Monday, February 17, 2014

The Battle for Marriage in the State of Virginia

Last week, a federal judge ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage in the state of Virginia was unconstitutional, drawing the Old Dominion into a peculiar place.  On the one hand, if the law violates the constitutional rights of citizens, then it's right out.  On the other, if removing it does significant damage to the liberties of citizens, then it should be retained.  That'll be a matter for the Supreme Court of the United States, and when this ruling comes, it'll be a big one in my home state.

But that's the issue for the legal system.  As a pastor, my concern is marriage.  Not weddings, mind you.  The Wedding-Industrial-Complex is trucking along just fine, God help us.  I'm talking about marriage, the covenanted relationship that engages two souls in a lifelong commitment to one another.

That institution, as I see it, is in danger right now in the state of Virginia.

Last week's ruling, though, had no impact on marriage at all.  Whether or not gays and lesbians can solemnify their unions is completely immaterial to heterosexual couples.  It doesn't change anything at all, so far as I can see it.   Say you're a heterosexual Bible-believer in Virginia, married to your spouse for a couple of decades.  When you woke up the morning after the ruling, how had your commitment to your husband or wife changed?

Not at all.  Mine didn't.

Neither does it impact religious liberty in any meaningful way.  I cannot, as a pastor, be made to bless and solemnify the union of anyone I choose not to marry.  Neither can I be told what I am allowed to say or not say in a ceremony.  The state does not pay me, nor can it in any other way coerce my behavior within my faith community.  I am, as a faithful person, completely free.

But it's impossible to miss the threat to marriage, because marriages are coming to pieces all around us.  Committed, lifelong relationships are an endangered species, with divorce rates in our country at a painfully high and sustained level.

When I talk with folks who are struggling in their marriages, or folks who are living through the painful process of divorce, gay marriage just isn't a significant factor.  It isn't, quite frankly, a factor at all.

The odd stressors of suburban existence?  That's a powerful enemy of marriage.  The peculiarly joyless demands of anxiety-driven helicopter parenting?  That challenges healthy relationships, as parents neglect one another and forget one another in the stress-mess of activity-wrangling.  Our warped work culture, which drives both spouses to work impossible hours out of fear that we'll be let go the next time folks in the C-suite are looking to justify their absurd salaries?  Yeah, that fear is a factor.

Our consumerist obsession with self-indulgence, which has doubled down deep in the instant gratification of the internet age?  That's an enemy.  Our stresses about finances and debt, as somehow the groaningly abundant cornucopia of food, shelter, and entertainment around us doesn't translate into a sense of wellbeing?  That's an enemy.

In ten thousand ways, the state of mutual, covenant commitment that is marriage is under attack in our society.

But same-sex unions are not part of that war.

They neither threaten an individual's integrity as a person of faith, nor do they have any meaningful impact on marriage as a state of being.

I do not doubt that as this case moves forward, there will be a tremendous amount of heat and light generated by those who view this as a threat.  Much fear will be stoked.  This frustrates me, as a pastor, and not only because I view same-sex marriage as an overdue blessing.  Though I do.

It frustrates me because I care about marriage, and the more energy Christians pour into opposing same-sex relationships, the less energy is retained for the real battle.

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