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The End of Marriage? Or the Beginning of Belonging?

Monday, June 29, 2015

In the Old Testament/TaNaK there is a book among what the Jews call the Nevi'im - or Prophets - where God speaks to the prophet Hosea and tells him to marry a prostitute.

There are lots of theories out there about why God would do such a thing.  But if we simply read the book it becomes clear that God does it to set up an object lesson of how the relationship between Him and His people had deteriorated.

Frankly, this is what I think is happening among us today with the Court's recent decision on gay marriage.  I'll state it bluntly: I think this is God's judgment - and not on gays.  This is His judgment on us for allowing our arguments to become our idols.

Before I explain that, let me point out here that I think the Court - and Justice Anthony Kennedy in particular - has made a grave mistake.  The 'law' may have now been settled, but the 'culture' - which is the foundation of the law - has been thrown into turmoil.  Here is the part of Kennedy's ruling which has gone viral:
As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage.  They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
There is nothing in the Constitution about "equal dignity."  There is, though, about "equal protection."  It is important that we understand how the Constitution and law work "negatively."  This is to say that the Constitution erects a fence between the government and the people; it outlines what government cannot do and so offers protection to the individual.  To say it requires "equal protection" means that government cannot deny to one class of people protections extended to others.

So if heterosexual couples are offered certain protections under the law, then homosexual couples cannot be denied the same.  Earlier the Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) because it denied federal benefits to couples whose marriages had been recognized by their states.  This was pretty cut and dried and entirely correct.

The idea of 'civil unions' - a contractual arrangement like marriage - has been part of this debate.  This is a way of accomplishing two distinct goals: First, to extend equal protection of the laws to homosexual couples.  Yet second, to allow the culture to work out the definition of marriage through legislative means.  And the culture, with respect to this equal dignity, works affirmatively rather than negatively.  This is why Justice Kennedy is wrong; the Court has just improperly extended its jurisdiction beyond the law to include the culture.

Returning yesterday from vacation in Singapore, I was reading up recently on some of how Singaporean society and their judiciary have struggled with this.  A Singaporean Supreme Court ruling upholding laws against homosexuality is an interesting study in contrast.  From the Economist with emphasis added:
The court itself, both in oral arguments last summer and in this ruling, repeatedly expresses unwillingness to consider "extra-legal" and "emotional" arguments, which have their place in the legislative rather than the judicial process. The court's role, the ruling said, was to be "independent, neutral and objective", though in the early, throat-clearing section of this ruling, the court noted that it grants the government a "presumption of constitutionality", because "our legislature is presumed not to enact legislation which is inconsistent with the Singapore Constitution.
Justice Kennedy's argument is nothing if not 'extra-legal' and 'emotional'.  This does not mean his argument is wrong.  It is to say that it is misplaced - it belongs in a legislative context rather than a judicial context.

What is so sad about all of this is that we as a people broadly speaking were just starting to get our hearts and heads wrapped around our cultural responsibility to afford equal dignity to our neighbor, gay or straight.  Especially among the Millennial generation, public opinion has changed dramatically.  What Justice Kennedy and the Court has done is nothing short of a late-term cultural abortion.  We were on the verge of giving birth to a more mature cultural stance vis-a-vis homosexuality - one where we are willing to live with our moral discomforts in the larger context of upholding the individual dignity the image of God demands.

Yet many of us were fighting this with our arguments.  And this is why I think we have been judged for our idolatry.

What I mean by idolatry is anything we erect which then prevents us from seeing the image of God where He has created it to be seen - in our neighbors.  We have erected our arguments against homosexuality in general, and gay marriage in particular, such that we no longer could see the image of God in our gay neighbor.  And so the Court has now torn down our idol.

The question is whether or not we will learn the proper lesson.  And that lesson is not that homosexuality is natural nor is it that homosexual marriage is morally equivalent to heterosexual marriage.  There really is no argument to be had here: the anatomy of the man and the anatomy of the woman, and the biology of reproduction, are right in front of us an show us what is natural - and therefore what is moral.  These are not things that have been taught to us; they are things which were obvious to us before there was anything at all to believe and teach.

And so the lesson is to simply stop arguing; there is no proper argument to be won here.  In place of our arguments we need to see again in our neighbor the image of God.  And our neighbor just might be gay.  If we attend to the image of God in him or her, and the dignity which this image demands, we might just find again the image of God in ourselves and rediscover the redemptive purpose for our lives.

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