Recasting The Controversy

In so many words a clergyman lectured readers of a Missouri newspaper after the sitcom Friends ran an episode featuring a lesbian wedding. “The issue,” the clergyman wrote, is “learning to live in a multi-cultural, multimores, multi-religious, multi-everything world.” Well. When even religious leaders support same-sex marriage, no wonder it’s the hottest cultural issue today. A Hawaii court is expected to declare same-sex marriage valid this year. And the Supreme Court has already paved the way: It recently invalidated Colorado’s referendum denying special legal protection to homosexuals, declaring that such a law creates an “inevitable inference of animus.” In response, many states have introduced bills to limit marriage to male-female couples. And Congress rushed to pass the Defense of Marriage Act. Yet on constitutional questions, the courts have the power to strike down laws. The only real hope for deterring them is through public opinion. As Christians, we must help build a democratic consensus. We must craft arguments that all citizens can understand, translating biblical morality into statements about public good. Just how does gay marriage threaten the public good? Barney Frank, a gay congressman, phrased the question this way: “I don’t understand how it hurts anybody else if two people want to be legally... responsible for each other.” His comment has a certain appeal, but it misses the point. Tolerating gays privately is not the same thing as granting them the right to the public institution of marriage. Accepting same-sex relationships as the moral and legal equivalent of marriage will transform the very definition of marriage—with repercussions far beyond the gay subculture. In Crisis magazine, David Coolidge outlines two broad views of marriage warring for dominance in America today. The first is the Complementarity model. It assumes that the universe was created with an objective moral order and that marriage is the most fundamental social institution. In legal terms, the right to marry means the state’s recognition of a prior moral order. But the Complementarity model is being challenged by what Coolidge calls the Choice model. This model assumes that the universe is malleable and that individuals create their own truths and values. Sexuality has no intrinsic meaning: It’s merely an opportunity for pleasure, intimacy, and reproduction. Here the right to marry is merely the right of individuals to participate in state-defined benefits. If same-sex marriage wins the day legally, a message will be built into the law itself that there is no objective moral order, that marriage is a human invention. And if people believe marriage is just a convention, then they’ll be free to change it, redefine it, even discard it—with tragic results. Family breakdown has become the single most reliable predictor of teen pregnancy, substance abuse, and crime. These are arguments Christians can use in the public square. Marriages are fragile enough already. If we deny legal recognition of its unique status, we’re sure to see an even more rapid erosion of family life—with all its frightening consequences.  


Chuck Colson


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