By most accounts, the U.S. Supreme Court appears on the cusp of forcing the recognition of same-sex “marriage” at the end of this month, when it hands down its decision on Obergefell v. Hodges.
However, truth be told, the journey towards the redefinition of marriage started decades ago. What we see today as a legal shift in definition has its roots in steady and significant cultural change.
There was once a millennia-old, cross-cultural understanding that marriage was the lifelong union of a man and a woman. This definition helped protect children born from that union. Indeed, bringing children into this world has historically been understood to be a primary function of marriage. In that sense, marriage, sex and childbearing were linked in the minds of people, and were usually linked in practice.
And then, in the 1960s, the Sexual Revolution happened. The events that took place during this period helped break the “iron triangle” of marriage, sex, and childbearing, which ushered in monumental changes in our nation’s collective worldview and culture.
One such event happened on May 9, 1960, when the Food and Drug Administration approved the sale and use of the Pill. As my friend Dr. Al Mohler pointed out in his excellent article recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Pill, this form of birth control
turned pregnancy – and thus children – into elective choices, rather than natural gifts of the marital union. But then again, the marital union was itself weakened by the Pill, because the avoidance of pregnancy facilitated adultery and other forms of non-marital sex. In some hands, the Pill became a human pesticide.
Cohabitation rates also increased during the Sexual Revolution, further weakening the institution of marriage. With easy access to birth control and nationwide access to abortion eventually arriving after the Roe v Wade decision in 1973, it was easier for couples to opt out of marriage. Many did, and cohabitation rates have skyrocketed. In fact, we have seen a 35-fold increase in the rate of cohabitation between 1960 and 2010. The devaluing of marriage in favor of merely living together has accelerated even further among the millennial generation.
No-fault divorce dealt another blow to marriage when California first adopted such legislation signed into law by then Governor Ronald Reagan in 1970. The ability to dissolve a marriage without having to show legal wrongdoing has been available in all 50 states since 1985.
Taken together, these developments helped reduce marriage, in the eyes of many, to simply an act of emotional love. No longer did the majority of people hold a conjugal view of marriage – that marriage is the lifelong, exclusive union of a man and woman who, in most cases, have and raise their children together.
Once that basic, historic cultural understanding of marriage was breached, it became easier for people to accept an alternate definition of marriage as the union of two men, or two women. After all, isn’t love love? Isn’t all love equal? That’s the argument activists have carried out as they sought to normalize homosexuality and, more recently, the idea of same-sex “marriage” and parenting.
Unfortunately, the Church, being made up of fallible and imperfect people, didn’t do all it could to provide a counterbalance, an alternative to the changes happening in the culture. When we could have offered a vision of God’s design and plan for marriage and family, many instead found themselves wrapped up in the cultural revolution.
When we could have encouraged young couples in love to marry, we told them to postpone marriage until after they had a college education, stable job and a healthy bank account. No longer was marriage an institution that helped shape and mature young people. Rather, it became the “cherry on top” after they had achieved a certain level of success.
When we could have offered a bright, shining example of the vitality and joy that can be found in a Christ-centered marriage, in many cases, Christian divorce rates rivaled the world’s.
No wonder a homosexual activist once asked me, “Since Christians haven’t done so well in the arena of marriage, why not let us try?”
What my friend doesn’t understand is that the reality and wisdom of God’s definition isn’t any less true just because Christians as a whole have struggled in our responsibility to champion and live out marriage as well as we could have.
Despite our shortcomings, God’s design of one man and one woman marriage, committed for life, welcoming and raising children together, remains the best model of family there is.
Nothing else benefits men, women and children more than biblical marriage.
More importantly, nothing else more beautifully represents the Gospel.
They say that law is downstream from culture. In that sense, what happened on May 17, 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state in the Union to sanction same-sex marriage, was a long time coming.
But law also shapes culture. That’s one reason we at Focus are committed to doing all we can to help preserve the definition of marriage in our country.
However, our commitment to God’s truth goes beyond the law.
Even if, at the end of the month, the Supreme Court rules against marriage, our team here at Focus – and many others – will continue to defend and proclaim God’s design for marriage. We’ll continue to teach it to our children and live it out in our own lives. We’ll do everything we can to support and celebrate marriages in our churches, families and communities. And we’ll never stop praying that the Holy Spirit will make God’s truth evident in the culture.
I would like to hear from you. How should we as the Church proceed if the Supreme Court abolishes the traditional understanding of marriage? What are you hearing in your church? Are people talking about the issue and if so, what are they saying?