At first glance, the fight about same-sex marriage appears to be over whether to “normalize” homosexuality. But there is a more chilling danger lurking unseen: legalizing same-sex marriage will change the government’s posture toward religion from neutral to antagonistic.
Marriage is a universal, God-given institution, which is set up to provide the best environment for the nurturing of children. Marriage fuses the private interests of romance and sex with the public interest of seeing that children are cared for.
Marriage was not created by either the state or the organized church, but both administer it. More importantly, both have long agreed on its definition: a permanent joining of a man and woman, which authorizes their sexual congress and makes them responsible to parent any children they might have.
Now, however, our government wants to usurp marriage for its own, and change it to include homosexual couples.
Many Christian churches, including Baptists, are bound by Scripture and doctrines to the original, time-honored understanding of marriage. They simply cannot recognize same-sex marriage as legitimate. Redefining marriage will put government and religion on opposite sides of an unfriendly divide.
The state will soon find it necessary to enforce its new definition of marriage, and to protect those marriages from discrimination. Churches and synagogues that refuse to recognize same-sex marriages will risk the state’s wrath. Imagine if a church secretary enters a same sex marriage and wants to add her partner to her church-funded medical coverage. Or what if a gay couple wanted to rent the facilities for their ceremony? Would the law allow a church to say yes to some non-members, but no to others?
We have already seen the government force individuals and their businesses to recognize same-sex marriage in violation of their own religious convictions. All assurances that religious people have nothing to fear are coming from advocates of same-sex marriage, who view religion as an essentially private matter. The “assurance” they offer is that religious people can think whatever they want about same-sex marriages, but will still be forced in practice to acknowledge and accommodate them.
In this contest, the state has all the power. It can legislate, fine, remove tax exemption, and seize property. If same-sex marriage becomes law, religious people and institutions will find themselves no longer in a neutral, free, protected place in our society.
This may in fact be the sinister goal of same-sex marriage legislation. Under Illinois civil union law, homosexual couples already have all the rights that marriage would confer. The only meaningful difference is that legalizing same-sex marriage will increase the government’s power over religion.
The first American freedom may be about to fade away.
Mark Warnock is associate pastor at First Baptist Church of Columbia, Ill., and is studying for his Ph.D in Christian Philosophy at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.