JACKSON, Tenn. – Nov. 19, 2003 – (BP)--The decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court regarding same-sex marriage could have far-reaching implications to redefine marriage across this country. Following the Lawrence decision by the U.S. Supreme Court this past summer, the 4-3 decision by the Massachusetts Court almost guarantees that this issue will land on the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court sooner than anyone could have imagined.
The dissenting justices in the opinion were correct to argue that the courts had assumed the role of lawmakers. Justice Francis Spina wrote, "Today, the court has transformed its role as protector of rights into the role of creator of rights, and I respectfully dissent." The Massachusetts decision goes beyond the previous ruling in Vermont, which has granted civil unions to gay couples. The emphatic language by the Massachusetts court suggests that gay couples should be offered nothing less than marriage itself.
Such a decision raises the vastly important question regarding the very definition of marriage. The Massachusetts court basically argued that a loving relationship between two adults defines marriage. But this definition requires further reflection. Marriage is not merely the legal recognition of a loving relationship between two adults. Many adults have special relationships with other adults -- as friends, colleagues, companions, or relatives -- but this does not a marriage make. These relationships are often with a person of the same sex or of a different sex, but such relationships, no matter how intimate, have never been considered marriage. So the question now for the Massachusetts legislative and eventually for the U.S. Supreme Court is this: "What defines a marriage?" Just because people claim to love one another in a very special way and have the "liberty" for sexual expression does not necessarily equal marriage. Not only must the purpose of marriage be examined, but important and particular issues such as procreation and sexual relations (not just mutual stimulation) in marriage must be carefully understood.
Beyond this important question for the courts and lawmakers, the essential question for the church is, "who has the authority to define marriage?" Is it God or is it the government? The church must help our society understand that government only recognizes marriage and thus cannot, as attorney Adam Meresreau rightly argues, "redefine something it did not create."
Yet, the church and supporters of traditional marriage must not fail to understand what is at stake with the landmark decision in Massachusetts. The claim by the court is that the traditional understanding of marriage is mistaken and needs to be reshaped in the human evolutionary process. Of course to do so removes from marriage the very idea of transcendence and the blessings of God. In attempting to redefine marriage so broadly as to include the legal recognition of any special and intimate loving relationship between two adults, the courts will wind up defining the meaning of marriage in such a way that it is ultimately meaningless. Indeed, much is at stake!
Dr. Dockery is president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
By David S. Dockery