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Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

What Is “Marriage?”

A petition drive was held recently in the state of Michigan that, if sufficient signatures were obtained, will require the issue of “gay marriages” to be placed on the November ballot. If the desired amendment passes, the Michigan constitution will define marriage as that only which is between a man and a woman. Though the state already has adopted a law declaring marriage to be only between two people of opposite sex, activist judges could conceivably declare this unconstitutional. The ground would be that the law denies “equal rights” to the homosexual individual.

Such a judgment was made in the state of Massachusetts when its supreme court declared (by a 3 to 4 decision) exactly that. One vote made the majority decision that now is the law of that state. A large number of the citizens of Michigan wish to avoid such happening in their state. In fact, a drive is now on to amend also the Constitution of the United States by likewise defining marriage.

Those who wish to legalize “gay marriages” insist that it is a question of “equal rights.” The argument is appalling if carefully considered. Does one have “equal rights” to marry more than one of the same or opposite sex? Some say so. Does one have “equal rights” to a marriage involving young children? (The law would currently define such as “pedophiles.”) Some say so.

Presumably these supposed “equal rights” would be limited or defined by amended Constitutions.

Still, will marriage be defined as the vows (and Scripture) express it? At least in past years the vows declared this marriage to be “…in sickness and in health till death do us part.” But it is already a “right” of individuals to obtain “no fault” divorces. One wonders if amendments such as those proposed will serve only to postpone the inevitable—each will do what is right in his own eyes.

Cal Thomas, writing in the Loveland Reporter-Herald on May 20, 2004, expressed it well:

Cultural tsunamis, like those that begin under oceans, are caused by something deep within. When high water hits the shore, it is the result of a subterranean earthquake. When the state of Massachusetts last Monday began offering marriage to people of the same sex, this “wave” was preceded by a seismic shift in the moral tectonic plates.

The Old Testament Book of Judges—part of a wisdom and truth long discarded by the “In Dow Jones we trust” crowd—said it best: “In those days there were no kings and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Once that shift has taken place in sufficient numbers, once we become indifferent to immutable truths, the floodtide is not a matter of if but when.

Legally, the shift began in 1993 when the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that barring same-sex couples from “marrying” might violate the state constitution’s prohibition on sexual discrimination and must be justified by a compelling reason. Morally, the earthquake occurred much earlier.

The shift from personal responsibility, accountability, putting the greater good before personal pleasure, affluence and “feelings,” and what once was known as “the fear of God” began following World War II. Consumption and pleasure replaced self-control and acting on behalf of the general welfare. Trying to remind us of the benefits of restraint in 1979 (when it was already too late), the late Bishop Fulton J. Sheen delivered an address in Washington in which he asked how a football field is defined. “By its boundaries,” he said. There are now no boundaries in America. Any rule is potentially viewed as oppressive, and any law—whether legal or moral—is up for debate, negotiation and overturning if it impedes a single individual from fulfilling his or her desire. 

Who is to say the polygamist, Tom Green, is wrong when the boundaries have been removed? On what legal or moral basis will people who wish to marry more than one person, or a close relative, be denied their wish?

What is the future for “marriage” in the land? Does it make any difference whether or not there is “marriage” of the homosexual? Some advocate the philosophy, “Live and let live.” There are, however, perceptive journalists who “tell it like it is.” One such is Lori Borgman of the Indianapolis Star, as quoted in the Grand Rapids Press:

If you want to peer into the crystal ball to see what family life will be like in the event we redefine marriage, look to Scandinavia. The equivalent of same-sex marriage has been legal for more than a decade, and the verdict is in—same-sex marriage has eroded the already rusty link in the chain between marriage and family.

Marriage is passé in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Marriage is so out of fashion that among those who do marry, some choose to keep it private to avoid embarrassment. Even more surprising, few homosexuals are taking advantage of same-sex unions. The heterosexual and homosexual marriage pool has shriveled so

much that marriage and divorce statistics are difficult to interpret.

Author Stanley Kurtz, who has been parsing the data coming from Scandinavia, says this much is crystal clear—any form is acceptable.

Marriage is no longer seen as a precursor to parenthood. When heterosexual marriage is no longer seen as the norm, and marriage and parenthood are no longer seen as going hand-in-hand, married parenthood becomes an oddity. Disassociating heterosexual marriage from parenting is like splitting up the salt and pepper, but that’s exactly what has happened.

