- - Friday, June 28, 2013

Until the first part of the past century, all mainline churches frowned on contraception. In 1930, however, the Lambeth Conference, a decennial assembly convened by the Anglican Church, broke with the long-held Christian prohibition. Other religious denominations quickly followed suit. This relaxation of the moral code opened the way for the destruction of marriage as it was traditionally understood.

Christians have always recognized children as one of the main purposes, or at least properties, belonging exclusively to marriage. The Bible, in the Book of Genesis, commands men and women to be fruitful and multiply. However, in every society regardless of religious belief, marriage was determined to be based on the natural law. It was the means for the continuation of the human species and ordained for the good of the state. Furthermore, the complementarity of husband and wife was always recognized as beneficial to raising healthy children. Marriage, therefore, existed for the common good, not just for the couple.

By separating life-giving and lovemaking through contraception, marriage became more focused on the couple’s happiness. The traditional understanding of marriage waned regarding the procreation of children and self-sacrifice on the part of the couple for them. In fact, children became not only unimportant for marriage, but they became important only if having them made the parties to the marriage happy. This effectively made children a commodity. Finally, marriage lent itself to rationalizing divorce on the grounds of one or both partners being unhappy, even if their separation proved detrimental to their children.

The elimination of children as one of the purposes of marriage cleared the path for sterile, homosexual marriage. After all, don’t homosexuals have a right to be happy, too? Shouldn’t same-sex couples have the right to adopt children if it adds to their bliss? Homosexual relationships as such have now become accepted as part of a new code of sexual ethics accepted by many churches. This is evident in churches that have devised rituals to bless same-sex unions.

Since many churches no longer have a strong theology of marriage, the courts have filled the vacuum. Judges are now the main arbiters of what constitutes a marriage and the privileges accorded to married couples, irrespective of a couple’s sex. Their decisions are based on positive rights derived from egalitarian principles that they claim are embedded in the Constitution. Indicative of this, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling Wednesday in United States v. Windsor, in which it struck down a provision of the 17-year old Defense of Marriage Act: “DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.” This is another nail in the coffin of traditional understanding of marriage between one man and one woman.

Justice Kennedy further stated, “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”

These words are extremely dangerous for those churches that maintain a traditional understanding of marriage. Justice Antonin Scalia points out in his dissent: “By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage as an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting a marriage to its traditional definition.”

For those religious traditions that oppose same-sex marriage, Justice Scalia’s jeremiad deserves special note. A word to the wise is sufficient.

Michael P. Orsi is chaplain and research fellow in law and religion at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Fla.

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