The Christian Right and the Sanctity of Marriage
As we all know, the Christian Right has now made defense of the institution of marriage, as defined as a union of a man and woman, not only its top political priority, but the very touchstone of Christian moral responsibility.
I’ve always found this rather ironic, since the Protestant Reformation, to which most Christian Right leaders continue to swear fealty, made one of its own touchstones the derogation of marriage as a purely religious, as opposed to civic, obligation. Virtually all of the leaders of the Reformation denounced the idea of marriage as a scripturally-sanctioned church sacrament, holding that baptism and the Eucharist were the only valid sacraments. Luther called marriage “a secular and outward thing,”which he did not mean as a compliment. Calvin treated marriage as a “union of pious persons,” and while he did consider marriage a “covenant,” he used the same term for virtually every significant human relationship.
More tellingly, throughout Protestant Europe, from the earliest days, one of the most common “reforms” was the liberalization of divorce laws. And even today, in America, conservative Protestants have the highest divorce rates of any faith community, or un-faith community.
My point is not to accuse today’s conservative Christians of hypocrisy, though there’s room for that; it’s that the Christian Right has made a habit of confusing secular cultural conservatism–the simple and understandable impulse to resist unsettling change–with fidelity to their own religious traditions. “Defending marriage” is far down the list of concerns, historically, of the Reformation tradition, and indeed, that tradition has done far more to loosen the bonds of matrimony, for good or for ill, and to “de-sanctify” the institution, than all the gays and lesbians who have ever lived.