An Epidemic of Lawbreaking


Note: This commentary was delivered by Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley.

A little story in the Washington Post sums up what’s really going in San Francisco. Reporter Evelyn Nieves had just described how San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom had decided to violate state law simply because he didn’t like it: He ordered city and county officials to issue marriage licenses to homosexuals who wanted to “marry.” As a result, thousands of homosexuals have defied the law, taking part in so-called “weddings.”

Until days ago, the state attorney general of California — whose job it is to enforce state law — refused to intervene. So did Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay: He refused to issue even a temporary injunction stopping San Francisco’s illegal marriages until he rules on a lawsuit. In effect, he’s telling Californians to go ahead and break the law — well, not just any law, as a handful of protesters found out.

Last week a dozen Christians blocked the door to the San Francisco office that is issuing these illegal marriage licenses, and sheriff’s deputies didn’t waste any time escorting them from the building. After all, they were breaking the law!

The story illustrates what happens when government officials refuse to uphold the rule of law. We have anarchy and the beginnings of tyranny.

If that sounds extreme, consider what happens whenever pro-life citizens try to change the law. When I was attorney general in Virginia, the legislature passed a bill banning partial-birth abortions. The new law was properly debated and voted on. Nevertheless, a federal judge immediately slapped an injunction on it while the abortion lobby pursued a lawsuit. The story was the same in many other states. Judges invented reasons for shooting down every single one of them.

And the same thing happens whenever states pass parental notification laws and parental consent laws. And heaven help the pro-lifers who engage in civil disobedience at abortion clinics. They’re not feted in the pages of the New York Times, as Mayor Newsom has been. Instead, they’re punished under RICO statutes.

To put it another way: Suppose a pro-life mayor announced he was revoking the licenses of clinics that perform abortions. How long do you think pro-abortion lawmakers would put up with that? They’d probably call in federal troops and have the mayor thrown in jail immediately. But ask lawmakers to take on the gay lobby, and they shrivel up like California raisins.

What’s going on in California is truly frightening. When the rule of law breaks down, citizens no longer respect authority. In time, lawlessness becomes widespread, and people begin to long for order and safety. They look to anyone who promises to restore it — no matter what the cost in freedom. And history teaches us that they often look in all the wrong places.

Christians must understand the complexity of these arguments as events in California and around the nation unfold. We must help our neighbors understand that what’s at stake is not just the sanctity of marriage, as important as that is. What’s also at stake is the future of the American experiment — of the ordered liberty and rule of law our Founders created.

America’s mayors and judges would do well to remember that — and so should we, before it’s too late.

For further reading and information:

Evelyn Nieves, “Calif. Judge Won’t Halt Gay Nuptials,” Washington Post, 21 February 2004, A01.

Ethan Fletcher, “Attempted citizen’s arrest at City Hall,” San Francisco Examiner, 20 February 2004.

Mark Simon and Carla Marinucci, “Top state Dems criticize S.F. mayor,” San Francisco Chronicle, 20 February 2004.

Groups fail to block same-sex marriage licenses,” CNN, 13 February 2004.

Calif. AG seeks ruling on same-sex unions,” MSNBC, 23 February 2004.

The Heritage Foundation has produced a helpful family and society database filled with research on marriage, cohabitation, adolescence, divorce, sexuality, and more.

Robert Benne and Gerald McDermott, “Speaking Out: Why Gay Marriage Would Be Harmful,” Christianity Today, 19 February 2004.

  1. Budziszewski, “So-Called Marriage,” Boundless, 19 February 2004.

Should same-sex ‘marriages’ be prohibited?” Enter the Great American Think-Off.

Sign BreakPoint’s online petition in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Call 1-877-3-CALLBP to request the complimentary Marriage Amendment information packet, which includes articles on marriage and family by William Bennett and Stanley Kurtz, the Evangelicals and Catholics Together statement on marriage, the text of the Federal Marriage Amendment, and a chart from the Alliance for Marriage outlining the legal impact of the amendment. Also available is the BreakPoint Speak the Truth in Love resource kit ($25), which includes CDs, booklets, articles, and more to help you speak effectively and compassionately on the issue of homosexuality and marriage.

Visit One Hundred Thousand Ministers for information on what pastors can do.

Visit BreakPoint’s Sanctity of Marriage resource page.

BreakPoint Commentary No. 031024, “Ordered Liberty.”

BreakPoint Commentary No. 030117, “Fighting Unjust Laws.”

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