By By Bill Collier- The American political state is poised to potentially progress into a new era of tolerance or to roll back the clock of civilization to barbarism, depending on your view of the issue of gay marriage. As the US Supreme Court weighs the merits of a claim that allowing two people of the same sex to get married, the society itself is undergoing a crisis of opposing values that many feel will define what kind of society the political state will favor: a Christian society rooted in ancient traditions and values or a purely secular society that some fear will negatively sanction those traditions and values and that others believe will be enlightened and tolerant.
The US Supreme Court may redefine marriage itself, from a monogomous bond between two people of the opposite sex who at least have the theoretical possibility of naturally producing and raising their own offspring to any emotional bond between (for now) any two human beings who feel themselves to be a couple. As with many states that have such redefined marriages, almost all of the 37 states having had courts rule in favor of this socially revolutionary change, those who refuse to participate in, celebrate, or supply good and services to gay marriage celebrations and weddings are fined and severely punished. There has even been talk about forcing all ministers who are licensed by the state to officiate wedding to officiate over same sex weddings, regardless of their personal convictions.
While some deny that gay marriage equals persecution of Christians, the experience of those states where such marriages are officially protected is that activists will often target individuals whom they know will not participate as a vendor or supplier to serve a same sex wedding with lawsuits. Whether this is about the forcing society to accept homosexuality or the payday that comes from such lawsuits, the net effect is that those who object will face persecution for non-compliance.
Society, usually via a political state as the ultimate enforcer, always favors those who follow its values and negatively sanctions those who do not. Those who see homosexuality as positive and opposition to it as unenlightened want their values, their value for an alternative lifestyle that they believe should be embraced and celebrated, to become the values their society and their political state uphold.
The collective right for a society to set its own laws through a political state which reflect its values is codified in the UN Charter as a "right to self-determination." And it is on the basis of such a collective right to shape society and your state according to your shared values that the Declaration of Independence was written. Being able to participate in and shape society to reflect your shared values may be a shared right, but historically it has long been held to be an ultimate right in that without the power to shape your society your values and beliefs could be literally outlawed.
And so the advocates of a Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage believe it is time for their society to change its values, to, as they believe it, move forward beyond the homophobia and anti-gay bigotry. This necessarily means that those values, if they are codified into law, will replace the old values. One set of values always prevails. As any sociologist will agree, in the long run a single society can only have one set of values. It is never true, in the long run, that opposing values can occupy the same space, and these opposing values concerning the institution of marriage are not truly compatible.
And so the American political state may redefine marriage itself, thus positively sanctioning a new definition and negatively sanctioning those who refuse to go along with the new value. To have gay marriage and allow people to not recognize or participate commercially in serving its celebration would be meaningless: in the same manner as before officiants before were prohibited fron conducting same sex weddings so then officiants would ultimately be forced to conduct same sex weddings.
The shift of values from a Christian worldview to a secular worldview, which is essentially agnostic to atheistic value system by the American political state comes as half the citizens are for such change and half against it, though the polling trends may indicate that the secularist worldview is in the ascent in that land. But there are a substantial minority, over 40% of the population, for whom a loss of favored standing for their worldview would compell them to consider all the typical responses a minority faces in an essentially hostile legal and political environment.
At present the so-called "social conservative" has no legal, political, or cultural voice in their society. The secular worldview predominates both major political parties (despite one party's platform that seems to favor the old value system). All the cultural institutions are dominated by secularists and in many, especially academia, the old values are already negatively sanctioned both officially and unofficially. Legally, the courts themselves are dominated by the secularist value system.
Is there a peaceful compromise?
Some argue "get the state out of marriage." But this argument denies another long-held legal theory that goes back to Rome and Greece: both held that the core constituent entity of the political state is the family based on fatherhood and motherhood. Indeed, neither Romans nor Greeks were hostile to homosexual behavior, but their states did not allow for any other form of marriage. From the beginning of the state, marriage and family were considered spiritual, cultural, and political institutions whose existence and welfare was essential for the existence and welfare of the state. While some argue that this has always been wrong and should be abandoned, it is unlikely to be abandoned: the state will define marriage and family as a means of maintaining the character and values of the society represented by that state.
