David Fowler's wedding pictures

‘Marriage’ and My Secret Marriage Sign

Shortly after my wife and I married (36 years ago), we developed a way in which we could secretly express our marital love for each other. I would often use it when waiting to take the podium for a political event or when sitting apart from her in the choir loft at church. It was fun and cute, but I recently realized the deeper truth of what we were communicating. It brought home to me why people think two people of the same sex can marry, and why polygamous and polyandrous “marriages” must be around the corner.

The Evolution of the Secret

Without revealing the secret, I will tell you that it was grounded in a couple of ideas. First was our desire to distinguish our love for each other as husband and wife from the love we had for others who were part of our lives individually and as a couple. Second, it had to express our desire that God be a party to our marriage.

With that as the goal, the numbers one and three came to mind. One and three spoke to us of the Triune nature of God as understood by Christians, one in essence yet three in persons. But this understanding of God also defined our understanding of marriage.

My wife and I were two individuals, but by recognizing God as the Creator of marriage, we were, in a sense, introducing a third “person” into our marriage. In doing so, we were recognizing that marriage is a reality, a real-though-non-material thing. Marriage, for us, was something more than just the “aggregation” of two people for domestic purposes. It is what Moses communicated with the simple statement that the “two shall become one flesh.” There was a real unity of essence, despite the remaining physical individuality or distinctiveness of the two persons.

The Supreme Court’s Different Conception of Marriage

My appreciation for the substance of our secret means of communication registered with me a few years later as I tracked how the United States Supreme Court was reconstructing America’s views about sexual intimacy on its way to same-sex “marriage.” In this context, I put the word marriage in quotes for reasons I will explain, not because of ill-will toward its proponents.

The reconstruction of sex appears to begin with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate criminal sodomy statutes as unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which, in turn, led to redefining “marriage” in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) so as to include same-sex couples. However, both were grounded in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965).

The law involved in Griswold isn’t important, but the Supreme Court’s understanding of marriage in that case, explained seven years later in Eisenstadt v. Baird is important. This is how the Court described marriage: “[T]he marital couple is not an independent entity, with a mind and heart of its own, but an association of two individuals, each with a separate intellectual and emotional makeup.”

In other words, the Court does not accept the view of marriage reflected in the basis for the secret communication my wife and I developed, namely, that marriage is itself a real thing—an “independent entity,” as the Court would say—distinct from the two individuals who marry. Or to put it in theological terms, the Court does not believe marriage is something transcending the two separate individuals who, in coming together, bring a real organic type of unity into existence.

Put another way, the Supreme Court simply sees marriage as an empty word—not reflecting a prescriptive reality, but merely describing an association or aggregation of two individuals, “each with a separate intellectual and emotional makeup.”

Why Marriage Is in Quotes

That is why I put marriage in quotes when I write about the form of marriage that the Supreme Court described. If, as the Supreme Court says, marriage has no real existence or prescriptive meaning, then offsetting the word with quotation marks is philosophically and grammatically correct when used by those, like me, who think it has a real existence. Grammarians call them “scare quotes,” quotation marks “placed round a word or phrase to draw attention to an unusual or arguably inaccurate use.”

Those who think marriage has no real meaning would say that there is nothing inaccurate or unusual about describing a marriage as an aggregation of separate individuals in a domestic setting who create no organic unity transcending their separate identities. They would say that “scare quotes” are not necessary because that’s what marriage is.

Their conclusion would be correct if we were talking about the same thing. But I use scare quotes to denote that when I speak of marriage, I am speaking of something completely different in essence and nature from what the Supreme Court spoke of in Obergefell v. Hodges.

If we want to understand what’s behind the contentions within our culture over marriage, we need to understand that we are talking about two different understandings of the essence and nature of marriage. Actually, we’re talking about two different understandings of the nature of reality: Is reality only that which is physical/material, or are there non-physical/material realities?

