A number of well-meaning and well-intentioned Christians have begun to argue it’s time to just get government out of the marriage business altogether. They say marriage ought to be a religious matter only with no role whatsoever for the state. Rand Paul might even campaign for the White House on this premise.
There are two profound problems with this view. The first is that recognizing, affirming and defending natural marriage is in fact a proper role for the state. Let’s not forget that, according to Romans 13, civil government is God’s idea, not man’s. The authority civil government possesses, every last bit of it, has been delegated to it by God himself. “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1).
In an often overlooked verse that touches directly on the proper role of government, Scripture tells us that political authorities are “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14). Government, then, by God’s design and intention, is not to be neutral on matters of morality. It is not designed by God to be a bystander in the culture wars, but to take sides. And the side it has been instructed to take is the side of what is right and good. It has a divine responsibility to know the difference between good and evil and to reward the former while punishing the latter.
We know that natural marriage, one-man, one-woman marriage, is a good and right thing. It was designed by God from the dawn of time for our benefit. It meets man’s need for companionship, sexual intimacy and procreation. It is the state’s job, according to Scripture, to recognize the immense value of this institution, and to affirm it and protect it.
So when government defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and prohibits recognition of immoral and unnatural same-sex counterfeits, it is doing a good thing, a divinely-ordained thing. It is fulfilling its role as a “minister of God” (Romans 13:6). It is doing what God designed it to do. No Christian should retreat from supporting the government’s role in defining marriage even one little bit.
Secondly, if these Christian libertarians want to keep government out of the marriage business, this is the perfectly wrong way to go about it. In fact, withdrawing governmental recognition of marriage guarantees even greater governmental intrusion into the affairs of the family over time.
Why? Because divorce happens. When a marriage tragically falters, someone with authority will have to decide whether a divorce is granted, how property is going to be divided, who gets what part of what pension, whether alimony will be assessed, and who will have custody of the children. There is no chance that the state can be kept out of those life-altering decisions, and its work will be immensely complicated by the lack of any recognized legal basis for the marriage itself. How can a legal divorce be granted if there is no legal marriage to begin with?
It’s fine to say we’ll just have the church perform weddings and keep the state out. But unless the law reserves to church authorities the exclusive right to decide who gets to keep the house and the kids, the state will have to insert itself into such matters whether Christians want it there or not.
It is a proper role of the state, using the authority God has granted to it, and following the guidelines God has established in Scripture, to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. It is altogether right for the state to grant natural marriage special protections in law, to identify it as the relationship in which sex may be legitimately enjoyed and as the optimal nurturing environment for children to be brought into the world and raised to become responsible members of civil society.
Let’s not keep the state out of marriage. Instead, let’s work to see that it uses its God-given authority to define and defend the institution that is the bedrock of any healthy civilization. Our future as a nation depends on it.