Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Disestablishment of Marriage

The doctrine of disestablishment of marriage
Response to Mr. Conary’s article
By John A. Sterling, MA, JD


Mr. Ken Conary, student at Walters State College in Morristown, TN, submitted an article which principle theme is that the institution of marriage should be “disestablished”, meaning that government should adopt an official position that is neutral to the subject. Mr. Conary shares a popular view that the institution of marriage has its roots deep in religious history and doctrine and that as such, government, being secular, should not have an intrinsic connection with something so patently “religious” in nature. (Link to his article at the end)

Mr. Conary’s view of marriage and his argument in favor of disestablishment are claimed to be the result of flawless logic which result is, if not inescapable, at least permitted by application of the “rules of argumentation.”  I respond that (1) even IF a position may be found to be “logically valid” (as he asserts) it does not REQUIRE that that is the ONLY valid conclusion, and (2) there are more important “rules” at stake than the rules of argumentation and that when those rules are applied, the view shared by Mr. Conary and others will be indefensible.

Mr. Conary’s purpose in writing his article is to convince his audience that the “highly controversial” issue of “gay marriage” is draining us (an undefined group of people) of precious “intellectual resources”. Says Mr. Conary, “ We need to get this worked out so we can tackle other issues.” He further argues that, “Coming from a utilitarian perspective, this course of action (disenfranchisement of marriage) will bring about the greatest happiness…” My purpose in responding is to contrast for a larger audience these two points of view and to point out what I believe is the stronger position based upon the application of principles of political philosophy.

Reason is a process in which one tries to understand truth. Mankind seems predisposed to seek knowledge, understanding, and wisdom (some among us more so than others).  Our subconscious mind seeks a state of equilibrium and harmony. We behave in accordance with what we believe, so there is a deep need for the world around us to make sense. When it does not, we experience cognitive dissonance. Our mind is unable to process new information that is inconsistent what we already believe.

Logic includes a systematic approach to the processing and analysis of facts that will support a conclusion. This results in “objective” truth, which must be distinguished from “subjective” truth (“subject” to interpretation by events and circumstances). The purpose for engaging in logical analysis is to understand, and distinguish between, objective and subjective reality. The process of logic connects truths. The product of logic is a system of thought that has internal consistency and integrity. It may be compared to the way a structural engineer plans a bridge or a building. There is a foundation (principles) upon which are built pillars or supports (premises) which support the structure built for a specific purpose (product or conclusion).  The purpose of applied reason in a political/social context is (presumably) to achieve balance, wisdom, and systemic integrity, which I believe is the very definition of health.

It is this idea that is encapsulated by the “pursuit of happiness” penned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.  Considering the Christian worldview embraced by our culture at the time of America’s founding, the notion that wholeness and health are the result of the components of knowledge, wisdom, balance, and systemic integrity is entirely consistent.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.” (Pr 3:5-8 5 KJV)  We read in 1Pe 3:10-11 that Righteousness is the only path to life and health, well-being, and balance.  Proverbs again tells us “As righteousness tendeth to life: so he that pursueth evil pursueth it to his own death.” (Pr 11:19  KJV) You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate that “right” thinking produces “right” health, in the physical as well as the political body.

Whether a position (conclusion) is logically supportable by the associated premises, those premises must themselves be rooted together in common principles. Thus if premise A depends upon one principle or set of values and premise B depends upon a different and contradictory value or principle, then A + B does not necessarily = C.  In fact, it is unlikely that one can construct a logical argument when premises are drawn from dissimilar value sets.  Regardless of motive, when enough pressure is brought to bear against a well-established structure, its integrity will be compromised. Arguments (premises) drawn from common core values will produce one or more conclusions that are logically and systemically consistent.  It is intellectually dishonest and logically impossible to draft arguments based upon conflicting value sets. By altering public policy to accommodate a different value set, systemic integrity is threatened and America will lose her identity.

