Throughout its grand history, America has regularly been willing to reevaluate cultural norms, especially when the change that challenges the status quo promises to right a wrong or advance and improve the social welfare. Many of these watershed movements have delivered precisely and as powerfully as promised (woman’s suffrage and civil rights) while others have failed (prohibition and no-fault divorce).
Historically, American voters have been blunt in evaluating the wisdom of social change. When a bad idea, which was originally considered to be good, slips through and into law, the American people haven’t been shy about fighting for its repeal and holding corresponding leaders to account. With the benefit of the new media and widespread access to endless streams of data, voters are now able to even more quickly discern fact from fiction and evidence from mere promise.
It’s in part from this context that I’ve been following the ongoing marriage debate in the New York state legislature. Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared the legalization of same-sex marriage his number one priority. Supporters are waging a clever, celebrity-driven and well-funded campaign, suggesting that all they want is “marriage equality.” In fact, what they want to do is redefine this multi-millennial institution.
I am, naturally, personally opposed to the legalization of same-sex marriage for the simple but profound reason that it violates and contradicts the sacred text of the Bible, which I believe to be true and inspired. But on what basis should I expect people who don’t believe as I do to likewise oppose same-sex marriage?
On the basis of logic, reason, common sense and the fact that preservation of traditional marriage is in the best interest of the common good, as evidenced by any number of factors, including reams of social science data and thousands of years of history.
Any discussion on the definition of marriage incites strong emotional reaction. And those of us within the orthodox Christian community understand that many in the culture see this issue very differently, and hold to very passionate views on the subject. We understand that on this matter, in some circles, that “never the twain shall meet.” Nevertheless, this difference of opinion does not preclude us the privilege of championing a principle we hold dear, especially since it’s our Christian faith that motivates us to support and defend what we believe to be God’s blueprint for human relationship. In the last half-century, progressives have exercised their own rights of cultural engagement, aggressively championing sweeping cultural changes on numerous levels. Although we may disagree with them, we certainly don’t begrudge them the right to engage the process. But in this pursuit to redefine marriage, wouldn’t it make sense to consider the outcomes of prior social reengineering efforts?
In the late 1960s, no-fault divorce promised to simplify, streamline and decrease the contentiousness surrounding marital breakup. Instead, it only encouraged struggling spouses to throw in the towel. Fathers abandoned their families in droves. Poverty levels skyrocketed. Prison populations increased at dramatic levels, a consequence of kids now growing up without a father in the home.
A few years later, in 1973, the Supreme Court legalized abortion in all 50 states. Supporters heralded a new era of responsibility, where every child would be a wanted child. Tragically, over 48 million babies have now been aborted and the beauty of life has been cheapened as a result, while child abuse has skyrocketed.
The expansion of welfare promised to alleviate human suffering. While in some ways noble in intent, it disincentivized work, undermined the family unit and created a perpetual cycle of dependency and poverty. Fathers were no longer needed to be an integral part of the family.
Cohabitation is yet another experiment which promised to liberate couples from the “burden” of marriage. The number of couples living together outside of marriage has increased ten-fold between 1960 and 2000. Over 12 million unmarried partners now live together in the United States. The result? Cohabitation not only decreases a person’s appetite for marriage, it also increases the risk of divorce, should the couple ever tie the knot.
Further, a home with two unmarried partners has proven to be the most dangerous place for children in the U.S. Children who live with their mother and boyfriend are 11 times more likely to be sexually, physically, or emotionally abused than children living with their married biological parents.
In each example of social reengineering I’ve noted, progressives promised good things. Sadly, the exact opposite has happened. However well-meaning the motivation, reengineering what God has designed is not only unwise, but radical and dangerous, too.
Without evidence of success to which to point, supporters of these ill-fated ventures are left with but one choice: If you can’t change unfavorable outcomes, you change the minds of people as to what is considered favorable and good.
Here lies the last great frontier and the last gasp for those determined to re-engineer marriage. Those committed to this form of radicalism have systematically broken down the cultural barrier to same sex marriage by desensitizing people on the issue, stigmatizing those who oppose the movement and potentially criminalizing anyone who stands in opposition to them. The irony in our cultural discussion currently, is if you support traditional marriage, you are the one perceived by the cultural elite to be the radical.
Consider the case of a New Mexico couple who own and operate a photography business. When they kindly refused to shoot a lesbian “marriage” ceremony, they were summarily brought up on human rights violations by the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. They were fined for not accepting the job. While on the other hand, Christian organizations are now being singled out and suppliers are threatening to no longer supply them with critical support functions like computer technology because of their stand in opposition to same-sex marriage. Those in favor of same-sex marriage do not see the contradiction in these two examples. One group must perform the services and is fined for not doing so (in the name of human rights); the other is allowed to default on their contract because of alleged bigoted behavior on the part of the religious organization (with no regard for religious expression).
If religious liberty is lost in America, we will cease to be the nation our Founders intended us to be. Our rights will no longer be derived from God but from man, and therefore, dangerously beholden to political despots. I don’t think Thomas Jefferson intended that to be the outcome for our great nation when he wrote the famous Danbury Baptist Church letter which mentioned the separation of church and state. Contrary to conventional wisdom, President Jefferson was expressing a concern that the church needed to be protected from the state, not the state from the church. It appears his fears are now being realized.
Jim Daly is president and host of "Focus on the Family." His daily posts are available at www.JimDalyBlog.com.
Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family and author of The Good Dad: Becoming the Father You Were Meant to Be (Zondervan 2014). Learn more at JimDalyBlog.com or FocusontheFamily.com.