I am a pastor in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and I have spent a lot of time thinking and writing about the nature of marriage, particularly what constitutes a valid marriage according to natural law. Since the recent ruling by the Supreme Court, I am confronted with the reality of having to understand what has actually happened as well as how best to respond. One of the questions I would really like to understand is this: What is the nature of "marriage" as the state has defined it?
It seems to me that the state has rejected the actual substance of marriage by expressly denying that the complementary nature of a man and a woman are a necessary or defining part of what constitutes a valid marriage. The substance of marriage is rejected and replaced with emotional verbiage. If state "marriage" contracted before a Justice of the Peace constitutes something other than a marriage, this will have a profound effect on the church's relationship to it. On the other hand, if the state still does have "marriage", how are we to explain clearly the distinction between a valid heterosexual marriage vs an invalid homosexual one, since the state uses the same word and definition for both?
I agree that the federal government has repudiated the actual substance of marriage, so that to use the same word for both natural marriage and what the government calls marriage is now profoundly misleading. How are we to explain this to people? Perhaps something like this.
Marriage is a procreative partnership founded on the complementary, self-giving union of the procreative partners. It is a natural institution, which means that its structure is determined by the way human persons must live in order to flourish – especially the fact that the child needs the continuous, dependable, loving care of both mom and dad.
Sacramental marriage is not something different from natural marriage, but natural marriage with a plus. The “plus” is the supernatural grace of the sacrament. But let’s leave that aside, because in this country the state has never claimed an interest in the sacrament.
Until last week, what the state called marriage was the recognition that a natural marriage existed. The primary purpose of such recognition was to protect the resulting children by legally enforcing the duties of the mother and father to both their offspring and each other.
But what the state now means by marriage is a state-enforced convention for conferring social esteem on arbitrarily chosen adult sexual arrangements which need have nothing to do with procreation. Although the state does not deny that children may be in the picture or that they still need protection, they have now been downgraded to a secondary consideration. The fundamental consideration in this so-called marriage is the so-called right of the grown-ups in the picture to social approval. What the change will do to family law is dreadful to contemplate.
I realize that this is a pretty small cup of water, but perhaps to parched tongues even a few drops of explanation will be welcome.