But I will say this: As long as conservatives argue for a definition of marriage limited to a man and woman based on the Supreme Court’s philosophical/theological conception of what that word means, then they had better be prepared for its next evolution, the aggregation or association of three people in a domestic setting. After all, there is no real reason “marriage” can’t be anything we want it to be; it’s not a real thing anyway, at least to the Supreme Court and an increasing number of Americans.

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

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Father holding the hand of his infant

A Pro-Life Decision 17 Years in the Making

On Tuesday, the U.S Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld the vote of the people in 2014 in favor of Amendment 1 to the Tennessee Constitution. The amendment essentially reversed a decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2000, holding that abortion was a “right” under our Tennessee Constitution. The 6th Circuit’s opinion was not just a legal version of a WWE SmackDown to the pro-abortion plaintiffs and the federal district judge who agreed with them, but it was a reminder to me about how to think of another issue on which I’m working.

Court Exposes Baseless Legal Arguments

There was much in the court’s opinion to like if you are pro-life or if you simply believe in the U.S. Constitution and abhor the philosophy of those judges who like to figure out the result they want and then reason backward to get there. However, my two favorite lines were these summations of the plaintiffs’ case:

Plaintiffs’ arguments amount to little more than a complaint that the campaigns in support of Amendment 1, operating within the framework established by state law, turned out to be more successful than the campaigns against Amendment 1.

Their grievance in this case thus appears to be driven by regrets, not so much that the State officials’ actions infringed their rights, but that their ‘adversaries,’ supporters of Amendment 1, may have campaigned more effectively than did opponents of Amendment 1.

I think it would be fair to interpret these statements something like this: “You are just sore losers. The other side did a better job getting its message out, so, when the election was over, you ran to the courthouse looking for a friendly judge who would bail you out despite your lousy legal arguments.”

If that sounds a bit blunt, I hope you’ll cut me some slack since I spent a good portion of my life working on this, filing the original constitutional amendment 17 years ago this month. But that fact, along with the court’s contrast between the two political campaigns, reminds me to never give up on things of fundamental importance and work hard, because, in time, God just might vindicate that which is fundamental, in this case, the sanctity of life, of which He is its Author.

The Long Road to This Week’s Victory

This week’s legal victory, however, must not be seen in isolation but in the larger context. I wish space allowed me to convey to you the twists, turns, pitfalls, and potholes that were encountered just by me during the ten years in which I worked to help get the amendment through the Legislature. I’m sure my friends at Tennessee Right to Life have their own compelling stories. Suffice it to say, at times the effort was frustrating, discouraging, and downright tiring.

I’ll never forget, though, Lt. Gov. Wilder asking then Sen. Ron Ramsey and me to stop pushing the amendment, because it was never going to pass the Legislature and our efforts would only create friction and division among a then rather congenial group of senators. We politely declined.

To be honest, a lot of people naturally saw the effort as rather hopeless when this process started. Democratic majorities controlled both the House and Senate, and the amendment had to be approved by a vote of two-thirds of both chambers. In other words, we would need 66 votes in the House, and Democrats then held 59 of the seats!

I think my friend Ron Ramsey would agree with me on this, but it wasn’t assurance of eventual victory that propelled us to press on despite Lt. Gov. Wilder’s request, but rather a conviction that fighting to protect innocent, unborn lives from death was worth the effort and any collegial discomfort we might experience.

The Encouraging Reminder I Needed

And that brings me to today and another issue on which I’ve been working now for two years.

Many think of the efforts begun by the Family Action Council of Tennessee in January 2016 to challenge the legal effect of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision regarding government-licensed marriages of same-sex couples in the same way they thought of the abortion amendment—we’re tilting at windmills, we can’t win, the marriage ship has sailed, and so on. That may turn out to be the case, but if a Christian, pro-marriage organization will not defend to the end that form of union between man and woman that alone mirrors the very image of the Triune God and that embodies what is real and true about the nature of marriage, then what is our reason for existence?

Who knows? Maybe if we, along with a handful of others, don’t give up and we continue to work hard, God just might, in time, vindicate that which He ordained and holds dear—marriage. After all, that’s what happened with Amendment 1 on Wednesday.

