or couples themselves should write their own marriage contracts, in lieu of or addition to any governmental slip of paper. Like baptism, it should be a fully religious ceremony and distinction, and the government need not get involved. Marriage is a sacrament, and we should all begin to treat it like one again.

As a citizen, though, I can't merely abandon society to ravages of "progressive" change. Marriage should be promoted, endorsed and even subsidized by the State because it is a fundamental building block of a healthy society--and not merely because it serves the function of procreation, though this is of vital importance (see Europe, declining birth rate of). Incidentally, this was the weakness in the lower court's decision that the SJC ripped right into, as procreation is obviously not limited to marriage nor required by marriage. Andrew Sullivan makes the argument that by allowing gays to marry, they will be integrated into the preexisting social framework and thus society will be strengthened. This may or may not be true, and as Cohen says in the comments to his post linked above "If I were the kind of person tempted to play games with the fabric of civilization, I would jump right in with him (well, with his argument). In other words, it is a conservative argument that could only appeal to liberals." The risks, in other words, far outweigh the potential benefits, as they typically do.

So, my response on one hand is to cut and run, giving up on one aspect of society as completely useless, in a religious sense, and on the other hand to fight to maintain "the fabric of civilization." My hope is that doing the former would aid the latter, but, sadly, it may well do just the opposite.
Agree, disagree, have more information on the topic? Please, feel free to leave a comment. No profanity!

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