by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
March 6, 2008 - Earlier this week, the California Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the constitutionality of same-sex marriages. Regrettably, the emotionally-charged rhetoric that regularly surrounds the highly politicized discourse on this topic obscures more foundational issues. Blindness to the basics at stake occurs even among those whose specialized training is to think with a critical acumen that transcends the current cultural milieu.
Consider, for example, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George who, during arguments in last Tuesday’s hearing, quoted from a 1948 Supreme Court decision regarding interracial marriage (Perez v. Sharp): “The essence of the right to marry is freedom to join in marriage with the person of one’s choice.”
Despite its roots in an earlier court decision, this claim not only perfectly reflects our contemporary cultural perspective about marriage; it also reinforces the emotionally-charged rhetorical divide. It assumes what all people of good will must – namely, that freedom is a great good. Thus, anyone opposed to restricting another’s choice in marriage is an enemy of freedom. To be opposed to same-sex marriage is to be anti-American.
It is the uncritical acceptance of the worldview upon which this axiom (i.e., marriage is essentially a matter of free choice) is based that stultifies dialogue about same-sex marriage. For what is behind the opinion quoted by Chief Justice George is a view of human beings and the nature of reality that is at odds with a Christian perspective about the same.
The purveyors of contemporary Western culture assume that human beings are principally agents characterized by rationality and will. Moreover, they assume that reality is not constituted by anything given. Thus, the exercise of our radical freedom to shape reality in accordance with patterns that suit our collective desires becomes the greatest, perhaps even the only, good.
Over and against this stands a biblical worldview, according to which God places man – an embodied creature whose very flesh as two-in-one (“male and female he created them”) images the triune God – in a reality already given, a world with form, structure, and patterns. Man is free; but his freedom has an end (see Genesis 1:28). Thus, man’s freedom must be exercised in keeping both with the end for which it was given and with the forms, structures, and patterns given in Creation itself.
The internal logic of a Christian worldview in relation to same-sex marriage from this point forward is obvious. Marriage, as a relationship between male and female, is an archetypal given – woven by God into the very fabric of a reality. It is a pattern to which our human freedom must conform. Moreover, the flow of the Genesis narrative illustrates that the family is prior to the state. Thus, if a state fails to protect the pattern of marriage as given what is threatened is not merely the state itself, but our very humanity as well.
Of course, for someone who holds the perspective articulated by Chief Justice George, all of this is virtually incomprehensible. But the incredulity does not stem from the purported folly of introducing the Bible or religion into the public square. Rather, it results from the fact that much like the builders at Babel, contemporary secularists have purchased the lie that the Serpent was selling in Eden: “You will be like God.”
As long as our culture continues to believe that human beings are gods – individual, autonomous masters of the ontological landscape whose only restraint is the creative limits of our collective rational wills – courts will find no constitutional basis for requiring its citizens to act in conformity with a transcendent reality. And same-sex marriage is merely one among a host of ways that we will find to “make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4)