In Scandinavia, marriage has ceased being a big event in the lives of most young men and women. Many Nordic beauties have bid farewell to chunky issues of Bride’s magazine, engagement rings and bridal showers. Marriage once signaled the hallmark of maturity in the journey of life. Today the mark of maturity in Scandinavia is having a baby….

(The article concludes:) Our own nation’s link between marriage and family has been showing signs of rust for several decades. Less than half of our 20-somethings believe it is immoral to have a baby out of wedlock. We already lead the world in single parenthood and divorce. So is now the time to dismantle marriage even further? All quite possibly at the expense of our kids? One small step for man, one giant tumble for the children of tomorrow.

Marriage under the best of circumstances is a mystery. Oh, let’s be honest. Some days it’s an outright miracle.

You do not tinker with a social, legal and religious institution that has stood as a foundation to nations and cultures for centuries without risking serious repercussions.

Whichever path we choose, we will all—married or unmarried, heterosexual or homosexual—live out the consequences, as will our children, our grandchildren and their children.

In the words of Margaret Mead, “As the family goes, so goes the nation.”

More ought to be said. It is not merely a question of what the nation, particularly its unbelievers, say is their definition of marriage. One can see behind all of the feverish activity the fiendish, devilish attempt to destroy marriage. Satan is not concerned with the destruction of the marriage of the ungodly merely. He is quite well satisfied with his success regarding those. He is rather intent in undermining if not destroying the whole concept of scriptural marriage within the churches. He has gone far in that direction already. Consider the decisions of the churches concerning divorce and remarriage; concerning the place of women within the home; concerning the marriage of those of the same sex. He would seek to advance this cause further. Ultimately it is a matter of the destruction of the covenant of God with His people. The covenant is continued in the line of spiritual descendants. But if marriage is finally destroyed, what happens to this “line of generations”? It is not only “as the family goes, so goes the nation,” but “so goes the church.”

One might be inclined to throw up his hands in despair. We can hardly stop the development of these sad activities. So…why not allow people to do as they see fit, while we maintain the demands of Scripture? It will not be that simple. The consequences of “gay marriage” will likely be persecution for the church soon. Columnist Kathleen Parker of Tribune Media Services, as quoted in the Grand Rapids Press of June 29, 2004, has pointed that out in an interesting and thought-provoking column. After presenting a brief analysis of the current state of affairs, she writes:

Whatever one may think of homosexual marriage in the abstract, the idea that a redefinition of marriage will have “no effect” is laughable, but not funny. After the nosegay has faded, the issue is neither solely about love nor affirmation, but about serious legal consequences that all Americans may wish to consider before tuning out preachers or embracing gay activists.

For the sake of argument, let’s stipulate that this is not personal—it’s not about you, in other words—and acknowledge that heterosexuals have royally mangled marriage without any help from gays. Nevertheless, that fact doesn’t mean that marriage is doomed or that expanding the definition of marriage to include homosexual unions will make marriage stronger. Or be harmless.

Of particular concern even for the nonreligious is the effect gay marriage could have on two of our founding principles—religious freedom and freedom of speech. Once the courts recognize gay marriage as equal in all ways to heterosexual marriage, then everyone else—including churches—has to recognize gay marriage as equal, too.

Any opposition will be deemed hateful by definition, and anyone who opposes gay marriage will be a hatemonger. Given that many religions and denominations teach that homosexuality is a sin, church attendance alone could suggest you’re homophobic. To the extent that one believes or preaches scripture, one is a bigot.

Hence some of the deep concern among legal professionals, as well as theologians. A secular world that ratifies homosexual marriage would provide a legal foundation that would open the floodgates to civil litigation against religious leaders, institutions and worshipers.

In such an environment, churches might be sued for declining to provide their sanctuaries for gay marriages, for example. Ministers could be sued for hate speech for giving a sermon on moral behavior. Churches that protest homosexual unions could face revocation of their tax exemption status.

The delicate balance between church and state, in other words, is teetering on a high ledge at this moment. It’s ironic that those who oppose churches’ involvement in state concerns nonetheless have no compunction when it comes to the state dictating what churches can do. Even nonreligious folk should be concerned.

Either we believe in separation of church and state or we don’t, but you can’t have it both ways….

Inevitably the church will be involved. In all likelihood, this matter will result in grounds for silencing or persecuting the church. It was what Christ prophesied. We need not, then, be too surprised when it takes place. May God grant grace to be steadfast despite threats.