Exactly one year ago I wrote my thoughts on the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of Obamacare. Since the Supreme Court apparently has an annual appointment in late June to issue controversial decisions, I thought I would take a moment and share some thoughts about Wednesday’s ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court got it right, although even when they got it right they got it wrong. The DOMA is clearly unconstitutional, although not for any of the fabricated reasons that the Court devised. Constitutional historian Kevin Gutzman stated it perfectly in a Facebook post:
DOMA is overruled on the basis of the 1954 invention of an equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment. It’s amazing it took until 1954 to discover its equal protection component.The DOMA should have been overruled on 10th Amendment grounds, as defining marriage is the states’ prerogative. Even when the SCUS is right, its reasoning is wrong.
So, the Court was correct that DOMA is unconstitutional, but it’s unconstitutional because the federal government has no authority in this matter, which is clearly left to the states.
To me, though, this issue is just a part of a larger question. Namely, why should any government be involved in marriage at all? Political commentator Julie Borowski made an astute observation that the issue is really less about marriage than it is about government-mandated benefits:
“No one technically has to get government’s permission or fill out a government marriage license to get married. Any two people (or more whatever floats their boat, I guess) can have a wedding ceremony and call/declare themselves married. Of course, their marriage won’t be recognized by the government which means they can’t get government marriage ‘benefits’ and ‘privileges.’ The real debate is about *who* should be able to get the government marriage benefits: Straight couples only? Gay couples too? As I said in my earlier status, we need to better develop and articulate plans to detach (or get rid of) government benefits tied to legal marriage.”
To the extent that Borowski is right, and I believe she is, it seems entirely unfair to exclude a group from government benefits because of their lifestyle choice. As much as I disagree with government benefits in general, everyone should be able to recognize that if a group of people pay into a system it is immoral to legislate away their ability to get anything out of it. This is, after all, the very argument that many conservatives correctly make against progressive taxation.
Perhaps the best comment I saw on the ruling came from libertarian commentator Chase Rachels:
Please do not applaud the government for ruling DOMA unconstitutional. Implicit in this ruling is that the government has the authority to determine which marriages are valid and which ones are not.
On a separate but related note, no one has the right to tell a clergy man or any other individual for that matter that he either MUST or MUST NOT marry any two or more individuals. Let’s wake up and strike the root!
These comments are absolutely spot on. Most of the opposition to the Court’s rulings is from people who want to see gay marriage made illegal on moral grounds. What needs to be understood, however, is that the power the government uses to make something illegal is the same power is can use to make it legal (and to make this legality mandatory on religious social institutions). It is an unwise strategy for both sides to place this kind of power in the hands of government and then sit with fingers crossed, hoping that they’ll never interpret it differently than was intended.
One final thought for my fellow Christians who are troubled by these rulings. One of my struggles with the Christian community’s laser-focus on politicizing morality is that, in the best case scenario, the only thing that laws can effectively do is control the outward expression of a sinful heart, and even in this the law usually fails. The law cannot address the heart of the issue. The fact that a particular immoral behavior is made legal does not change the fact that the true remedy is not political, but is the reconciliation of a broken heart to a loving Savior.
It is my opinion that the politicization of morality only makes the issue needlessly combative and distracts all sides from the real issue. I hope that Christians can realize that, regardless of what the law says, our response should be the same: to show to our fellow man the love, mercy and redemptive grace of God through Jesus Christ. This is, after all, the common, inescapable need of all humanity.