A father and mother hold the tiny hands of their infant son

How Long Before Parents Have to Be Licensed by the State?

The last two weeks we’ve talked about hard decisions Christians are going to have to make. If you are a young Christian couple or you have a child or grandchild who someday hopes to be a parent, then you need to read this. In the coming years, Christian couples who teach their child the “wrong” thing could have their parent’s license revoked. Never happen you say? Keep reading. The Constitutional groundwork has already been laid.

Last week, a judge in Ohio ruled in a parental rights case. The Washington Times headline about the case tells you all you need to know: “Religious Parents Lose Custody of Transgender Teen for Refusing Hormone Treatment.”1

That headline shouldn’t really shock anyone, given that the following was the very first sentence in the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex “marriage,” Obergefell v. Hodges: “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.”

As I’ve said for the past two weeks, the Christian understanding of humanity—as being male and female in the image of God and there being a real and meaningful difference between the two—was decisively rejected in Obergefell in the context of marriage.

That necessarily means that Obergefell’s worldview must now govern all other areas of law that flow from marriage, which necessarily includes parental rights.

What the Ohio case helps us understand is that Obergefell changed the rules upon which future debates about parental rights can be made. Parents can no longer argue, as they did in the Ohio case, that certain rights arise naturally out of biological kinship bonds formed through procreation.

Here’s why. Those kinds of bonds do not exist for both “parents” in the same-sex model for marriage that has now replaced the male-female model of marriage.

Furthermore, arguments implying that biology or biological kinship matter cannot be allowed because they would undermine same-sex “marriage.” If you don’t believe me, then you must not have heard about this other case from last week.

In this other case, a biological father tried to obtain custody of his child who was in state custody. His request was denied, but not because he was unfit. The problem was that he had only been the sperm donor who had helped the now derelict adults in a same-sex “marriage” have the child.

The Court said letting the biological father rescue his child would “expos[e] children born into same-gender marriages to instability for no justifiable reason other than to provide a father-figure for children who already have two parents.”2

In other words, any “two parents” will do and two is enough. A father doesn’t “add” anything to a child’s life, a thought I hope the men out there let sink in until Father’s Day.

Obergefell means that parenthood can no longer be grounded in biological, procreative realities.

That is why Yale law professor Douglas NeJaime wrote in the Harvard Law Review3 that the biological model of parentage must be jettisoned and a new model substituted for it based on the intention of a person to parent and the carrying out of functions related to parenting. But this converts parentage to only a legal status bestowed by civil government, not a relationship arising out of procreation between a man and a woman.

Moreover, in time, you can bet this power will be abused by the relativists in control, and they will conclude that parental status should only be bestowed on those whom they think worthy of it, namely, those whose style of parenting benefits the state. After all, the good economy we demand will justify it.

From there, it will be a short leap, logically, to the proposition that a state can and should license persons to be parents.

When that happens, don’t be surprised if Christian parents have to choose between losing their license or leaving out the Christian stuff the state thinks is harmful to the child, meaning harmful to the state. They shouldn’t think that biological kinship ties will protect them from the same type of disciplinary actions that other state licensees face if their Christian convictions become a problem for the smooth functioning of a well-ordered state.

Again, if you don’t want to believe me, just ask the “religious parents” in Ohio how their reliance on biological kinship arguments turned out last week. In the words of Obergefell, the state thought the right of their minor daughter to “define and express her identity” as a son trumped their rights as parents.

Licensing parents may seem far fetched, but fifteen years ago, people said the same thing about licensing marriages between two people of the same sex.

NOTES

  1. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/feb/20/religious-parents-lose-custody-transgender-teen/
  2. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/01/30/sperm-donor-denied-parental-rights-child-same-sex-parents/1077662001/
  3. “Marriage Equality and the New Parenthood,” Harvard Law Review, Vol. 129, No. 5, March 2016

Commentaries in the Marriage Series:


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

Invite David Fowler to speak at your event

engaged couples

Should Christian Couples Get Legally Married?

I know that question sounds bizarre, but after what I wrote last week about whether Christian ministers should continue being agents of the state for legalizing marriages that state law defines contrary to God’s law, a couple of thoughtful people asked me how the line of thinking used there applied to Christian couples wanting to marry. My answer may just change the way you think of marriage.

By way of background, last week I said the Supreme Court’s same-sex decision in Obergefell v. Hodges did not expand the list of people who could enter into the historic institution of marriage and have that kind of marriage recognized legally. Rather, the Court constitutionally jettisoned the male-female kind of marriage for legal purposes and replaced it with one in which the sex of the parties is no longer an element of marriage.

The Questions the Law Raises

Applying these legal facts to the Christian couple who desires today to wed, this is the question the state now effectively asks them: Are you willing to agree to the state’s new definition of marriage and sign our forms that reflect that new definition of marriage in order to have a legal marriage?

