The news recently broke that Virginia’s new Attorney General plans to ask a federal judge to declare the Commonwealth’s voter-passed constitutional amendment officially upholding the traditional understanding of marriage unconstitutional. This move is entirely unsurprising even as it is deeply saddening.
It is entirely unsurprising because over the past few years the approach of liberal politicians to advancing the Democrat party’s official platform in favor of the full legalization of gay marriage is to ignore the voters they purport to represent and march straight to the courts to accomplish their political agenda. The truth is that with three exceptions, every time voters have been given a chance to voice their opinion on the issue of gay marriage it has been voted down. In the fourteen other states (and the District of Columbia) in which gay marriage has been declared legal, the change has come down from on high—either from the judiciary or the legislature—and often over the strenuous objections of individual citizens. In California, for example, voters twice approved measures to formally commit the state to the traditional view of marriage. When the second such measure was challenged in court, the state’s Attorney General refused to defend it, opening the door for its being overturned. A federal judge recently twisted the Supreme Court’s reasoning and declared Oklahoma’s traditional marriage amendment, passed by over 70% of the state’s population, unconstitutional. The decision by Attorney General Mark Herring to refuse to defend the Commonwealth constitution on this point falls fully in line with these and other similar moves.
It is deeply saddening because it reflects a growing reliance on a worldview whose core beliefs are incapable of maintaining the freedoms and commitments that have long made this country what it is. In this case and others like it, the rule of law is being trumped by personal opinion. When Attorney General Herring took his oath of office he swore to uphold and defend the Commonwealth’s constitution. It seems, then, rather inconsistent with his oath that his first action as Attorney General is to pointedly, and politically, refuse to do that. Furthermore, Herring announced his intentions by declaring that Virginia needs to be on the right side of the law and of history. I wonder exactly which law and which history he has in mind?
As far as law goes, while the U. S. Supreme Court did overturn a narrow portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, it did not take the reckless approach à la Roe v Wade of overturning individual state laws on the matter. Instead, it specifically left it up to the states to decide which definition of marriage they would accept. And, when individual state voters have been given the opportunity, with but three exceptions, they have consistently opted for the traditional view. Again, of exactly which law is the Commonwealth of Virginia currently on the wrong side?
As for history, in the whole history of the world there has been neither culture nor religion that viewed same-sex unions as on a moral or legal par with traditional marriage. Even today, though, when there is much pop-culture agitating to equate the two different types of unions, the history is far from settled. Furthermore, forty-one years ago another controversial social issue seemed to have the support of law, history, and even many in the church. Today, however, its legal support is waning rapidly and the obvious misreading of the tide of history now appears to have come at the loss of some 55 million innocent lives. It would seem declaring the Commonwealth of Virginia on the wrong side history is a bit premature a judgment.
While I disagree with their support for gay marriage, I agree with the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s editorial board that for supporters of gay marriage, Herring’s is the wrong approach. This rejection of the rule of law in favor of currently popular political opinion will serve more to both harden and create new opponents of the redefinition of marriage than will it engender any good will. In our current political system the Attorney General’s job is to defend the laws of the land. His opinion on whether or not they are constitutional is absolutely irrelevant.
As Christians we should be deeply troubled by this for a couple of reasons. First, as the vast majority of Christians throughout the world recognize, marriage is an intimate union between a man and a woman designed by God for the purpose of first, glorifying Him, and from there seeing us become fully who He designed us to be, creating the ideal context for the procreation and rearing of children who will carry on the faith of their parents, and of offering the world a picture of the kind of relationship He wants with us. Modern attempts to cast this aside spawn in part from the deification of personal fulfillment which will, of course, never result in the satisfaction of its aims.
Second, the Christian worldview is very much pro-rule of law. The whole idea of the rule of law is an explicitly Christian one. Further, freedom of religion, which we so cherish in this nation, is utterly dependent upon the rule of law to be sustained. What Attorney General Herring has expressed his intention to do is to ignore the rule of law and the expressed will of the people he now represents, taking it upon himself to determine which laws should be defended and which should not. If he is not willing to do the job he swore an oath to perform in this situation how can we expect that he will be willing to do so when it comes to other constitutional amendments of the Commonwealth like, say, the 16th? Perhaps you do not agree with me on the legality or the morality of same-sex marriage, but we must agree that this is not the right approach to determining the answer to those questions.