Desiring God yesterday, in a blog post more implication than assertion:
A 1951 laughable thought: In 60 years the President of the United States will refuse to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
A 2011 laughable thought: In 60 years the President of the United States will refuse to exclude from marriage a man and a chimp.
Are you laughing?
Obviously this comes on the heels of President Obama’s announcement that his administration would decline to defend legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act.
For as long as there have been social conservatives, there has been the threat of chimp marriage, or dolphin marriage, or christmas tree marriage. Judging from the news, one could even allege these fears have borne out.
Let’s start out with a definition of marriage. “Between a man and a woman” is not it, or at least the definition does not consist in that. Lots of things happen between a man and a woman that are not marriage, from business relationships to one-night-stands. I’ve even argued that weddings do not necessarily inaugurate a marriage. Clearly we will need something a bit more substantiative than “between a man and a woman”, even if that does make it into the definition.
When we dig a little deeper, we discover that the Church means something entirely different by marriage than does the state. This is easy to miss if we stay focused on the “between a man and a woman” part. In the US, there are “1,138 statutory provisions in which marital status is a factor in determining benefits, rights, and privileges“. As far as the state is concerned, marriage is a contractual framework which gives two people certain legal rights and duties vis-a-vis one another – and nothing more.
To the Church, however, marriage is laden with so much more meaning. Not only do the partners have responsibilities and duties to one another, but they have the privilege of playing out on a microscopic scale the relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:32).
Is the duty of the Church therefore to invest state marriage with as much meaning as its own marriage has? One would think so, from the rhetoric of the Right. But what good does it do the Church? What glory does it bring to God to pretend we advance his kingdom by addressing only the most external manifestations of sin, and that in a decidedly non-Christian (i.e. legal) way?
Toaster marriage and chimp marriage, therefore, make no sense under either definition. Toasters and chimps do not have souls, so they cannot partake in the symbol of Christ and the Church. And they have no minds either, so they cannot enter into contracts. Our friends who have wed dolphins and Christmas trees have neither a legally recognized marriage nor a spiritual marriage. They have simply put on a ceremony of no legal or spiritual significance and called it something it wasn’t. Nor could such marriages ever be legally recognized. How do you file taxes with a chimp? How do you give a toaster visitation rights? Even if the slippery slope is relevant to the Church, it ends at humans, for anything else simply has no meaning before the law.
But in fact, the slope is of no relevance at all to the Church. The Cato institute exhorts Congress to “make it clear that civil and religious marriage are not the same institution“. Not that we have different definitions for the same thing, but that we’re talking about two totally different things. And the Church cannot wait for Congress to declare the separateness of the two institutions either. “If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts?” (1 Cor. 6:2). If the Church is to lobby and advocate, it must forswear futile efforts and take leadership in making it clear: the president defines civil unions. The president does not define marriage. Obama’s decision is not an act of national apostasy; it’s an act of honesty. If marriage is simply a bundle of contracts, why would they not be open to any two (or three, or however many) people, except that we’re confusing it with something sacred?
The sanctity of marriage is no more threatened by gay “marriage” than is the “institution” of salvation by the reprobate. If both are instituted by God, then “what God has therefore brought together, let no man separate” (Mark 10:9). That’s not “please don’t separate”, but “you are not able to separate”: not divorce, not illegitimacy, and certainly not gay marriage.