Given that question, the couple must then ask themselves this question: Do they want a marriage the law will recognize badly enough that they will sign the forms?

Is It Just ‘Paperwork’?

Some may say that it’s just a matter of paperwork, and it’s what’s in their hearts that matters. But, as noted below, that argument can backfire.

Hard Choices in Scripture

You may say, “David, what choice do today’s Christian couples have?” Before I answer, let’s put this, and all the other hard choices Christians are going to have to start making because of Obergefell, into a scriptural context.

In John Chapter 6, we’re told that a number of people stopped following Jesus because some of His sayings were “hard.” Jesus then asked His disciples, “Will you also go away?” Peter responded, “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68 KJV).

I picture Peter as being conflicted. Perhaps Peter didn’t like what Jesus had to say any more than the other folks, but he realized he did have a choice whether he liked it or not: Reject Jesus’ words or reject eternal life.

By sharing that story, I’m not saying one’s eternal life depends on how one answers the question I’ve posed. I, too, often cringe over the fact that the Lordship Jesus claims over His followers is not dependent on whether the choices He asks us to make are hard or easy.

What Are Christian Couples’ Choices?

So what choice do Christian couples have in this instance? The answer lies in the fact that there is nothing in the law that prohibits a man and woman from going before a minister and other witnesses and making public their covenant declaration of marriage.

In the eyes of God, is not their declaration before their minister and friends a binding marriage? Would not God hold them to their covenant vows, whether they had a certificate from the state or not?

You bet He does, and you bet He would. Just read what God says about marriage and divorce back before civil government started licensing marriages.

The point is religious covenant marriage ceremonies are not illegal. It’s just that the law won’t recognize that kind of marriage as having any legal effect.

This is where the it’s-only-a-piece-of-paper argument comes back to bite us. If the paperwork doesn’t “make” us married, but only what we do in God’s sight (and before witnesses), then why do Christian couples get a state license to marry?

Why Do Christian Couples Get ‘Legally’ Married?

What I’ve begun to believe is that there probably isn’t a real reason, other than our general call as Christians to obey the law. But obeying man’s law when it conflicts with God’s law is precisely the issue in this instance.

One reason we enter into a marriage that man’s law will recognize is that it does bring along a host of other laws and benefits.

It was those laws and benefits that were at the heart of the lawsuits by same-sex couples in Obergefell. They complained that those benefits were real and meaningful and being denied them because they could not marry. The Court felt obliged to them, but now the “benefits” shoe is on the other foot.

The Really Hard Question

Should Christian couples be willing to forego those state-afforded benefits in order to avoid participating in an unbiblical marriage scheme created by the state? Not an easy choice to make. But if those couples think that question is tough, wait until they consider what kinds of questions they may face someday when they become parents. That topic is for next week.

Commentaries in the Marriage Series:


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

Invite David Fowler to speak at your event

Tennessee marriage license receipt

Are Tennessee’s Evangelical Pastors Licensing Same-Sex ‘Marriages’?

After the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, I couldn’t help but think of the number of evangelical pastors who told me they would never solemnize a same-sex “marriage,” because it was contrary to the Word of God. But it dawned on me last week that, if I were a minister, I might not even solemnize a marriage between a man and a woman.

This epiphany came when something my friend Jeff Shafer, a senior attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, wrote jarred loose the narrow lens through which I’d been reading the Obergefell decision.

Shafer wrote:

The defining feature of the historic marriage community, after all, is the sexual difference of its non-fungible constituents. To obliterate the sexual­difference feature of marriage is not a charitable expansion of its borders, but a radical repudiation . . . of its character . . . .

For all my harping over the years on the need for Christians to think in terms of antithesis—that if marriage is defined as X, it necessarily excludes marriage defined as Y—I had somehow missed the fact that if marriage can no longer be defined legally in terms of male and female, it must be defined legally in terms of something else.

It’s same-sex ‘marriage’ now for everyone.

What I had not appreciated is that Obergefell redefined legal marriage for everyone who wants a marriage, at least one that the law will recognize.

After all, a couple doesn’t ask the county clerk for the heterosexual license to marry, if a man and woman, or ask for the same-sex license if two women or two men. The license the man and woman now get from the state is no different from that of two men or two women. And that was the whole point of the Obergefell decision—everybody’s marriage has to now be the same.

There is no other legal form of marriage in Tennessee other than that for which the sex of the parties is irrelevant.

So what does this have to do with ministers?

Whether they recognize it or not, ministers are clearly agents of the state when it comes to creating this new kind of marriage. The license the state issues to the couple, which must be presented to the minister, says, “You are hereby authorized to perform the rite of marriage.” But it also says what kind of marriage, that which is “according to the statutes of Tennessee.”

