Sex and Marriage in San Francisco

The California Supreme, in a recent decision striking down the state’s ban on same-sex “marriage,” has issued a declaration of independence from the human race. Progressives have inevitably hailed this latest break-through, comparing it to the legalization of inter-racial marriage, but the same progressives just as inevitably will hail the inevitable legalization of cross-species marriage as the next giant step for mankind. And after that? My poor dim eyes cannot see so far, but we can expect to see a whole series of taboos collapse like dominoes: incest, sex with children, and cannibalism–consensual of course, we’re not savages after all.

Not everyone is delighted with the ruling, which will probably be reversed at some point on appeal. Conservatives are naturally shocked by this latest proof that this is not the America they read about in their McGuffey Readers or in back issues of The National Review , though current subscribers should be  prepared to read that “Gay marriage” is really an affirmation of the age-old institution. The conservative delusion–and it is just that, a delusion–is the counter-intuitive conviction that America, despite a few kooks in high places, is really a sound, decent Christian nation. All we need to do, as one of Rush Limbaugh’s callers said recently, is to get “our message” out to the American people, and before long we will rule the planet from our safe haven of offshore drilling, low taxes (and high deficits), and good old public schools (circa 1959) with pretty drug-free cheerleaders and the Ten Commandments displayed proudly on the walls.

Perhaps I should not make fun of this delusion: It may be all that conservatives have left to cling to.  But, for that reason, it is all the more pernicious.   We are not going back to the 1950’s, at least not any time soon.  If we stick just to issues of marriage and family, can anyone seriously suggest that America is anything like a Christian country?  Down to the beginning of the 20th century, Christians were pretty much in agreement on these issues. Abortion was evil and had to be kept illegal; contraception was an immoral means of frustrating the natural purpose of sexuality as designed by the Creator; divorce and remarriage were wrong except in extreme cases. While Catholics and Protestants might disagree about what constituted an extreme case, they agreed perfectly that divorce could not be justified except where incest was discovered or where one party had so abused the other (by adultery, desertion, etc.) as to make living together impossible.  There is, alas, no such consensus today.  There is no need to trace the steps by which divorce, contraception, and even adultery became acceptable in many large denominations, but it should come as no surprise when progressive Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregationalist, and Lutheran ministers express approval of “Gay marriage,” or even go so far as to give their blessing–which coming from such people can only be a curse–on these unions.

Before searching for a solution to this problem, let us make sure we know the reality of what we are dealing with. What is marriage? From the pre-Christian point of view, marriage is a contract between a man and a woman and/or their respective families (for the Jews, it might be several contracts between one man and several women) to cohabit, enjoy conjugal relations, and beget and rear children. The husband, generally speaking, was required to support his wife and the children, though her family might well have to provide a dowry for her support. If the marriage was dissolved, the husband kept the children (a rule that persisted down to the middle of the 19th century) but had to return the dowry. I have said nothing of the “state”–the modern concept of which is fundamentally alien to ancient societies–because governments had almost nothing to say about marriage except as it involved inheritance, dowries, guardianship, and the marriage of heiresses.

With the spread of Christianity, a more spiritual dimension to marriage was added. A minister was invited to give the Church’s blessing on the union, and Christ’s statement on divorce was enforced: A man who puts aside a wife to marry another, is himself an adulterer but also is an agent of his wife’s adultery, if she should marry again. Protestants and Catholics would dispute the details of this prohibition, but the dispute would hardly touch most divorces today. The state’s involvement came during the period of the Reformation. Luther disliked the Catholic Church’s intervention in certain cases (recognizing clandestine marriages against the parents’ wishes) and turned the regulation of marriage over to the princes. In England, the land of infinite compromise, the Church remained the regulatory agency, but the Church was under the supervision of the Crown and Parliament. If the Protestants made a mistake, it is a mistake that can best be recognized in hindsight, since their object was to strengthen families, not to weaken them.

In other words, marriage is a natural relationship between a man and a woman, usually arranged by their parents; Christian marriage is a spiritual as well as a natural union of a man and woman, unbreakable except in extreme cases. Judges and politicians can tell any lie they like–that is, after all, their profession. But there can be no such thing as “same-sex marriage” any more than heat can be cold or nothing something. Government, in other words, has nothing to do with marriage, and we should cease expecting governments to provide a remedy for a disease which they have willfully and maliciously created.

There is, of course, one little problem. The creation of the welfare state and the massive taxation imposed to sustain it means that a married couple, unless it wishes to forfeit the economic and legal relief derived from the state’s recognition of their union, will have to secure a license, but Christians should begin to regard that document as nothing more serious than a dog license.

Should conservative Christian groups throw up their hands and give up the fate to save marriage from being prostituted? Of course not. Even if they fail at every turn, they have the duty to bear witness to the truth. At the same time, though, they should try to understand the error into which we have fallen, in permitting the state to usurp the authority of families and the Church. And, in going back to the basics, they had better rethink the modern approach to divorce. A church that performs marriages involving divorcés or divorcées who have willfully and unjustifiably abandoned their spouses has rejected Christ’s teachings. These same churches acknowledge homosexual rights, feminism, and even–prayerfully and painfully–regard abortion as a woman’s right. If such churches cannot be reformed, they should be abandoned and left in the hands of the Lord of This World, who is their true master. And let all Christians, who accept Christ’s word as law, come together, not only to condemn divorce and “Gay marriage,” which is anything but gay and no kind of marriage, but also to reaffirm the sanctity of marriage within their communities of faith.

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