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As everyone presumably knows, last week the Supreme Court ruled that state laws forbidding homosexual marriage are unconstitutional. What you may not remember, is that almost exactly two years ago, in late June of 2013, the Supreme Court declared that the Federal Defense of Marriage Act was also unconstitutional.
At that time, I wrote a piece on this website offering my thoughts on the matter. In the ensuing conversation on Facebook, I added, “If two people wish to live together and create all manner of contracts, be they insurance-related, will-related, or what have you, that is their business. However, I would argue that marriage is something special, something different that ought to be respected.”
Yes, back in 2006, I happily voted for an amendment to the Virginia Constitution that would not accept any definition of marriage in this state beyond one man and one woman. That was my belief and, as such, I wanted the government to defend it. However, the unforeseen question I didn’t think to ask then was whether it was appropriate to allow the government to define what is or what is not marriage.
Although I haven’t found any definitive evidence yet (and if any reader would care to provide it I would be grateful), I’ve been informed that government marriage licenses are a rather new phenomenon in this country, crafted as a way to prevent blacks and whites from intermarrying.
In late 2013, the woman who I had once loved with every ounce of my being asked me what I thought of marriage licenses. Although I thought it a rather peculiar question for her to ask at that time, given that our relationship was all but destroyed, it did get me thinking. Licenses are a form of government control over who can and who cannot become married. In certain cultures and times they have been used to prevent marriages by class, by race, by socioeconomic or political status, and yes, by gender too. In addition, sometimes the power of the state was used to force two people to get married. What if, as a result of the colour of my skin, or my religion, or my income, or my political affiliation, or something as simple as my family, the government tried to prevent me from marrying the woman I loved or compelled me to marry someone I didn’t? I’m sure you would be absolutely furious as I would be!
Now, obviously such an event would be quite unlikely in modern America. After all, I am white, Christian, and one day seeking to marry someone of the opposite sex, so presumably our society wouldn’t have much of a problem with it. However, we’ve heard recent stories in some African and Asian countries of Christian and Muslim couples put to death for daring to be with someone of a different religion.
If we believe that the purpose of government is to protect the lives, liberties, and property of her citizens, where does marriage fall in that spectrum? From where does the government derive the right to determine who is or who is not married? By that same token, if you or your business decide not to take part in a marriage ceremony that you find morally objectionable, isn’t that your right as well? Does the government have the right to force a private individual or business to be a party to a behaviour they consider immoral?
To offer a quote from Thomas Jefferson on another moral matter, “but our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Along those same lines, you may rejoice or be sullen about your neighbors’ marriage, but, either way, that doesn’t give you the right to use the government to force your worldview upon them. In addition, whether you support or oppose gay marriage, please show me in the Constitution where the government has the expressed authority to weigh in on that issue.
Both conservatives and liberals must remember that when they attempt to use the government to enforce their social agendas, they have surrendered the argument and the power to the whims of government and that one day that very same power can be used in the exact opposite way than they had originally intended!
What I find most troubling about the two Supreme Court decisions from last week is that the courts are continuing to assume authority well beyond their proscribed limits. Whether you are happy or upset about this issue of marriage, do we really want to hand more authority (especially legislative) to an unelected and unaccountable body whose members serve for life? I don’t! The last I checked, neither men and women in black robes nor legislators and bureaucrats are either our pastors or our priests…and we should never let them assume that role.
Yes, I look forward to finding and marrying a woman with whom I hope to spend the rest of my life, but is that decision, which is supposed to be made between the two of us, any business of the government? The take-home lesson from these last several years is that we need to divorce the government from a lot of issues in which has usurped authority…including marriage.