Here is a response that my (C. Michael Patton) friend Mark Gaither, Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary and author of Redemptive Divorce, wrote to my post on Homosexual Marriage. It is very well thought out and provides a helpful perspective that, while we may disagree, is important.
With great respect to my friend and colleague, Michael Patton—and I mean that sincerely—I take issue with his article, “Changing our Thinking about Same-Sex Marriage.”
First, I find the starting premise flawed. The thesis states: “The government should NOT make homosexual marriage illegal.” The word “illegal” makes the premise factually incorrect. To make something illegal is to prohibit certain actions or behaviors. The various “Defense of Marriage” propositions do not make homosexual marriage illegal (assigning punishments to people claiming same-sex unions); these proposals seek to define marriage a certain way so as to determine how to apply privileges and protections to people based on marital status. That is a crucial distinction.
His article also proposed that “the government should stay out of the marriage business all-together.” The line of argument then proceeds from there, the core of which really turns on this question: Should Christians in America become libertarian? The issue of same-sex marriage turns out to be a good test case for this question, prompting us to reconsider the role of government in marriage and, as he suggests, all other theological matters. Consider the following line of reasoning based on what I consider a better starting premise.
In the United States, our laws reflect the collective theology of citizens on any given issue. The definition of marriage by the government does not presume to determine theology; it is the other way around in a participatory government such as ours. “The government” is us, “we the people.” The U.S. Constitution does not erect a wall of separation between church and state; Jefferson overstates its political-social impact. Our founding document establishes an officially secular government with these intended benefits: every philosophical persuasion is given a voice in government and religious institutions are protected from official government intrusion. Our democratic-republican form of legislature then permits—indeed expects!—government to reflect the collective values of its citizens, who may or may not hold religious values.
As it relates to the issue of marriage . . .
The “definition of marriage” in the legal sense merely identifies who shall be subject to our laws concerning marriage. Our government recognizes and honors the institution of marriage with certain privileges and burdens because “we the people” wanted it that way. The government deemed certain unions “valid” based on criteria stipulated by its citizens, who were informed and influenced by the Bible—at least in days gone by. Continue Reading →