How True Rights and Genuine Liberty Are Becoming Casualties of the Supreme Court’s Redefinition of Marriage
Marriage as existing solely between one man and one woman precedes civil government. Though affirmed, fulfilled, and elevated by faith, the truth that marriage can exist only between one man and one woman is not based on religion or revelation alone, but on the Natural Law, written on the human heart and discernible through the exercise of reason. It is part of the natural created order. The Natural Law is what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., referred to as a higher law or a just law in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.…The institutions of civil government should defend marriage and not seek to undermine it. Government has long regulated marriage for the true common good. Examples, such as the age of consent, demonstrate such a proper regulation to ensure the free and voluntary basis of the marriage bond. Redefining the very institution of marriage is improper and outside the authority of the State. No civil institution, including the United States Supreme Court or any court, has authority to redefine marriage.
—Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage—
Though expected, today’s decision is completely illegitimate. We reject it and so will the American people. It represents nothing but judicial activism, legislating from the bench, with a bare majority of the Justices on the Supreme Court exercising raw political power to impose their own preferences on marriage when they have no constitutional authority to do so. It is a lawless ruling that contravenes the decisions of over 50 million voters and their elected representatives. It is a decision that is reminiscent of other illegitimate Court rulings such as Dred Scott and Roe v Wade and will further plunge the Supreme Court into public disrepute.
—Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage, on June 26, 2015, responding to the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling that redefined marriage nationwide to include same-sex couples—
Properly understood, rights are not guarantees that something will be provided for us but guarantees that what is ours will not be unjustly taken from us. That is, properly speaking, rights are not positive but negative.
Part 4, which is available here, provides important background information for this post.
Depending on the circumstances and on what listeners want to hear, the truth can be very difficult to accept. So difficult, in fact, that some individuals reject it altogether. Consider Marc, who was very much alive but was convinced he was dead. When his psychiatrist asked him if dead men bleed, Marc said no. The doctor promptly stuck Marc’s finger with a needle, causing blood to come forth. “Wow!” exclaimed Marc. “Dead men really do bleed, after all!”
With very few exceptions, it isn’t desirable for people to live in a world of fantasy and illusion. Mature people must grapple with reality. People need to eat! The bills have to be paid! The real world is messy, but it is the one we live in—yet it’s also the one in which we can find fulfillment and satisfaction, if we adjust to life’s demands and cooperate with its realities.
The law of gravity provides a great example. No one can step out of a 10th story window and expect to go anywhere but down, and fast! Gravity prevents us from safely doing a great number of things. Yet when we cooperate with it, we benefit immensely. Why? In a great many ways, gravity, which is part of “the natural order of things,” makes ordered life on earth possible.
Marriage, as humanity has understood it for centuries, is very much like gravity in this regard. When a society respects marriage as an institution uniting one man and one woman in a committed, lifelong relationship, it’s clear that it limits that society in certain ways. Perhaps it’s not as clear that it liberates it in many more! Clear or not, this is the truth! When a nation rejects man-woman marriage, devastating consequences follow, a number of which we have discussed in previous posts.
This week in our series on rights, we move to consider how the Supreme Court of the United States, through its ruling on marriage, has violated the concept of rights our Founders embraced and enshrined in our Constitution, particularly in the Bill of Rights. Ironically, it has done this in the name of granting rights to a few! Five Supreme Court justices—a bare majority—also have violated the natural order to make life worse for everyone. Not everyone will accept the truth we will explore, but those who do accept it will benefit. Moreover, the more who accept it, the more the country will benefit. It is time for us as a nation to stop living in a world of fantasy.
At the outset, I’d like to stake out four principles that describe my perspective.
- Everything I write today, I write, as Abraham Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural Address, “with malice toward none, and charity for all.”
- While I bear absolutely no ill-will toward those who disagree with me, I cannot remain silent as this country continues to decline and as its foundational principles are abandoned and rejected. Liberty and authentic freedom are fragile and must be guarded. Once liberty is understood to mean license, once freedom is seen as absolute individual autonomy, and once the government endorses these definitions with policy, people begin to live according to their base desires en masse, without giving a single accurate thought to the public good. Eventually this will lead to societal chaos, which inevitably will lead to tyranny. We’ve been traveling down this very road for some time.
