In a controversial decision, President Obama this week abandoned the Defense of Marriage Act – the 1996 law that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and forbids the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. Mr. Obama ordered his administration to stop defending it in court because he has decided it’s unconstitutional and unfair.
But this decision is more than political. By implication, President Obama is saying that the idea of marriage as being solely between a man and a woman is indefensible. By calling DOMA unfair, he is saying that gay marriage is a fundamental right.
The hubris of this decision should astound us. We have entered a brave new world – a world where the government has not only the authority to raise taxes, but to raze marriage. Where it has the authority not only to define speed limits, but to defy moral limits. For that is exactly what Obama has done. Marriage is, and always has been, a moral institution. It has long been surrounded by a halo of sacredness, from the very roots of humanity.
But why is this? It is not simply that marriage is a human tradition. And while marriage has implications for society, and civil authority can recognize it, it is not merely a civil institution. No, it is considered sacred because essentially all the religions of the world consider it a divine establishment.
Importance of divine rights
Now, many will sneer at the idea of divine establishment of anything as antiquated and even ridiculous – as a relic from a more ignorant day. But what these critics fail to realize is that this “ignorant” idea forms the basis of our nation.
The founders didn’t all adhere to the same religious doctrines, but they did agree on one important principle: Our rights are divinely bestowed. That’s why they stated unequivocally in our Declaration of Independence that all human beings are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”
Their whole case against the King of England was founded on this principle. In effect, they were saying: “Who are you to take away something that the Supreme Authority gave us? These rights of humanity cannot be taken away by your or any other authority. You, King George, should be the guardian of these liberties, not their enemy.”
Their argument still stands. Like it or not (and most don’t), America was founded on this thoroughly philosophical and yet practical idea – the idea of the divine origin of the rights of man. This is not a notion we can outgrow. It’s an eternal truth.
Law makes man, not the other way around
Ancient wisdom holds that law makes man. Today, we mistakenly think that man makes law, which is why our government now suggests that God’s creation of two sexes – male and female – is an irrelevant principle in forming a family.
But what right does government have to interfere in what has historically been a religious institution? It’s one thing for states to codify standards – like minimum-age requirements – and establish spousal legal benefits. But it’s quite another for government to radically redefine marriage itself. If the government has this kind of authority, couldn’t it just as easily begin to regulate things like religious worship or proselytizing? It is a smaller step than we may think from tampering with marriage to targeting people of faith with so-called hate crimes because they publicly uphold moral principles.
It is ironic that those who most strongly advocate the separation of church and state will just as strongly advocate the government’s intrusion into an issue that has historically been an issue reserved for religious institutions to bless and define. It is ironic, but not surprising. For we have essentially abolished God and any trace of divine authority from the public sphere. And what has filled the void (for something always fills the void)? Government. It has taken on the role of God, and only too gladly.
We don’t need God, says the thoroughly agnostic modern man, we have the government – the supreme maker, giver, and sustainer of all things. Praise government, from whom all blessings flow.
A toxic idea
It is this toxic idea that is leading the government to cross the line into modifying and defacing moral law. And while we are now reveling in our supposed freedom from divine authority, we may very quickly have to reckon with the more terrible and far less compassionate authority that we have chosen.
After all, the same government that dares to redefine family can redefine faith. The same government that can declare a moral wrong to be a legal right can declare a moral right to be a legal wrong.
This isn’t hypothetical. The history of the 20th century shows that as governments try to supplant God as the source and center of law, they make religion unlawful.
When the government ceases to be the defender of inalienable rights, and begins to dispense and withdraw inalienable rights, it leads to tyranny and slavery – as inevitably as sunrise leads to noon. Yet, this is the path we have chosen in our godless age. God only knows where it will end.
Sam Guzman is an essayist and columnist. He works as a grant writer for a nonprofit organization.