And ministers acknowledge these legal facts. At the end of the ceremony, the minister says something like, “By the power vested in me by the state of Tennessee, I hereby pronounce you husband and wife.” The power they are exercising at least with respect to the license the state has issued is a power given them by the state, not God.

The minister must also sign the license. The marriage ministers are licensed to sanction by their signature is defined by the state as one in which the sex of the parties is irrelevant, even if, in fact, the particular marriage being sanctioned is composed of two people of the opposite sex.

But the final evidence that ministers are agents of the state for this new form of legal marriage is the fact that the state will not issue a certificate of marriage to anyone unless the minister “certifies” that the couple was “married by me” according to the law by signing the application for the certificate.

I’m sure ministers who sign the state’s marriage license and application for a certificate of marriage don’t think they are giving their imprimatur of approval to a form of legal marriage that is at odds with Scripture. That’s probably because they are simultaneously blessing the covenant kind of marriage between a man and a woman. But the fact that two things are going on at the same time does not change the nature of the legal proceeding that is also taking place.

What would I do and why?

At this point1, if I were a minister, I think I would conduct only the ceremony for the sacred marriage and have the couple go to another state-authorized officiant to create and sanction the government-approved androgynous type of marriage.

I know doing that sounds silly and seems like making mountains out of molehills, but I don’t think God considers the nature of marriage and the kind of marriage His church sanctions and helps create to be a molehill. That’s why I just don’t think I could be party to legalizing for the state what God’s law forbids.

NOTES

  1. I would note that lawsuits I am handling on behalf of ministers argue that our state statutes still define marriage in a way that requires a male and female. The attorney general has argued that those statutes now must be interpreted so as not to require a male and female, and the executive branch and our county clerks are in agreement. For now, ministers could agree with me. But if the attorney general’s view prevails in court, then the overthrow of our male-female marriage law will be complete.

Commentaries in the Marriage Series:


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

Invite David Fowler to speak at your event

David Fowler, his wife Linda, and daughter Allison after winning the legislative seat

Image Is Everything in Tennessee Politics

The year before I ran for the state Senate, a person I did not know came up to me at a Christian event in my hometown and said, “I think you should run for the Legislature.” His reason shocked me, but this incident came to mind because of something one of our leading state elected officials said last week.

The reason given by the person who suggested I run was that I, along with my attractive wife and cute 5-year-old daughter, would be visually appealing to voters. It turned out that this person was a successful political campaign consultant. But I got his point: image means a lot, if not everything, in politics.

In Tennessee, part of the image you want to create in order to appeal to our generally conservative and generally Christianized electorate is that you are a Christian, a person of faith. And one of the best ways to do that is to use language that tickles Christian ears.

So, it was with great interest that I read this recent statement by one of our elected officials: “[E]very man and woman created in the image of God deserves meaningful work.”

To affirm the image of God as central to our humanity is to speak the Christian’s lingo and probably to earn the Christian’s approbation for being willing to put one’s Christian faith on public display.

But it’s important that Christians understand what the image of God means and then evaluate that politician’s grasp of that meaning by how he or she applies it in other contexts in which that image is equally important.

Dissecting What It Means to Be Created in God’s Image

In the present situation, we know that the Bible refers to God’s acts of creation as work, so it is true that the image of God means that it is good for human beings to work. However, I would add that any work, when done for the glory of God, is meaningful work, regardless of what one is paid or how highly others esteem one’s work.

But the Bible gives us another aspect of the image of God, one we don’t even have to extrapolate by analogy to what God does. It says, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27 NKJV). It is clear that being male and female is a part of the image of God our humanity bears.

In case there is any doubt about this, Genesis 2 makes it very clear. In that chapter, we’re given more detail. God makes the man, Adam, first and then stops. It is the only time during the creation process in which we’re told that God stops, and He says, “It is not good.” That should get our attention.

It was not good because man was “alone,” so God made a neged (transliterated Hebrew) for him, which, according to Strong’s definitions, has a meaning of “a front, i.e. part opposite; specifically a counterpart.” And the “counterpart” was clearly connected to a biological difference because the difference allowed for procreation. It is an embodied difference, not a psychological or cultural one, such as what is meant today by gender identity and transgenderism.

In other words, God “fixed” the aloneness of Adam not merely by creating another human being—by sameness—but by biological differentiation. It was just another aspect of the differentiation process demonstrated throughout the entire creation process. God differentiated the light from the dark, the night from the day, the sea from the dry ground, and so on.

To deny the difference between the male and the female is to deny God’s image in us and, moreover, to deny what God said was good for both the male and the female.

But, when it comes to this aspect of the image of God—this God-declared good differentiation between male and female—this politician basically said, and I am paraphrasing, No, I don’t mean or want to include that part of God’s image in our humanity. I don’t want the Legislature to enact a law that would communicate to our children in a tangible, understandable way this God-ordained difference by having biological males use one shower and biological females use another. In fact, I’m okay if our public schools confuse the differentiation and deny that part of the image of God.