- In previous posts, I have repeatedly called the evidence for man-woman marriage “obvious.” From the Word Foundations menu, do a search for the word obvious, and you will see what I mean. Here is one of my bedrock convictions: The fact that marriage can’t be anything other than what it has been for centuries is self-evident, revealed in nature and other realities in the world in which we live. Why, then, isn’t the obvious, obvious? Because the popular culture has touted lies about the world, life, and marriage so frequently and for so long, millions have come to believe them. They have been blinded!
- I believe the Bible is God’s authoritative revelation to humanity and that it is absolutely true in all that it says. Even so, I don’t believe we need the Bible to understand what marriage really is. We will consider a few Bible passages at the end of this post, but otherwise we will rely on the truth that nature itself speaks loudly and clearly. The case for this is strong.
I am honored to be in very good company! Although I cannot verify that he would agree fervently with everything I’ve stated thus far, he apparently agrees with much of it, because I agree with him about the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling. In his dissent on this ruling, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas brilliantly describes the situation at hand.
In this post we will examine only the first paragraph of Justice Thomas’s dissent. That paragraph’s seven sentences alone are insightful and substantive, and they’re alarming enough to raise red flags nationwide about same-sex marriage. Next week we will look at additional statements in Thomas’s dissent and discuss even more implications of the Obergefell ruling as it relates to rights. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Here is the first paragraph.
The Court’s decision today is at odds not only with the Constitution, but with the principles upon which our Nation was built. Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits. The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty. Yet the majority invokes our Constitution in the name of a “liberty” that the Framers would not have recognized, to the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect. Along the way, it rejects the idea—captured in our Declaration of Independence—that human dignity is innate and suggests instead that it comes from the Government. This distortion of our Constitution not only ignores the text, it inverts the relationship between the individual and the state in our Republic. I cannot agree with it.
Let’s consider each of these statements individually.
Statement 1: “The Court’s decision today is at odds not only with the Constitution, but with the principles upon which our Nation was built.”
To learn just a few of the ways the Obergefell decision “is at odds…with the Constitution,” read this brief summary from Alliance Defending Freedom. Also read Bradley C. S. Watson’s National Review article “Reclaiming the rule of Law after Obergefell.” You can read some of our nation’s foundational principles here.
Statement 2: “Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits.”
From May 25 to September 17, 1787, the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and its delegates drafted the US Constitution. As we discussed in a previous post, resistance to ratification was strong because the proposed Constitution did not have a Bill of Rights—a list of limitations on the government that would keep it out of the way so people could live their lives freely. Even though the Constitution was drafted and proposed in 1787 without a Bill of Rights and subsequently was ratified, it was accepted only when the Bill of Rights was added. Thus, “there was, in the minds of this first generation of US citizens (not just the Founders), a direct relationship between the thriving of personal liberties (rights) and restrictions that kept the federal government out of people’s lives.” The battle to add the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution never would have been won if the principles of limited government had not been accepted and embraced in the populace in years prior.
Oh, that we could recapture their love of limitations on government! Today the prevailing perspective on rights calls, not for government limitations, but government intrusion! For a few moments, reflect on the degree to which government has had to invade marriage in order to remake it into an institution that affords same-sex couples the “right” to “marry.” While in US history, the Supreme Court has issued numerous egregious decisions to grant positive rights, only a handful have sent the Court even close to the level of meddling we’ve seen with Obergefell. More on this in a moment.
Statement 3: “The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty.”
The Bill of Rights, with its government-limiting provisions to ensure individual liberties, provides undeniable evidence of this truth.
Statement 4: “Yet the majority [of Supreme Court justices] invokes our Constitution in the name of a “liberty” that the Framers would not have recognized, to the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect.”
These are allusions to a positive right and to negative rights. The positive right, the “‘liberty’ that the Framers would not have recognized” is, of course, same-sex marriage. Does anyone really believe the Founders had same-sex marriage in mind when they wrote the Constitution? Does anyone think for a New York minute they wouldn’t have acted to protect man-woman marriage if they knew same-sex marriage ever would be seriously proposed, much less practiced, in the United States? The point here is that we can be certain redefining marriage never even entered the the minds of the Founders, so they did not sanction it. We can say the same thing for those who drafted and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment (ratified after the US Civil War), which is cited as a basis for the Obergefell ruling. How then, can same-sex marriage be constitutional?
Many other strong arguments against the constitutionality of same-sex marriage exist as well, but Justice Thomas, rightly, was saying the Framers never would have recognized the practice as legitimate. The truth is that the men who drafted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights did act to prevent the implementation of same-sex marriage, even though they didn’t know it ever would be considered. They did so by enshrining the principle of limited government in the founding documents. The Supreme Court has rejected this principle outright.