Any challenge to the status quo bears the burden of proof that (1) the institution of marriage is broken or does injury to a class of people, (2) that the breach or failure is systemic; that is, that it cannot be repaired within the system; (3) that whatever is proposed to replace it, or exist alongside it, must rectify any perceived wrong wrought by the institution, (4) that the probability of success of such radical change be quantifiably and demonstrably superior to that which it replaces, and (5) that such change be logically consistent with the value set upon which the rest of the system solidly rests. 


This discussion hinges on the doctrinal difference defined by two opposing political philosophies, which in turn, reflect two opposing world views. While some search in desperation to find some “middle ground” so as to achieve social “balance” and universal peace on earth, I maintain that no such “middle ground” may be had without compromise of fundamental values.  Even if it were possible to achieve some sort of compromise without injury to systemic integrity, the “middle ground of compromise “ would soon be under attack again with increased efforts to shift the balance yet more in favor of one ideology over another.  The end result is the destruction of one set of values and its replacement by another.  

For Christians, our worldview is simply an acceptance of the teachings of Christ- ALL of the teachings of Christ. We have not the knowledge, wisdom, or authority to question, or  modify, let alone reject any of the Teachings of Christ. We understand that our worldview is the starting point for all knowledge, all wisdom, and therefore, any analysis of public policy. Christians know that "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Pr 9:10 NIV)  “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” (Ps 111:10 NIV)  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Pr 1:7 NIV) To reject the Word of God and the Teachings of Christ, is to reject wisdom and embrace evil. Evil brings destruction: of health, of wealth, of happiness, and finally, of life itself.  “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good;  seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,  and his ears are attentive to their cry; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.” (Ps 24: 13-16 KJV)


In any discussion of public policy, the “proper” role of government, and “rights” of citizens of the republic, there is one, historically accurate, philosophically consistent, morally definable set of values and principles upon which such discussion should be grounded. Any and all other political, social, institutional deviations that may be compared, contrasted, or proposed must acknowledge that they are at least in part, variations on, or deviations from, the original model.  To be sure, our American model is an amalgam, yet its development and conclusions are the product of a definable “set” of values which flow logically from a particular worldview: the Christian worldview.

The Christian worldview of government has at least the following: (1) That the LAW of God judges all men; (2) that no man is above God’s law; and (3) that men who rule over other men are especially obligated to apply God’s law. The king (government) has legitimate authority to judge according to God’s law and to marshal available resources to that end. Any other function of government is at least suspect, if not outright illegitimate.  “The God of Israel said, the rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. (2 Sam 23:3)  “And whosever will not do the law of they God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or imprisonment. (Ezra 7:26 KJV- also Pr 24:21)  “I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God.” (Ec 8:2 KJV)   “ Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed.” (Is 10:1  KJV) “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. For there is no power but of god; the powers that be are ordained of God.”( Ro 13:1 KJV)  “It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness for the throne is established by righteousness.”( Pr 16:12 KJV)

Non Christians may not share the believer’s faith in the eternal, but it is not hard at all to make the argument that the best possible civil government for ALL men is that which functions in accordance with God’s law.  The secular mind rebels against the authority of God and seeks another path, but history is not kind to forms of government and civil institutions that operate in opposition to the precepts and commandments of God. Every time the Bible tells us that “every man did what was right in his own eyes” the social and cultural end of that society was near. Secular historians agree that when a body politic loses its unity –its systemic integrity- (operates from different value sets) that it has failed.  While political theory allows for the possibility that building upon TWO foundations is possible, history does not produce an example of a working model.

Our entire system of laws is rooted in a predictable, stable, constant system (set) of values, derived largely from Hebrew (Judaic) law, which find expression in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the early Supreme Court cases. Some will argue that political and social systems are in a constant state of flux and that all are such a mix of philosophies and “worldviews” that there simply does not exist a “pure” form of government. Nevertheless, the foundation principles of American law and government are consistent with Christianity and the Christian worldview.