While that last sentence may seem harsh and not what that official would intend to communicate, it is, in fact, the necessary implication. If the usage of such facilities is not being designated based on biological differences, then their usage must be based on some other consideration, which cannot be the relevancy of biological differences.

Perhaps this person1, and others among our elected officials (and would-be officials) who are thinking this way (and there is an increasing number of them), will rethink this issue. Until then, I’d rather the image they convey politically just leave the image of God out of it.

NOTES

  1. The name has been withheld so that the point being made is not obscured by anyone’s affection for or allegiance to the person quoted. It is not my purpose here to impugn anyone or, in this context, influence his or her policy position, which I think is intractable anyway. Besides, other elected officials would say and then do the same thing.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

Invite David Fowler to speak at your event

Implosion of LifeWay's Draper Tower in Nashville and a photo of the Tennessee state Capitol under construction

Some Legislators Work Through the Implosion of their Ivory Tower

I recently watched a video of the implosion of the LifeWay Draper Tower, a Nashville landmark associated with the Southern Baptist Convention. In the video, you can hear the explosion rumbling deep below, but nothing is happening. Then a few windows pop out. Next, the first floors begin to cave in, but the top floor remains rather steady. Then it, too, collapses. This video reminds me a lot of what I saw at the Tennessee Capitol this week.

As I spoke with some legislators about bills touching on issues related to human sexuality, it was clear to me that their perspective is like that of the person on the top floor of the LifeWay Draper Tower after the explosion first went off.

As these legislators sit on the upper-level floors of their really nice new offices in the Cordell Hull Building, some can hear a rumbling outside—talk about the impact of the gay rights agenda and same-sex “marriage” on the family and religious liberty. But it’s just noise to a number of them, a distraction from their work on job creation and education reform.

But that noise is the implosion of the foundation on which the state’s long-term welfare rests. The collapse of that welfare about which so many legislators crowed so proudly after Gov. Haslam’s State of the State speech on Monday night will come, in time, as surely as it came to the top floor of the LifeWay Draper Tower.

That foundation was referenced the next night by, of all people, President Trump, whose policies so many Tennessee Republican legislators say they want to emulate at the state level. “In America,” he said, “we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of American life. The motto is ‘in God we trust.’”

Trump was right. But while many Tennessee legislators will give echo to those words when they speak to their constituents back home, their echo often gets drowned out when they are in Nashville. Here is an example of what I’m talking about.

Right now, state Attorney General Herbert Slatery has fully bought into the “gender identity” legal philosophy, which says there is no longer any male and female, at least when it comes to family law.1 As recently as December 13, his office argued that a state judge should interpret the word “male” to also mean “female” in one of our marriage statutes. Last summer in Knoxville, his office argued that the word “husband” in a birth certificate statute must be interpreted to mean or include a “wife.”

Our attorney general is helping our courts implode the very legal foundation on which God’s design for the family rests and, thus, embracing a faith alien to the majority of Tennesseans who believe God has made us male and female. And to make matters worse, his office is bypassing our elected legislators by insisting that judges impose these alien views on us.

I’m sure Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan could not be prouder of our attorney general.

What our attorney general is doing, and doing without any accountability to the people or even to any group of people directly accountable to the people, has highlighted a problem with our state Constitution. The unelected justices on the Tennessee Supreme Court appoint our attorney general.

Given that our law schools teach those who become our justices that Constitutions are “living” documents, are those justices even going to think twice about appointing an attorney general who will advocate for giving them the power to set public policy by finding new rights in our state Constitution and by reinterpreting unambiguous words in our state’s statutes?

For that reason, along with a few other good reasons, Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) presented to the Senate Judiciary on Tuesday a resolution to amend the state Constitution. Under the amendment, the Legislature, accountable to us, would appoint the attorney general, the same as they appoint the state’s comptroller, treasurer, and secretary of state.

Three Republican state senators said they would vote to send the amendment out of the committee to the Senate floor for a vote, for which we’re grateful, otherwise it would have died right them. But they said they wouldn’t vote for it on the floor.

It seems that there are a number of legislators who are content with a system that has given us an unaccountable attorney general who is blowing up in our law what even President Trump recognizes as our foundation.

Someday the implosion will reach the seventh floor of the Cordell Hull Building where a number of them now sit, unconcerned with the “noise” going on around them, and then they will wonder what happened.

NOTES

  1. Of course, only a fool believes that this androgynous view of human nature will remain confined to family law once the attorney generals of our states and our state and federal judges finish laying that view of human nature into constitutional cement. Why should male or female matter in the workplace or the locker room at the Y if it doesn’t even mean anything in connection with the basic institution of the family that has historically anchored our view of what it means to be human?

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

Invite David Fowler to speak at your event