It is probable that the state will allow, as it always has, some degree of social autonomy for national peoples whose way of life would be fundamentally altered by forced compliance. Even today Native American tribes and the Amish have social and legal "carve outs" designed to preserve their culture and traditions, but the scope of those carve-outs is limited to their own community and those communities are essentially "closed" (but not isolated) to the general society. Indeed the vehicle of a fraternal society allows some degree of socio-cultural carve-outs because the services offered are restricted to members and not available to the general public.
For instance, if a fraternal lodge allows weddings for members only and does not open its hall up for weddings of non-members then the law would not allow for lawsuits for refusing to allow a same-sex wedding in a fraternal order whose membership is based on a social conservative and Christian identity and way of life. If a fraternal order held a market for only members it would not be forced to comply with the new values if its members were adherants to the old values.
But one negative result of this would be the increasing separation between Christians and the rest of American society as Christians sought spaces where their values prevailed. And yet, for conscience's sake, if Christians remain locked into the prevailing society and refuse to use "carve-outs" because they wish to remain in close proximity to the society as witness to their faith, then they could face ruination or be pressured into violating their conscience.
Historically, when a culture changes in ways that alienate a minority, that minority will seek carve-outs, it may emigrate abroad, it may rebel, or it may succumb. Seeking carve-outs is the most peaceful solution, but considering the current mentality of many Christians, some form of peaceful rebellion is more likely to prevail, at least for a time. Eventually, if history is our guide, either seeking carve-outs or succumbing will be the result of this experiment in trying to remain fully integrated into a societal structure whose values are incompatible with the traditional and socially conservative Christian faith.
Will the US Supreme Court rule against the old value system's definition of marriage and thereby once and for all redefine this political state as guardian of a secular order? This we cannot be sure about.
If the ruling goes against gay marriage, many states who have been forced by the courts to allow gay marriages will no longer allow it: one can expect that some states will immediately legalize this form of marriage and some will refuse to do so, creating a single political states whose constituent member states are following two opposing value systems.
Ultimately, one single political state cannot have two different definitions of marriage within its borders or two opposing value systems within its legal code. As the old worldview is socially on the decline it is hard to see how even a "victory" for traditional marriage would be but a blip on the road to the complete secularization of the American political state. This does not mean that the old value system is doomed, it has been "doomed" many other times and has always bounced back and survived even having to go underground. For the foreseeable future it is likely that the American political state will become secularized and that it will become hostile to the Christian value and belief system, willing, at most, to allow some form of social carve-outs for purely Christian associations, intentional communities, and fraternal societies which Christians will be hesitant to use because they do not want to lose their ability to be witnesses to their neighbors, coworkers, and customers. Christians within the American political state will likely have to find new ways to to be witnesses while shifting more of their social and economic lives to Christian-only associations or face either economic ruin or even imprisonment (in the extreme).
One might argue that seeking social autonomy through such carve-outs may change how Christians preach the Gospel orprevent it. In point of fact it does not prevent such witnessing because sharing the Gospel can be done through street preaching, because not all connections to secular society will be cut, and because ministries can be offered to the general public. But one thing becomes clear: not seeking such carve-outs guarantees that negative economic and legal sanctions will follow those who adhere to a Christian value system while trying to remain intertwined socially and economically with a secular society.
Regardless of today's theoretical arguments for or against carve-outs for Christian-only societies or communities, in the end, history reveals that real-life necessity will draw more and more Christians to seek such solutions and find new ways to share their faith with the general society around them. Indeed, the underground church throughout the ages has always shown that it can create its own spaces to physically survive persecution and yet remain a witness for the faith.
How will the ruling go? It is not possible for us to know, but the trends point to the ultimate prevalance of the secular worldview as the official and solely protected worldview of the American political state.
(The author advocates for the creation of Christian fraternal societies and intentional Christian missionary and refugee communities as a means of creating socio-economic autonomy within a secular society while remaining as a witness for the lost. This is in part owing to a realization that such a social shift coming from the influence of the political state is virtually inevitable. For more on this Society go to http://www.upadaria.com)