By the end of this week, the U.S. Supreme Court will have heard arguments on two significant cases related to marriage and to homosexual unions.
I use those terms because at present, they are the primary positions advocated in one degree or another in the pending debate. It is highly improbable, however, that they will remain the primary positions advanced, and it is likely that we will begin to see increasing variations on what people claim to be a “civil right” related to marriage.I use those terms because they offer a bit of clarity. “Homosexual marriage” is an oxymoron; “heterosexual marriage” a redundancy. This is not meant to offend, but to affirm the reality of the situation. According to some, the first legalization of homosexual unions occurred in the Netherlands roughly a decade ago. Corresponding distortions of the language quickly followed. Consequently two millenia of Judeo-Christian understanding of marriage, and its counterpart in the broader culture, is balanced against a few years of its opposite.
The Court won’t release an opinion on these cases for a few months, but in the meanwhile pundits and prognosticators will analyze every question, every posture change, every raised eyebrow, timely cough, and rolled eye to offer suggestions about how the Court will ultimately rule, which should affirm for everyone that predicting such things is as certain as placing the entrails of a chicken on the table and finding in their chaotic distribution a viable plan for funding your retirement account.
In these two cases the Court will address the validity of the national government’s Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts government benefits in some ways to married couples (prohibiting those benefits to homosexual unions), and California’s Proposition 8, which defines marriage as being between one woman and one man.
What will likely emerge as the favorite argument to convince the Court to mandate its view on every State in the union, and on the national government, is that “marriage” is a “civil right,” on par with those recognized on the basis of gender and ethnicity. However, such an approach will prove ultimately unworkable.
Marriage itself is not an unrestricted civil right. Even between one man and one woman, we prohibit some from participating: those who are too young, those who are incompetent, those who are too closely related (notwithstanding jokes about Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi). If “marriage” is deemed to be a fundamental right by the Court, or by some governmental act, the immediate application will be that homosexuals may now participate in it. Yet once it is decided that marriage is no longer limited to one man and one woman (who are of sufficient age, competence and un-relatedness), the question necessarily becomes what precisely is being guaranteed.
Even if upcoming Court decisions or governmental actions specify that the new “marriage” right is for one pair of humans (of sufficient age, competence, and un-relatedness), nothing in reality can be restricted. For if no traditional limitation is placed on “marriage,” then it is reduced merely to a consensual agreement for the public to recognize its existence: that agreement could be made between a man and woman, two men, two women, a threesome, or between a man and his favorite dog, car, or golf club.
In either event, the definition of “marriage” by the Court or government has been put in the hands of lawyers, at best, or elected representatives, at worst (or vice versa, depending on your perspective). It is precisely at this point that human, earthly wisdom pales in comparison to that of the Creator, whose design reveals the answer to an apparently puzzling question, should we only care to look at it.