Recent news in Kentucky reports the efforts of a woman to avoid testifying against another woman in a murder trial on the basis of spousal privilege. The two women created a civil union in Vermont in 2004, after which they moved to Kentucky, where the state constitution defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Even though Vermont legalized gay marriage in 2009, the 2004 civil union is not recognized as a marriage in Vermont, an issue which might cloud efforts to claim spousal privilege even in Vermont.
Kentucky is one of thirty-one states that have “marriage” amendments to their state constitutions. The language varies. Some amendments simply define what marriage is, and others define as well what marriage is not. Some specifically disallow civil unions. Whatever the form, each of these amendments represents the will of the people to sustain and protect the institution of marriage from being redefined out of existence. There is no record of the religious convictions of those who advocated for such amendments, but the national dialogue reported in the daily news makes it plain that some citizens who advocate for traditional marriage do it from personal convictions having nothing to do with a religious connection. The view that marriage is the union of a man and a woman has roots in human societies that
The report from Kentucky includes a disturbing observation. Angela Elleman, attorney for the defendant in the trial, says that in view of the recent US Supreme Court ruling, “the climate is right” for Kentucky’s amendment to be thrown out. It isn’t entirely clear what the path to such a ruling might be, but such a statement should raise the hackles of voters in every state with such an amendment. Those amendments were hard-won, whether passed by voter initiative or by legislative action. Voters across the country have sacrificed time and treasure to achieve protection for marriage and family at the constitutional level in state after state. Now it appears that the battle will simply continue in another venue.
Why do Christians care?
There are several reasons for Christians to care whether the civil partner of a defendant charged with murder will be refused spousal privilege in a murder trial.
First, the underlying necessity of determining what constitutes a marriage is quite disturbing. The government of the US does not include a state church, but the culture of the US has always been open to all religions. Any culture is predominantly shaped by the cultural elements with the greatest numbers. Till recently, the dominant religion in the US was Christianity, and Christian morality dominated in most settings. The founders would have expected Christianity to dominate, because that was the religion most of them espoused along with most other colonists. While they had a strong commitment to religious liberty, and the strongly rejected intermingling the church in the structures of the government, the founders had an equally strong sense that the church provided a moral compass for society and they considered that moral compass essential to the success of self-government. Christians have considered marriage to be the union of a man and a woman for two thousand years. Contemporary efforts to redefine it represent a dangerous challenge to the notion that government has a compelling interest in fostering healthy families. So far, the conversation on this subject has far outrun the predictions of the most vocal advocates of gay marriage, and there seems to be no boundary in sight. What will a family be if states are forbidden to define it in their constitutions? Why should government do anything to protect and promote family if it is impossible to define the family in a way that demonstrates how it is beneficial to the state?
Second, there is no reason to believe that the advocates of gay marriage and all the other definitions that tag along with it will stop their campaign if they succeed in rooting out all the state constitutional amendments that define marriage. The secular thought patterns that shape LGBT advocacy have made it clear that they are outraged by any religion that rejects their definitions of marriage. In their eyes, their definition of marriage, which is no definition at all, is a universal human right. It would not surprise me for LGBT advocates to demand that churches be forbidden to express opposition to gay marriage, and the campaign might even extend to attempts to shut down churches that continue to refuse to allow or perform gay marriages on their properties.
Such a notion really sounds farfetched. It sounds unreal. It is completely at odds with everything we all believe we know about religious liberty as protected by the US Constitution. Think how outrageous it would have sounded as recently as 1993 to hear that a defendant’s gay partner would even attempt to claim spousal privilege to avoid testifying in a murder trial. In 1993, this news would have sounded as preposterous as a Saturday Night Live script. Today it is a very real situation with very real potential consequences. Nothing happens in a vacuum.
Church members are citizens, too, just like everyone else. If they want to continue to be treated as citizen with the rights of citizens, they must get busy and act like citizens who accept the responsibilities of citizenship. It isn’t necessary to use vile language or engage in threatening demonstrations, but it is necessary to speak up and speak out and vote. Did you stay home in 2008 or in 2012 because no candidate pleased you? Do you think local and state elections are too trivial and inconsequential to be worth your time? Where do you think national candidates learn how to do what they do? Barack Obama is historically unique in not having “paid his dues” at the precinct level along the way.
In 2011 Andy Andrews published a very important book. He was looking forward toward the 2012 presidential election, but the book is relevant to any election. The title is very long, but it is pretty self-explanatory: How do You Kill 11 Million People? : Why the Truth Matters More Than You Think. I don’t receive any commission for promoting this book. I promote it, because it is true. You need to read it. You need to read it because every election is won by those who turn out the most votes. You need to read it, because the foundation of humanity, the family, is under fire and in danger of disappearing from contemporary society. You need to read it, because you ought to pay attention and spend some time studying the issues and engaging in the public conversation and you absolutely, positively ought to vote your conscience, making the best choice you can make from the options available. When you don’t vote, your “vote” serves whoever wins. If you don’t like the outcome of the election, you have no right to complain if your vote went with the majority. If you cast your vote with the majority, or if you cast no vote at all, you vote with the majority. In other words, if you didn’t vote in 2012, you voted for Barack Obama.
Christians have one more option: prayer. You may not be a big fan of prayer. You may believe that God has better things to do than hear your prayer that God intervene in this cultural collapse. Why don’t you believe that God cares? Why would God give us a Bible that tells us how to live if he did not car how we live? One of my favorite songs has a very simple chorus that begins, “God hears and he answers prayer.” This post is not about all the ways God answers prayer, but the fact is that he does. When Christians speak and act and write and call and stand up and refuse to sit down so the issues that matter to them are not steamrollered by the opposition, they can also be praying, and it does matter.
Will the civil partner of a gay woman be required to testify against her partner or not? It sounds like a trivial question – he said, she said. It isn’t. The church should care and you should care about this outcome. Don’t vote with the majority. Don’t sit silent while they carry away people you don’t care about. Don’t volunteer for the train that will take you to the ovens.
Where will the impact of the current social and political turmoil over gay marriage end? Nobody knows, but you can be part of the decision, you can live knowing you did something in an attempt to stem the tide, if you simply act.