Last month I posed this question: Should same-sex couples be allowed to marry? Or, more particularly, in states that have followed the democratic process to define marriage as exclusively between a man and woman, should judges intervene and nullify those laws? Where new elections are held, should Christians vote to allow LGBT couples to legally marry?
I answered this question by saying that as much as it depends on voters, legislatures, or judges, that no, marriage should not be redefined. There are three parts to this answer:
- Government rightly regulates marriage, and so yes: the government does need to decide what constitutes a lawful marriage (you can read that post here).
- God invented marriage, and the essence of marriage is seen in a commitment between two people of opposite genders. Thus same-sex marriage is an oxymoron, and represents a sinful attack on the identity of marriage (you can read that post here).
- Because what God commands is also good for society, it is in fact in society’s best interest to keep the traditional definition of marriage. Today I want to write about this third part.
While there are the biblical arguments against viewing same sex unions as marriage—and I find those arguments compelling–we do live in a pluralistic society and thus biblical arguments alone will fail to carry the day.
Fortunately, if any view is biblical, it will also be beneficial to society. Thus, Christians should be able to make both categories of arguments. We should be able to explain our opposition to same sex marriage using both secular language, as well as biblical reasoning. After all, truth should be victorious no matter which arena it fights in.
So, why should the government refuse to redefine marriage?
Marriage is inherently connected to families
In both theology and anthropology, the concept of marriage is the foundation for family. One leads to the other. In fact, the only reason government cares about marriage is because government cares about families.
Government uses the tax structure to promote marriage because it is promoting families. Study after study demonstrate that a person’s family structure is the single biggest variable on a person’s wealth, health, job security, and happiness (here is one from the University of New York, a more complicated one from the Journal of Child Development, and here is one from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).
So world history, US history, and the democratic process are largely correct when they say that the government should see marriage as the creation of a family unit.
But government interest in marriage does not end with the simple existence of a family:
Families are the cornerstone of our society’s structure
Our entire society is built upon the cornerstone of family.
Inheritance is passed down through families. Car loans, insurance, mortgages, and even rent vary based on the existence of a family. Spouses have restrictions about how they can testify against each other in court. Universities use family income and family history in determining financial aid. Land ownership, tax rates, bank accounts, health decisions, on-and-on—all these are built upon marriage.
I know that same-sex couples view themselves as a family as well. But this is possible only in light of this inconvenient truth: families generally produce children.
The reason so much of society is built upon the foundation of families is not because legislators watched too many Hallmark specials and got all sappy and romantic. Rather it is because families (generally) produce children, and tax rates are designed to benefit children, inheritance is for children, universities know parents pay tuition, and so on.
Shorter version of this point: the government should regulate marriage because no other area of human life that falls under its preview so much affects the well-being of society.
Which leads to:
Children do better with a mom and a dad
This point could also be called Psych 101, Sociology 101, Ed 101, Anthropology 101, or Econ 101. Children do better in families with a mom and dad around. Almost everyone grants this point (American Psychological Association, Journal for Social Science Research, CitizenLink Public Policy, Brookings Institute, human history, etc. Grudem also has a helpful list of studies that show this on pages 223-224 in Politics).
There are psychological, social, economic, and educational reasons that children fare better when they have a mom and a dad. This is a biological fact, and a social reality. But it is more than that:
The government has an interest in families, but not an interest in validating love
This is exactly why the government has an interest in regulating marriage. I grant that same-sex couples want a partner with which to live their lives, share their hopes and dreams, and be committed to each other into old age—but that does not come from the government. The government is not in the business of validating shallow love, and any love that requires government validation is indeed shallow.
The government has a vested interest in regulating a society that is made of families because it wants to protect the most vulnerable—namely, children. It has as its goal the establishment of families where children are best suited to thrive. The government cannot manage individual families, but it can do things to maximize the role of the family, such as recognize that marriage makes families, which make children, who do best when there is a mom and a dad.
When the government redefines marriage, religious liberty suffers
Because of the uncomfortable fact that marriage comes from God, it is in many ways inherently religious. But part of common grace is that you don’t have to be religious to be married.
Now, it may be in the government’s interest to allow same sex couples some form of recognition. It is easy to see how this would help medical decisions, mortgages, and the like. But this is not what is happening today. Instead, the government is invalidating the historic concept of marriage and then infringing upon religious liberty. When marriage is redefined, churches are then compelled to follow. For that reason a Methodist Church in New Jersey was recently rebuked by a judge for refusing to allow a same sex wedding on their church’s property–the church then lost its tax-exempt status for refusing to host similar weddings (and that link has a list of other similar legal rulings). Christians have been fined in various states (New York, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon) for refusing to celebrate same sex weddings.
There are times when the government obviously needs to compel individual behavior for a national interest. But in this case, the national interest is missing. Religious liberty is violated so that love is validated, and this is something that the courts and government should not do.