This past Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a group of cases that will decide whether same-sex marriage will become the law of the land.
Although a decision in what will probably be called Obergefell v. Hodges is not expected until June, it’s not too early to think about the question “what’s next?”
And the first and most important thing to keep in mind is that while the Court can redefine marriage for legal and constitutional purposes, it cannot redefine marriage itself. That’s far beyond its competence and its authority.
Marriage is an institution that predates both politics and even religion. When Jesus talked about marriage, he pointed us back to the very beginning, to the proclamation that we find in Genesis 2: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Those twenty-two words sum up what Justice Kennedy was getting at when, in the oral arguments, he said that “I don’t even know how to count the decimals when we talk about millennia . . . This definition has been with us for millennia. And it’s very difficult for the court to say, ‘Oh, well, we know better.’”
Some think that this comment means the outcome isn’t the foregone conclusion that many on both sides have assumed. Perhaps. What is true is that, regardless of the outcome, our primary allegiance as Christians must be to the actual definition of marriage, not any legal innovations, just as our allegiance has been to the sanctity of human life for the forty-two years since Roe v. Wade. And it’s for the same reason: these things ultimately belong to God, and we are called to be witnesses to the truth—even if it costs us our job, our popularity, our business, or our tax-exemptions.
And our responsibility includes setting the historical and anthropological records straight. Some of the comments by the justices brought to mind the professor’s question in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”: “What do they teach them at these schools?”
For example, after asking whether it would be prudent to wait and see whether the legalization of same-sex marriage “is or is not harmful to marriage?” Justice Stephen Breyer dismissively replied, “You know . . . you could have answered that one the same way we talk about racial segregation.”
With all due respect to Justice Breyer, this silly analogy has gone on too long. First of all, marriage literally dates from time immemorial. But legally-mandated segregation, or “Jim Crow,” didn’t last a century, and it only lasted that long because the Supreme Court, in Plessy v. Ferguson, gave the noxious idea of “separate-but-equal” its imprimatur. While marriage is the most ancient and venerable institution known to man, segregation was a modern idea born of modern ideas about race.
Similarly, while heterosexual marriage is a universal norm, Jim Crow and Apartheid were local aberrations. Comparing the two isn’t apples and oranges, it’s apples and bricks.
The same can be said of Justice Ginsburg’s citing a case in which a Louisiana court gave the husband “sole control of marital property.” According to Ginsburg, this proves that we’ve “changed our idea about marriage.”
Well, no, it doesn’t. There is a huge difference between changing our ideas about the legal status of husbands and wives within a marriage and saying that either husbands or wives are unnecessary to have a marriage.
Regardless of what happens in June, we need to be prepared to respond to these kinds of arguments now. If not to change other’s minds, then at least to be clear in our own.
So come to Break Point.org and click on this commentary. We’ll link you to some great analyses of the case and the oral arguments—as well as articles by leading Christian thinkers about what course believers might take should the Court rule against marriage.
In the meantime, we pray and we bear witness to the truth. And for believers, that’s always something we can do.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.
Publication date: May 4, 2015