Where Do Marriage Rights Come From?
There is only one reliable source for a “right”—and that is a directive from the only possible giver of rights.
Yesterday’s 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that banned legal opposition to same-sex “marriage” in all 50 states is, as expected, generating a great deal of heated opinion on both sides of the political divide. This will undoubtedly continue for months and years to come. Some consider this a defining moment for the future of our nation.
A central issue is whether same-sex marriage is a “right”—a moral term. The New York Times says, “Supreme Court Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide.” The Washington Post says Anthony Kennedy, the crucial swing vote, cast his opinion on the basis that (1) marriage is a “fundamental right”, and (2) equality is a value that requires extending heterosexual couples’ right of marriage to homosexual couples. “The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest,” he said. He did not explain why this right should be limited to couples.
If same-sex marriage is a fundamental right, it did not exist nationally until Anthony Kennedy and the other 4 justices made it one by the slimmest possible majority. Had he voted the other way, given the court’s political makeup, it would not be a right today. It certainly was not a right when the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868, which Kennedy used to justify his argument that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right. The 14th Amendment says nothing about marriage; its framers, moreover, would have thought the idea of same-sex marriage to be bizarre if not immoral.
Discussion of rights has a long history in American jurisprudence, as the “Civil Rights” movement illustrates. There’s a difference, however, between creating a right and recognizing a right. The founding fathers did not believe rights could be granted by any government; that’s why some of them opposed a “Bill of Rights,” arguing that the government’s job is not to enumerate rights but to protect the rights that all citizens have by nature. The Constitution was written to enumerate the limited and just powers by which the new government could infringe on individual rights when absolutely necessary for the general welfare and common defense. This view presupposes that rights are eternal. New rights cannot be created; they can only be defended or temporarily restricted by the consent of the governed. Martin Luther King Jr. argued not for new civil rights, but for the American government to pay up on its promise of protecting the rights recognized in the founding documents for all people.
The view that natural rights are God-given is clear from the Declaration of Independence, in its immortal words that “we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights” – rights no government can alienate, void, or alter. The subsequent phrase, “that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is insufficient in itself, however, to deny a right to same-sex marriage. Something more definitive is needed. Same-sex partners can always claim it is their way of pursuing happiness, though many would be hard-pressed to explain which Creator endowed them with that way of expressing it. Even if they accept “by our Creator” in the equation, which Creator? Where did he, she, or it talk about marriage?
Many evangelical Christians are understandably concerned about what comes next; will their religious liberties be protected from activists demanding recognition of, and participation in, this new “fundamental right”? Lawsuits against churches and Christian-run businesses are almost sure to come. Activists will now have the full force of the courts behind them. As the lines are drawn in the coming weeks and months between religious liberty and this new “right,” evangelical Christians need to understand the foundation for their position. The nebulous “Creator” of the Declaration of Independence is not enough.
Pastors, Christian businesspersons, and Christ followers in the pews: the answer is in the Word of God: God defined marriage in Genesis 2:24 and Jesus Christ affirmed its timeless truth in Matthew 19:4-6. The Scripture is also consistently clear that homosexual activity is a sin, so to give it free rein in that most intimate of relationships where sexual activity is expected is to sanction sin. No man or government can redefine what God has defined. No man can call righteous what God has called an abomination. Those who oppose this definition are not standing against you, but against God and His Son’s clear words. We know this, but how can we persuade the opposition?
Intelligent design has its place, but you can’t build a case for traditional marriage from intelligent design. You can’t defend it by waving the Declaration of Independence. Christ followers have been given a blow and knocked back on their heels with this ruling; gay activists have been handed a weapon that can be used, and will be used, to persecute all those who try to defend traditional marriage.
It will be a weak argument to say that traditional marriage is just your “religious viewpoint.” The other side will draw faulty analogies, saying that your religious viewpoint doesn’t allow you to discriminate against people of color; likewise, you can’t discriminate against gay couples by not making them cakes, refusing to take their wedding photos, or not allowing them to marry in your church. Any objection will be framed in terms of tolerance, equality and civil rights. Your “religious views” will be portrayed as obscurantist, unscientific, and out of touch with the culture. What are you going to do?
Standing firm on the Word of God is admirable and necessary. Assuring believers that God is on the throne is true and right. These arguments, however, preach to the choir. They are unlikely to convince the other side; rather, such entrenchments will likely confirm their opinions that religious people are dogmatists. Let us suggest an apologetic that could further the discussion with opponents, provided they are still rational.
We suggest you focus on that word “right.” Ask your opponent, “Where do rights come from?” Anything other than an eternal, timeless, God-given definition of rights cannot hold up logically, because it is self-refuting. If rights can be created out of whole cloth, they are not rights, because they can be taken away later. If rights evolve, they are not rights, because they can evolve into something else later. They may be social conventions; they may be arbitrary pronouncements, but they are not rights. If you can change a right, it’s not a right, because it’s not “right” to change a right. If your idea of a right is right for your interest group but not for mine, then might makes right. The very word right presupposes something outside of ourselves that is unalienable and timeless. We could even say it’s supernatural.
You may not get any further in your apologetic, but like Greg Koukl says, you can at least put a pebble in their shoe. “Where do rights come from?” Think this through until you understand it well and can defend your answer. You must be able to prove that if a so-called “right” is not timeless, universal, necessary and certain, it is not a right. Don’t let anyone call it a right. Help them to see it is merely a social convention. Once they agree that same-sex marriage is a social convention (granted by 5 out of 9 mortal, fallible justices in 2015 after billions of people lived for millennia without it), help them realize it can be changed by another court decision or majority. Pursue this line of argument until the self-refuting nature of this newly-defined “right” becomes clear. “If Republicans win in 2016 and pass a law taking away this right, or if a future Supreme Court vacates the Kennedy decision, will same-sex marriage still be a right?” If they say, “yes, it is still a right,” then keep on topic: “Where does this right come from?” They have essentially agreed with you that the US Government is powerless to grant rights. Help them to see that they are supernaturalists in spite of themselves; they believe that morality is absolute. That is your bridge. Instead of shutting the door on your disagreement, it keeps the conversation going. It makes them think: What is a right? What confers “rightness” to a right?
You can quote Scripture to opponents. You can print them on placards in protest rallies. You can impress them with your courage to stand firm on your religious convictions. These may be effective with some. But we feel the apologetic suggested above accomplishes some necessary pre-evangelism to prepare the ground for the seed of the gospel. Don’t waste seed on hard ground where the birds will snatch it away. Take some time to plow it up, bust up the clods, and rake it smooth; then trust God for the increase (I Corinthians 3:6-8).
“May you live in interesting times,” the Chinese proverb says. Yes indeed; these are times needing clarity, courage, and wisdom. It may become costly to follow Christ. Historically speaking, that is nothing new; it’s been the norm, and is the norm today in many parts of the world. Now it’s our turn. Christ warned that since they hated Him, they will hate his followers. But don’t just curl up and die. Talk to people. Engage them. Peter encouraged those who suffered in his day to be ready with a defense (apologetic) to those who ask a reason for the hope that is in them (I Peter 3:15-16). Paul said, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). Salt will make them thirsty for more. Grace will keep them listening. God can and will turn evil into good.
We invite your comments on this apologetic.