As a society, we should question why we’re extending social and government benefits to a group based on sexual behavior while excluding other, nonsexual unions that are more worthy. Why allow civil unions for the lesbian couple down the street but not for the widowed daughter and mother-in-law who live next door?
David French recently sparked a lively debate by addressing marriage in “Why I Changed My Mind About Law and Marriage, Again.” French, a conservative evangelical, explains his “flip, flop, and flip back again on civil marriage” (emphasis in original).
“I emphasize the word civil because my view on the religious nature of marriage has not changed,” says French. “It is a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman, sealed before God, and breakable only on the limited conditions God has outlined in his Word.”
Not surprisingly, French’s article has received considerable backlash. Dozens of articles, blog posts, and Twitter threads have pushed back against his change of heart. While some of the responses are motivated by personal dislike of French (some have said he’s not even a Christian), I think the general reaction is due to a broader frustration with evangelicals who share his viewpoint. And that group is growing larger every day.
A Gallup poll taken in May revealed that “support for legal same-sex marriage reflects steady increases among most subgroups of the population, even those who have traditionally been the most resistant to gay marriage.” One of the last remaining groups to hold the line are Americans who report they attend church weekly. But even in that group, 40 percent are in favor of such “marriages” and only 58 percent are opposed. Many of us are frustrated because we’re losing the argument even among people who share our faith and values.
The tide of public opinion is unlikely to be turned by publishing another article pointing out why French and the other 40 percent of churchgoers are wrong. Still, there’s a solution to the problem that is easily implementable and that should be acceptable to almost every Christian (and most secular Americans)—yet no one’s talking about it.
5-Legged Dog of Marriage Law
Before we get to the solution, though, we must point out why same-sex civil marriage is a problem in need of correction. The essential problem, as many people have consistently pointed out, is that there is not and can never be such as thing as same-sex “marriage.” This is true even for civil marriage. Here’s why.
As Abraham Lincoln was fond of asking, “If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?” “Five,” his audience would invariably answer. “No,” he’d politely respond, “the correct answer is four. Calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg.”
Like Lincoln’s associates, many of our fellow citizens—including many Christians—appear to fall for the notion that changing a definition causes a change in essence. The attempt to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions is a prime example. Simply calling such relationships “same-sex marriages,” many believe, will make them marriages. Such reasoning, however, is as flawed as thinking that changing tail to leg changes the function of the appendage.
Consider the change that must occur in our tail/leg example. A dog’s tail cannot perform the same functions as its leg. He can’t use his tail to run or swim or scratch an itch. In order to use the term for both parts, we must discard all qualities that make a tail different from a leg. The new meaning of leg will require that we exclude any difference in form (for example, we can no longer say that a paw can be found at the end of a leg) or function (for example, legs are not necessarily used for standing). In other words, by redefining the term tail we have not made it equivalent in form or function to a leg; we’ve merely stripped the term leg of its previous meaning and made it as generic a term as “appendage.”
The same is true with the attempts to redefine marriage. Because marriage requires the specific form of a union of man and woman (Gen. 2:24), applying the term to same-sex unions alters the very concept of what a marriage is for and what functions it takes.
Changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions doesn’t make it more inclusive but rather more exclusive, since it requires excluding all the functions previously believed to be essential to the institution of marriage (for example, permanence, fidelity, and sexual complementarity).
But doesn’t that fall back on a religious argument? Can’t governments determine the standard for civil marriages? No, they cannot, because marriage is both a prepolitical and prereligious institution that was instituted by God before any formal government or religious institutions were created.