It is no small thing to note that American law and government, as a unique social and political system, cannot exist at all but from the doctrines expressed in the founding documents: the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.  The creation of the national government is legitimate only to the extent that it conforms to the principles, philosophies, and doctrines expressed or implied by those documents. It is a maxim of the law that the “Supreme law of the land” is the U.S. Constitution and all laws and treaties passed in accordance therewith.   Notwithstanding the mere assertions to the contrary, any supposition that legitimate government authority exists apart from the consent of governed, and constrained by the “supreme law of the land” is either the folly of the ignorant or deliberate deception by those who desire the dismantling and destruction of the American system (the “American way”). Thus, when Mr. Conary asserts that government sanction of marriage is “…unconstitutional in that laws have been established respecting an establishment of religion.” he has turned jurisprudence on its head and thrown established constitutional legal principles into the trash heap.  All laws must be in conformity with the constitution, which is itself the embodiment of the value set embraced by the people as an expression of their political philosophy, consistent with their worldview.   One does not “pass laws” inconsistent with the “supreme law” and thereby change the supreme law. That is a case of the tail wagging the dog.

Deriving its just power from the consent of the governed (Declaration of Independence) , the U.S. government is (or was, at least in theory) both the embodiment and expression of the values (morality) of “we the people”. Government is the servant of the people, not the other way around. (I grant that this notion has been turned on its head by popular practice but that is due in no small part to the ignorance of the people, produced in the halls of academia and propagated by mass media to a public so “busy” with the affairs of day-to-day life that is more convenient to simply acquiesce.)  BOTH the people, AND the government they have created and to whom they have delegated limited authority, are CONSTRAINED by the SUPREME LAW of the land- the U.S. Constitution.


Because American government is the servant of the people, it is NOT autonomous, and both the citizens and the government are constrained by the founding documents and principles. In that context it is the proper role of government to protect the institutions which are most likely to preserve the shared values of the majority. Since all “values” are not equal, nor do all “values” seek the same results, it is philosophically and intellectually dishonest to assert that government can, in any real way, promise “balance” of competing values. It cannot, and it should not.  Mr. Conary’s assertions fall victim to their inherent contradiction with fundamental principles of American political philosophy. Because of the fundamental error, he mistakenly believes that government, being secular in the first instance and universal in the second, is superior in authority to the states (and the people), and that any institution or practice that is essentially religious regardless of history, tradition, or popular custom, must be subordinate to the “will” of the government.

Mr. Conary (and others) hold that marriage is a fundamentally religious institution because it is found in the Bible. But then, so also may one find guidance for resolving property disputes, and restoring an injured party to pre-injury status (as much as one may be made whole after the fact) which is the foundation of our Tort laws. Also prohibited in the Bible are murder, extortion, burglary, kidnapping, and all such felonious behavior prohibited by our criminal legal system. In each instance, the Bible proscribes certain behavior and prescribes certain remedies intended to “regularize” our social relationships and are intended to “do justice”.  The institution of marriage has many positive social attributes, not the least of which has been to elevate the status of women and protect her financial interest and long-term security by establishing joint ownership of property and co-equal status- a status not known by women for most of history. The fact that marriage is also, by design, a human object lesson of God’s divine love and grace, does not therefore render it solely a “religious” institution, nor invalidate it as the foundation of the nuclear family and the bulwark of  civil community.

The “liberal” (progressive) political philosophy  mistakenly posits that (American) government is a secular institution, and must therefore be “all things to all men” if the world is to achieve “balance” with respect to the interests of the majority of its citizens. Mr. Conary asserts that we (undefined) are spending too much precious intellectual energy arguing about homosexual unions (metaphorically referred to as “marriage”). I suggest that the opposite is true: we (Christians and academics) are spending too little intellectual energy maintaining our cultural, philosophical, and religious history. In failing to do that, we (Christians and intellectual patriots) are essentially turning over our nation to the enemy, for in truth, to embrace secular humanism is to attack Christianity and to reject its historic influence in defining and shaping the identity of America.

