Today one man, one homosexual judge, has decided for a nation that the people of a state do not have the right to conserve ancient societal institutions such as marriage. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker struck down California’s Proposition 8 ballot initiative, passed by the voters in 2008, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Doubtless a river of ink will be spilled over this ruling and its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The questions, the searing questions for Christians are these: What was actually at stake? What, if anything, was lost today?
Was it the name of marriage, its definition, or its fundamental lived reality?
Certainly the definition of what constitutes marriage was dealt a deadly blow in one judicial ruling. But then, the very identity of marriage has been suffering death by a thousand cuts for decades. Marriage was always understood to reserve certain goods for heterosexual couples who promised their lives to one another in sacred oath.
Sexual activity, the procreating of children, adoption, rights of inheritance, rights of visitation, joint ownerships and contracts, joint rental leases, tax benefits, spousal coverage on insurance, have all been goods of marriage. One by one, each has been given away over the past few decades to cohabiting couples, both heterosexual and homosexual/lesbian.
Gays and lesbians may adopt children, whom society has decided do not need both a mother and a father for optimal healthy development.
Sodomy laws have been struck down.
Cohabitation outside of marriage is the norm.
Same-sex partners may cosign leases and mortgages.
Same-sex couples have domestic partnerships, quasi-marriage.
The list goes on and on. One by one the goods reserved to marriage have been given away without a firestorm of protest. The result is that gays and lesbians now have marriage in everything but name only. If we have not formally redefined marriage up to this point, we have done so operationally. Anger over Vaughn’s decision, while understandable, is a little like closing the barn door after the horses have gone.
Assuming the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Vaughn and restores the right of the people to define marriage, this will be a very small victory for marriage. No-fault divorce has done more to destroy marriage than all of the gay weddings times a thousand. We heterosexuals have been poor custodians of God’s great institution. Assuming a Supreme Court victory for traditionalists, what then?
Do we then turn our sights on cheap and easy divorces? Do we dare attempt to reclaim the goods of marriage and reserve them to heterosexual married couples only? Are we ready for that series of battles?
Or do we simply claim victory in a semantic skirmish and concede the war?
We have become too comfortable for far too long. Perhaps we dared not oppose the systematic surrender of marriage’s goods because of guilt over our rampant use of porn, rampant rates of adultery and divorce. Perhaps we were too busy with other pursuits, material acquisition and easy living, to man the barricades.
In his first homily as Pope, Benedict XVI reminded the Church that we were not made for comfort, but for greatness. Our collective shrug at the systematic looting of marriage’s goods points to our need to heed the Holy Father’s call to reorient ourselves toward greatness, and not a moment too soon.