Come August 1st, gay couples within Minnesota will be legally bound in civil matrimony. The state became the twelfth in the nation to legalize gay marriage after being among the first to reject a ballot question which would have affirmed the traditionally understood definition, a union between one man and one woman.
The debate which culminated in this dramatic shift in social policy has been enormously divisive, provoking conflict between friends, among family, and within organizations. Standing up for the traditional definition earned allegations of bigotry. Reasoned discourse proved elusive. Talking points erupted from emotion. Slogans distorted the truth. As the dust now settles in the North Star State, gay marriage manifests from concept to reality.
As a resident and politically active Christian, I have taken some time since the law has changed to deconstruct the battle for marriage in our state. I stand convinced that it was lost long before anyone suggested the notion of same-sex unions.
Advocates of tradition have framed the debate over marriage as an attempt to redefine a sacred institution. What we weren’t prepared to admit is that such redefinition had already occurred. While the extent to which marriage has ever been broadly held sacred remains an open question, it was at least treated as such in times past. There were natural incentives to encourage it. The greatest of those was children. Beneath higher concepts of honor lay the simple facts that sex may result in children and children present responsibility. The proverbial shotgun wedding was a pragmatic affair, because a father properly ought to provide for his offspring and their mother.
Such incentive abated with the advent of birth control, the rejection of gender roles, and the legalization of abortion. In a matter of decades, the pragmatic reasons for entering into matrimony no longer applied. Sure, sex could still lead to children, but not necessarily. Conception could be prevented. Pregnancy could be terminated. And the state stood ready to provide when fathers would not.
With the responsibility at the heart of marriage rotted away, all that remained was a shell, a package of cultural memes about true love, soul mates, and happily ever afters. We came to marry because we felt like it, not because we should, in order to fulfill transient emotional deficits, not to secure our future.
It’s upon this foundational concept, marriage as personal affirmation, that the case for gay marriage has been built. Pick a slogan from the campaign. Chances are it’s some variation on, “People should be able to marry the person they love.” Political ads in Minnesota surrounding both last year’s ballot question and this year’s bill all centered on this theme. Marriage is about happiness. Marriage is about love. Marriage is about you and whoever you choose. Indeed, from a strictly civil perspective, that holds true. It does not fall to the state to determine with whom you enter into a relationship. However, the state’s role ends up beside an ongoing cultural consideration. As a cultural and religious institution, marriage has always depended upon our individual regard of it. By pointing out that the heterosexual majority – including a significant percentage of professing Christians – have fostered a culture of divorce and turned marriage from a sacred bond into a status update, change agents have effectively argued that marriage serves no role outside romantic satisfaction. And if that’s all it amounts to, why shouldn’t gays have it too?
We have met the enemy, and he is us. There never would have been a basis for building an argument for gay marriage if we had not established it. By “we,” I mean the mainstream heterosexual Christian culture. For restoration, we must return to the source of our claim to the sacred. Scripture reveals marriage as a model for how Jesus Christ reconciles himself to his church. No other form of earthly relationship so consistently presents opportunities for forgiveness and reconciliation. The popular notion of soul mates who complete each other ignores the true means of spiritual completion – the finished work of Christ. The grace fostered within marriage offers a glimpse of the broader grace we experience in Christ. Approaching it with that attitude fosters unions which last until death, while a quest for personal fulfillment fosters frantic pursuits of any romantic rush, wrecking homes and ruining lives.