No Bigots Here

Austin, the most liberal city in Texas, has just revealed a rare conservative streak. By almost 2 to 1, the voters of Austin repealed a domestic partnership law that gave insurance benefits to unmarried partners of city employees. Of course, liberal commentators are giving the story the predictable spin: They're painting fearsome scenarios of bigots on the march. But the real issue is much more complex—and it's not about bigotry at all. The issue wasn't whether private citizens should tolerate people whose ideas differ from their own. Of course they should. Rather, the issue was whether the government should use taxpayer money to support unmarried couples, both heterosexual and homosexual. It was whether the state should grant the rewards of marriage to people unwilling to make the commitment of marriage. An editorial in USA Today argued in favor of domestic partnership laws. "Equal benefits for equal work," the editors thundered. But the critical point is that the benefits we're talking about are not equal. In their social impact, benefits paid to a spouse and children are not equal to benefits paid to a live-in lover. Benefits to family members are a way of giving formal recognition to the fundamental social institution that stands as the basis of all societies. Every lasting civilization has had a normative commitment to the family. Only in modern times has the idea emerged that family and sexuality can be left to the whims of private individual choice. And today the bitter fruits of that idea are all too apparent across American society. Couples are divorcing, deserting, or refusing to marry at all in record numbers. Increasing numbers of children are growing up in chaotic homes— where they are statistically more vulnerable to school problems, teen pregnancy, and crime. Suddenly, Americans are realizing that "private individual choices" can impose very public costs. Even liberal journalists like E. J. Dionne now grudgingly admit that family structure does matter—that family breakdown lies at the root of our gravest social problems. In a recent column Dionne writes that the vote in Austin is not about bigotry—contrary to the standard liberal spin put on it. Instead, he says, the vote touches on the much deeper issue of "the relationship between social norms and government action." It raises the crucial question of whether the government should give unmarried couples the same formal sanction and benefits traditionally reserved for marriage. As Christians, we ought to answer that question with a definite no. The Bible teaches us that marriage is an institution sanctioned by God Himself when He created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. As a result we stand against any moral leveling that denies the special status of marriage. But we need to express our convictions in a way our secular neighbors understand—not by Bible-pounding but by arguing that to honor marriage is to create a happier, healthier society. Marriage is a special commitment with important benefits to society. Hence it ought to be rewarded with special rights and privileges. And there's nothing bigoted about that.


Chuck Colson


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