Is The Gay Marriage Debate Over?
One could become wistful about the time in history when marriage was a settled affair, when everyone agreed on what it was, when no nation on the planet would have entertained the idea of legalizing same-sex marriage. But wistfulness is usually reserved for times long ago and places far away—not for a state of affairs that existed less than a decade ago.
In December 2000, the Dutch parliament became the first to pass legislation that gave same-sex couples the right to marry, divorce, and adopt children. On April 1 of the following year, the mayor of Amsterdam officiated, for the first time in human history, at the ceremonies of the first four gay couples. In the ensuing eight years, Belgium (2003), Spain (2005), Canada (2005), South Africa (2006), and Norway (2008) followed the Netherlands' lead, and Sweden may now not be far behind.
While we shake our heads at those libertine Dutch, traditional marriage was challenged in the U.S. even earlier, in 1993, when the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the state's prohibition of same-sex marriages amounted to discrimination on the basis of sex. For the first time in U.S. history, a state supreme-court ruling suggested that gay couples may have the right to marry.
Social conservatives were galvanized into action and enacted a series of protective measures. Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (doma) in 1996. Three states soon adopted constitutional same-sex marriage bans: Alaska (1998), Nebraska (2000), and Nevada (2000).And in a few years, 42 states enacted statutes similar to doma (although three of those bans have since been overturned).
Gay marriage advocacy was given new life with Massachusetts's historic 2003 high court ruling, which said that it was unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. It became clear that statutory bans were not enough; judges could throw out the laws if they felt the bans violated state constitutional rights. Over the next three years, voters in 23 states immediately amended their constitutions to limit marriage to heterosexuals.
Since then, the issue has ebbed and flowed, like trench warfare, with each side gaining only yards of territory with each new legislative or judicial assault. When the battle of Election 2008 had ended, it appeared that social conservatives had the momentum when constitutional amendments banning gay marriages passed in three more states.
But seemingly out of nowhere, gay marriage advocates have won stunning judicial, legislative, and social victories. Connecticut began granting marriage certificates to spouses of the same gender in November 2008. In April 2009, Iowa's high court ruled that banning gay marriages was unconstitutional, and gay couples began lining up at Iowa court houses.The Vermont legislature legalized gay marriage that same month, while Maine and New Hampshire legalized gay marriage in May.
All the while, Rick Warren and Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean were hit hard for their public statements against gay marriage. To be against gay marriage now carries a social stigma. A recent poll of Massachusetts residents revealed that 36 percent of voters who oppose gay marriage agreed with the statement, "If you speak out against gay marriage in Massachusetts you really have to watch your back because some people may try to hurt you."
In short, traditional Christians feel like the armored tank of history is rolling over them, crushing traditional marriage under its iron treads, impervious to argument, the ballot box, or judicial logic. Even more disheartening has been to witness how, in each mainline denomination, and even in some evangelical seminaries, fellow Christians lobby hard for gay marriage.