In summary, the role of American government is theologically, historically, intellectually, and morally connected to Biblical Christianity. The “values set” derived from that Christian worldview establishes that the marriage of a man and a woman is as old as mankind, having its anthropological roots in base human nature, natural law, and revealed law. Regardless of variations in form, its function is fairly constant through the world and across cultural, geographic, and political or economic barriers. Marriage stabilizes community and culture, provides anchor to relationships, security and shared resources for the community. Challenges to marriage are challenges to God’s law, natural law, and the systemic integrity of American law and policy.


  1. Granted, at the time of our nation's founding such things as sexism and racism were as old as mankind too. We got better. That is to say, something's age isn't necessarily an indicator of its goodness. My argument is simply that times change and our ethics, our knowledge, and most especially, our wisdom, accumulate and evolve. The Constitution demonstrates this with each new amendment. With that in mind, suggesting that government relinquish its right to define marriage seems perfectly acceptable. You can argue that point, but you can only argue it, I think (as you seemingly have), from the perspective of a religious person (in your case a Christian). Which is fine, but it's irrespective of the reality that however "based upon" the Bible it might be, the Constitution and the laws of our land are not the Bible and as a non-Christian I am not beholden to accept Biblical authority as a legitimate argument for why a law should or should not exist. "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion," says the Treaty of Tripoli. And in that way, arguing that marriage be delegated to religion and civil union be retained by the government seems like a pretty fair shake to me.

  2. Fish: Thanks for comments. I apologize for the lengthy delay in responding. This blog is a "sometimes" thing for me, as time permits.
    You are correct that I interpret abstracts like "right and wrong" or "good and evil" or "better or worse" from within a philosophical framework. My Christian worldview is both the foundation and the framework of my interpretive analysis. When it come to the "interpretation" of historical documents, there are well-accepted rules, called "canons of interpretation" which are pretty universally applied by those who seek to understand historical documents. I won't try to educate the readers in this short space as to it all works, but suffice it to say that, like any other research methodology, it is tried and proven.
    That said, when that methodology is followed, the reasonable conclusion is that the Declaration and Constitution reflect Biblical principles of civil government. Whether one chooses to believe that our founding principles are philosophical rooted in Christianity is, to my mind, irrelevant, as that is not the focus of the argument (generally). By that I mean, MOST people who want to argue that the U.S. is NOT a Christian Nation are focusing on the "religious" origins" rather than the "philosophical" origins. I find it convenient that these are parallel but if you do not, it doesn't matter (to me) as long as you understand and embrace the "big ideas" that define and distinguish our FORM of government from others. The difficulty comes a little later, when we (civil society) try to limit, or further empower government according to what we understand its purpose to be. When I argue that the duty of civil government is to "do justice", do you agree? Does the concept of "justice" mean the same thing to all of us (citizens). The more "united" we are philosophically, the more unified we will be with respect to our laws, the authority of government, and the power we delegate to that government to enforce those laws in order to achieve justice.

    The Treaty of Tripoli is probably the most often cited "source for those who wish to argue that the United States is not, nor was it ever, a "Christian" nation. It is, in point of fact, one of the very few official government documents to make that assertion. If we were to go "toe-to-toe" and "blow-for-blow" with our "sources" the documentary evidence in support of the "Christian" nation would carry the day with a ratio of something like 33 to 1, if memory serves me. This would included presidential speeches, Supreme Court decisions, Lower Court decisions, state statutes and constitutions, and other government documents. There are explanations offered to shed light on the politics of the day, and political posturing that resulted in the language of that treaty. Those explanations will not likely satisfy anyone who has already decided to pitch their theological tent on their strongly held beliefs.

    I think the disagreement that you and I might have is what constitutes "wisdom". Ethics derive from beliefs which come from (tradition, religion, culture)??? Whether they "evolve" or "devolve" is probably the focal point of the discussion for it becomes the basis for what we want government to achieve.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.