Marriage is Already Free and Equal (and Why Design Matters)

February 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

Jon Huntsman’s recent article in the American Conservative, Marriage Equality is a Conservative Cause, is not a call to conserve marriage but a call to compromise it. Huntsman says that “we must demand equality under the law for all Americans.” But under the law, where the law limits marriage to one man and one woman, all Americans are equally free. We are free to marry any non-relative of the opposite sex we choose. Where the law allows gay marriage, all same-sex couples are equally free to “marry.”

450px-Gay_wedding_a_by_Stefano_BologniniGay rights and the legalization of same-sex marriage is sold by advocates as a fight for freedom, but that’s misleading. The goal is to gain freedom that is currently not allowed “under the law”. Isn’t this valid though, the pursuit of desired freedom that we don’t have?

Not always. When the option is thoroughly examined, I think you’ll find that total freedom is something nobody really wants. Unlimited freedom isn’t truly attainable anyway, because one person’s complete freedom will inevitably take away from another’s freedom. I can’t have everything I want without stealing something. You simply aren’t free do anything and everything.

We readily accept all kinds of boundaries in our freedom, and there are two types of boundaries that are useful to recognize: What we can do and who can do it. Both are legitimate restrictions and widely accepted in various situations.

In what we can do, certain laws limit how fast we can drive, which national borders we can cross, what we can wear in clubs and restaurants, which public restroom we can use (unless you’re a student in Massachussetts), what type of speech we can use in public discourse, and how many fish we can take home from a Canadian excursion. We are not free to harm or kill or steal or cheat in our activities with fellow citizens.

As far as who can or cannot do these things, there is freedom within limits as well. A ten-year-old is not free to drive a car. A citizen cannot enter most other countries without the fulfillment of certain conditions. Men cannot use the womens showers at the Y, or vise-versa. No matter how unfair I think it is, I cannot fish without a license, dine at a country club without a membership, skateboard in front of the QuikTrip, or play a trumpet in the local library.

There are practical reasons why certain activities are prohibited or that only certain people are free to do them. The point is there are plenty of restrictions on the what and the who every day, and we are generally fine with that. Freedom and equality aren’t universal, nor should they be.

Likewise, in the case of marriage, there is equal freedom, but with limits on what and who. The case for gay marriage is not linked to a lack of freedom, but rather a desire to destroy the boundaries that naturally exist in marriage.

I say these boundaries “naturally exist” because marriage was designed to function a certain way within certain limits, just like everything else. But designed by whom? If marriage was designed by people then people have a right to redefine it. If it was designed by God (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6), then we don’t have the right to redefine it.

Of course, not everyone will agree with an appeal to the Bible for the design of marriage by a divine Creator. So, let’s assume this is not the case and pretend the boundaries to marriage—specifically its confinement to a man and a woman overwhelmingly demonstrated by every civilization throughout human history—don’t truly belong, but were set in place by past cultures and are subject to revision. Let’s see where that logic leads.

If marriage was not relegated by God to include a man and a woman, then men are morally free to marry men and women to marry women—so far, so good for the cause of gay marriage rights. But it also follows that individuals ought to be able to marry their parents, siblings, children, or close relatives. If God didn’t design marriage or doesn’t care what we do with it, we ought to think it acceptable to take anyone for a mate. But do we allow this? Isn’t incest simply immoral?

Perhaps it could be argued that the risk of abnormalities in offspring is enough cause to classify incest as immoral. However, since there are health risks involved in homosexual relations, and even sometimes in heterosexual relations, this can’t be sufficient cause to deem incest morally wrong. Based on the same logic, if marrying family is morally permissible, then polygamy and even bestiality should be too.

At this point, proponents of same-sex marriage might declare a slippery slope fallacy and interject that marriage ought to be limited to two human, consenting adults who love each other, which would prevent an ever-widening definition of marriage. Such a requirement would leave out children, animals, non-sentient life forms and inanimate objects. But on what basis can we limit marriage to two consenting adults who love each other? Why grant that freedom but insist on restrictions that alienate people with pedophilic, incestuous, or other perverted inclinations, thereby denying their happiness? What is the basis for requiring mutual love in marriage? Certainly many people marry for reasons other than love and we don’t prohibit that.

For the non-religious, we still know by moral intuition that many types of relationships are just wrong. As thousands of years of practice reveal, regardless of religious cultural beliefs, humanity has held to and flourished by heterosexual marriage. Setting that aside yields more freedom for more people, but then there is then no true basis for restricting anything at all. We can try to condemn some types of relationships that seem harmful on the common ethical grounds that we should do the least harm to our neighbor. But that moral principal doesn’t mean anything without the moral law-giving God of the Bible, so there’s no rational moral basis even for denying “taboo” relationships that risk disorders in offspring (incest), are cruel to animals (bestiality), are abusive, or aren’t based on mutual love (objectum sexuality). It boils down to being able to ground the fundamental moral values that we all assume, which we can’t ground outside of the truth of God’s word (Rom. 2:14-15). A fuller discussion of morality is beyond the scope of this post (but not this one).

For the Christian, if on the Bible’s numerous passages on marriage we have somehow in the last decade or so stumbled upon their true meaning, that it doesn’t mean to limit the institution to one man and one woman and forbid homosexuality despite longstanding historical Christian teaching to the contrary, then we can’t look to the Bible for any kind of guidance for marriage. Since there are 6 or 7 passages forbidding homosexuality that we must discount in order to validate it, for consistency we must also ignore the relatively fewer number of passages that forbid incest and bestiality (only 3 or 4) and other revolting practices.

There are many ways people manage to live inconsistently with what they claim to believe. One is to reject the Biblical account of the origin of mankind, relationships and sexual morality, and then live as if it’s all true. We do this when we deny there are any God-given rules about how to live and then cherry-pick certain rules that we expect everyone to follow, as if they were handed down from on high.

Observation and logic show us that we never accept freedom and equality without limits and boundaries. Nature shows us that heterosexual unions lead to human flourishing whereas other types of sex run counter to it. God’s revelation shows us that there is moral law that tells every one of us what we can’t otherwise rationalize—that some things are independently right or wrong. Marriage, for one, is right as it was intended, an equally free union with few other limitations but this one: It’s designed for one man and one woman.

[Related post: Examining the Biblical View of Homosexuality]

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