Further into his dissent, Justice Thomas discusses Obergefell’s threat to religious liberty, which we will consider next week. The freedoms associated with the principle of religious liberty are included in the term “liberty” in Thomas’s powerful clause, “to the detriment of the liberty they [the Framers] sought to protect” through provisions that limit government action. Those provisions were established to guarantee negative rights.
Statement 5: “Along the way, it [the Court] rejects the idea—captured in our Declaration of Independence—that human dignity is innate and suggests instead that it comes from the Government.”
The Declaration of Independence declares,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Rights are God-given! Put another way, human dignity is innate because it comes from God! This was the conviction of our Founders. It is a principle on which they severed ties with Great Britain and on which they founded the United States of America. The Obergefell ruling, according to Thomas, “rejects this idea.” Justice Thomas is right.
Moreover, through its ruling the Supreme Court “suggests instead that it [human dignity] comes from the Government.” We must not miss the implications of Justice Thomas’s strong statement. Marriage, a God-given and God-ordained institution, could be redefined by government only through the most intrusive of bureaucratic actions. In redefining marriage, therefore, our government defied God! Yet, as frightening as this is, there’s even more here to alarm us. If human dignity comes from the government rather than God, is it really dignity at all?
Human dignity definitely does not come from government. It was the reality of human dignity—innate and God-given—that compelled our country’s Founders to limit government in ways that preserved personal freedom and rights in the first place!
Statement 6: “This distortion of our Constitution not only ignores the text, it inverts the relationship between the individual and the state in our Republic.”
The implications here are especially alarming. Hang in there with me, and you’ll see what I mean. In the US Constitution we see reflected a host of principles stated clearly in the Declaration of Independence. This one comes to mind: In order “to secure these rights [the unalienable rights given by God], governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” (emphasis added). Accordingly, the Constitution itself doesn’t begin with “The Government of the United States of America,” but with the phrase “We the People.”
The people are to be the government’s boss in America, but the US government has inverted this relationship by usurping the people’s authority. Not only that, but the Supreme Court, through its Obergefell ruling, has defied nature and defied God. In fact, it has set itself up as God! If the Supreme Court will be so bold as to change the millennia-old definition of marriage, what will it not attempt?
Statement 7: “I cannot agree with it.”
Justice Thomas understands. He “gets it”! Because he does, he disagrees with the marriage ruling, and so must everyone else who is truly familiar with the importance of the founding principles of the United States of America.
Let’s return briefly to statement 6. In reflecting on it, we said that government, through Obergefell, had set itself up as God. Then we asked, If the Supreme Court will be so bold as to change the millennia-old definition of marriage, what will it not attempt?
We are told in Genesis that God thwarted the completion of the Tower of Babel. We’re also informed as to why. Genesis 11:1-9 declares,
1 Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. 3 Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. 4 And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. 7 Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. 9 Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
As with the worldwide flood just a few chapters earlier (see Gen. 6-9), God stepped in when humanity had stepped over a clear boundary. How long will it be before He intervenes to stop America from going any further?
At the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when deliberations almost had reached an impasse, Benjamin Franklin appealed to the delegates to establish regular prayers over their sessions. Here is a portion of what he said (emphasis added).
I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages.
Franklin pled with the delegates to acknowledge God in the infancy of our nation. Today, almost 230 years later, the US Supreme Court doesn’t just ignore God and the natural laws He established; instead, a majority of justices effectively shake their collective fist in His face! Even if a person doesn’t believe in God, he or she still could find it difficult to imagine how any person or group could more thoroughly or foolishly spurn nature’s clear teaching.
The Bible informs us that God is patient (see 2 Pet. 3:9), but His patience is not limitless. Marriage is sacred (see Gen. 1:26-28; 2:21-25), for it is God-ordained and a picture of Christ and His bride, the church (see Eph. 5:25-33). Make no mistake. The scriptural principle is clear: God will judge those who violate the institution of marriage (see Heb. 13:4).
In light of all this, we must resist the Obergefell ruling. Our long-term goal needs to be to restore the definition of marriage so that public policy aligns with what marriage really is.
We must require all branches of our government to stop meddling in marriage. Government entities must stop securing positive rights inconsistent with marriage’s age-old definition. In addition, we must, in both our personal and public lives, uphold marriage as being what God and nature declare it to be.
We’ve seen this week that if we don’t resist, the consequences for our country will be dire. And you know what? There’s even more to say about how dire.
Part 6 is available here.
Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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