What big lesson did America learn from Prohibition?
That you can't legislate morality.
In other words, a society cannot simply make people adopt a code of moral behavior. Ethics cannot be rammed down somebody's throat. Sure, people may outwardly act in compliance with a law, but as long as their personal will runs counter to the law, people will seek out ways of getting around the punitive aspects of that law, like water looking to breach a dam.
Laws can set boundaries and assess punishments for infractions of those boundaries, but unless you get buy-in from the society at large, laws do not result in behavior that fundamentally improves the community as a whole.
Legislating Moral Marriage?
On the one hand, most people claim to accept this fact, yet many people of faith continue trying to hammer "square" pegs - literally - into round holes.
Take the gay marriage issue, for instance. Conservative religious leaders have lathered themselves into a dither over the prospect of legally recognizing unions between two homosexuals. Last week's court ruling in California appears to have been a victory for supporters of gay marriage rights. Liberals and conservatives both vow to take this issue all the way to the Supreme Court, setting the stage for another Prohibition-esque social experiment.
Because even though a majority of Americans oppose gay marriage, a lot of us don't seem to know why we oppose it. Gay marriage supporters claim it's because of homophobia, and if that were true, then their discrimination claims would actually have merit. I say there's something else.
The main reason Prohibition failed was because the law could not tell people how they wanted to act. If gay marriage is outlawed without a convincing reason, what does that say about our legal system?
The Biological Argument Against Gay Marriage
As with many hot-button issues, there is both a moral side and a practical side in the opposition to gay marriage. I'll get to the moral side in just a minute. But first, there are practical considerations about the purpose and value of marriage itself which need to be addressed.
Quite simply, marriage between two heterosexual people has been endorsed by governments since communities were first formed for the unromantic, utilitarian function of perpetuating a people group. Gay people aren't denied their civil rights when we acknowledge they can't procreate together. It's basic biology. Since gay unions can't perform this essential role in sustaining a community, then why should governments bestow the same recognition to gay unions that they do straight unions?
Sexual gratification is one thing, but governments don't exist to sanction personal pleasure. Heterosexual marriage represents an institution designed to serve society, and it has been deemed worthwhile enough to benefit from certain subsidies from civic authorities to help ease the burdens of raising families. One might argue historic aberrations to this conventional arrangement, or that not every hetero couple can procreate, but you can't deny the utter utility of heterosexual marriage.
True, modern medical advances now allow lesbians to give birth, but the simple biology of parents coming in a set - male and female - across species should speak volumes about gender diversity in parental units.
The Moral Argument Is A Bit Trickier
Morally, however, we have an entirely different kettle of fish. For decades now, the evangelical church has been preaching the sanctimony of marriage between a husband and wife, and apparently, people of faith have gotten so excited about marriage that they can't stop. We try marriage once, and then keep trying. Divorce and remarriage have become so prevalent within churches that our marriage, divorce, remarriage, and blended family rates virtually mirror those in the unchurched culture.
Believers of the Bible are taught that God intends marriage to be a covenant between Himself, a husband, and his wife. No matter what happens to us during the course of this covenant, nothing should be able to break it except death. God is perfect, and He will never die, so His part of the covenant is rock-solid. However, husbands and wives are neither perfect, and neither are their covenants. Still, the concept of marriage, particularly in Western societies, represents a component of the family structure, the building block of society. It has been adopted to legally represent the union of two heterosexuals for the civic purpose of procreation.
(At least our liberalized public schools don't yet include study modules on that topic in their social studies curriculum!)
We're Not Supporting Our Own Argument
However, just like the Israelites in the Old Testament, modern churched people have bought the same sex and feelings emphasis that we're accusing unchurched people of buying into. Sure, pleasure and emotions play vital roles in a committed love relationship, but the emphasis on such temporal marriage components reflects, I believe, the church's overall infatuation with secular culture and our regrettable acquiescence towards mortal impetuousness rather that divine reliance.
If we honestly believe that marriage represents a sacred covenant between a husband, his wife, and their God, then how can we excuse such high divorce rates in communities of faith?
If we honestly believe that marriage represents a sacred covenant between a husband, his wife, and their God, yet we tolerate such unholy divorce rates among people of faith, what message about marriage are we sending to the people we think are sinning with gay marriage?
If you're reading this and you've suffered a divorce, I apologize for the blunt language. I have a number of Christian friends who are divorced, and I sympathize with them over the agony they've suffered as their marriages have been destroyed. I look at the circumstances that have led them to the decisions they've made about divorce, and I wouldn't wish their pain on anyone. But each of these individual examples combine with others across the country, and before long, personal stories of tragedy are lost in the staggering data on divorce that paints such a dismal picture of failed marriages in communities of faith.
Although I personally believe that gay marriage flies in the face of all that is logical about the legal aspects of the institution, and that it cannot be compatible with the Biblical covenant, I also believe the evangelical church has only ourselves to blame for abdicating our stance on the holiness of marriage.
Without our ability to unequivocally demonstrate the virtue of the heterosexual marriage covenant, we can try to argue on moral grounds, but we shouldn't count on it. Don't even kindergartners see through the "Do as I say, not as I do" spiel? We would probably be better off taking the perpetuation-of-the-society angle instead.
To legislate against gay marriage, the courts are going to ask for proof. Unfortunately, our own morality on this issue may not suffice.