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Judicial restraints

"Judicial restraints" Continued...

Issue: "The Marriage Amendment," June 8, 2002

Section One of the FMA provides the necessary definition of marriage: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman." By itself, Section One does not tell how to regard attempts to get around the legal definition of marriage, by defining new legal relationships such as "domestic partnership" and giving them some or all of the benefits traditionally associated with marriage. Such get-arounds are bad, of course, but there is a right way and a wrong way to oppose them.

The wrong way to protect against get-arounds would be to weaken federalism and self-government by telling states that they are simply not allowed to reallocate the benefits traditionally associated with marriage. But constitutions should not be nannies; the states should be able to make their own mistakes. The right way to protect against get-arounds is to strengthen federalism and self-government by telling judges that they are not allowed to force legislatures to reallocate the benefits traditionally associated with marriage. Experience has shown that activist judges-not legislatures-are the real problem; despite all, the people and their representatives still have some good sense. This right way to protect against get-arounds is exactly what Section Two of the FMA provides: "Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."

Although evangelicals should fight hard for ratification of the FMA, nothing is simple, and certain objections can be anticipated-not only from nonbelievers but from fellow Christians. The most likely objection from nonbelievers is, "You Christians are trying to cram your religion and morality down the throats of everyone else." But this is false; the FMA does not force anyone to get married, to go to church, or to practice Christian sexual ethics. Moreover it is supported by a broad coalition, not just by Christians. The institution it protects has been recognized by all cultures throughout human history as necessary for the common good.

What about Christian objections? One such objection might run, "Marriage is too deeply endangered to be saved by a mere constitutional amendment; what the country needs is a change of heart." Paul pointed out that even though the Law of Moses could not save, it helped God's people recognize their need for a Savior (Galatians 3:23-24). In the same way, although the country does need a change of heart, the laws under which we live have a great deal to do with our ability to recognize such a need. No one suggests that the FMA alone will save marriage, but we can be sure that if we fail to ratify the FMA, then the cultural threat to marriage will grow much greater than it is already.

A third possible objection is that "It doesn't matter what the laws of the government say, because we Christians are called to a higher standard of morality." In God's Word we do have a higher standard, but what the government does affects us too. Bad laws pollute the public square that we share with nonbelievers; they undermine the faith of weak believers; and they place stumbling blocks even in the path of the strong.

Finally, some Christians might argue, "I like the FMA, but I don't want to work together with non-Christians to ratify it!" Like it or not, biblically oriented Christians are a minority, and no important legal measures can be passed without working together with people of other religions. There is biblical precedent for doing so: Pharaoh oppressed God's people, but Cyrus worked with them to bring about their restoration to the holy land. And let's not forget that the New Testament writers who commanded good citizenship were writing not in Christian countries, but in the pagan empire of Rome.

The union of husband and wife is a good thing. It is more than a good thing; it is a great thing, worth fighting for. What we do about the FMA may determine whether the world that our children inherit will even recognize this beautiful gift of God. Right through the tears and tarnish of the fall, its beauty yet gleams. May God grant us grace to pass it on undimmed.

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