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

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Statue of Liberty, crosses, and the Tennessee flag

A Political ‘Dual’ to the Death

In two types of situations over the last three months, I have had conversations with four different evangelicals, each with a strong Judeo-Christian moral compass. If their thoughts are close to being representative of how a majority of evangelicals think about politics and elections, then evangelicals will be largely to blame for the death of religious liberty and Judeo-Christian values in our state.

All of the individuals with whom I spoke are strong supporters of our organization and its mission, which is to promote and defend within Tennessee religious liberty and God’s design for human sexuality, which is expressed in marriage between a man and a woman and the family that that relationship produces. They all lament the moral direction in which things are headed and the growing threats to the Christian’s freedom to live out their beliefs in the marketplace.

Situation No. 1—Conversations With Two Citizens

It’s not unusual when I run into folks who know me that they tell me what they think about various political things. So, it wasn’t surprising that two friends brought up the governor’s race and told me of their preferences.

Both were supporting different candidates, but what was interesting is that neither of those candidates is particularly friendly to our organization’s issues as best I can tell. In fact, based on what I do know at this point, I suspect neither candidate would be particularly supportive of the kind of legislation we initiate.

For the one citizen, it was the candidate’s views on economic development that was decisive, as if the disintegration of families and moral values has no effect on the economy. For the other citizen, the person forthrightly acknowledged that his preferred candidate’s positions on social issues were weak to non-existent, but he said that was “understandable” since those issues are controversial. I guess that person thought someone other than a governor should lead or take a stand on the controversial stuff.

Situation No. 2—Conversations With Two Politicians

The other scenario involved two different politicians. Each was approached concerning various legislative ideas.

One politician’s response to the proposed legislation focused on how it would be portrayed by the liberal local media and whether, going into an election cycle, that negative publicity could be offset sufficiently by constituents who might approve of the legislation. The other politician made it clear that voters were tired of politicians who were against things and didn’t want to talk about legislation that prevented what she conceded was bad.

In both situations, doing the right thing was secondary to doing the politically expedient or acceptable thing. The problem in the latter situation was compounded by the false belief that one could be for something and want to see it flourish without being against that which undermines its flourishing.

The ‘Dual’ of Death

The problem in each of these two situations is what philosophers would call “dualism.” In general, dualism is the belief that, for some particular domain, there are two fundamental kinds or categories of things or principles. In this particular instance, it is usually either a belief that moral values are fundamentally personal and politics is fundamentally not or a belief that Christianity, with its attendant values, is spiritual and politics is secular.

Dualism allows a Christian to say that I am personally for certain values, but I can vote for people who do not support those values because Christianity and the beliefs that guide my personal life are fundamentally different from the beliefs that guide my secular and political life.

When one walks out of the evangelical pew on Sunday and takes that dualistic view of reality into the voting booth or into elected office, then the moral values and the religious liberty he or she professes to value will be undermined at every turn by our public policies. Voters elect those who undermine those values by acts of commission or omission and politicians who will stand by and let them be undermined.

Both will lead to those things they say they value dying out in our public consciousness, even as is now happening.

To paraphrase Nietzsche’s famous “God is dead” quote, if this dualistic thinking is typical of evangelicals, then they will be able to say, “Judeo-Christian moral values and religious liberty are dead, and we have killed them.”

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

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The year 2018 with the Tennessee flag as part of the "0" against fireworks background

Putting the ‘New’ in the New Year

As we come to the end of the year, ringing out the old and ringing in the new has real meaning to me when it comes to what’s about to happen in Tennessee politics. And if you’re not ready, the ringing could become a loud clanging in your head for years to come.

The “new year” legislative session begins on the second Tuesday in January, as it does every year. That’s not new. But it could be a ringing out of a right-of-center Legislature for a more centrist one in the future, depending on what happens in August and November with the elections.

Of course, calling the current Legislature right-of-center might be generous. It appears, after years of trying, that the Legislature can’t even pass a pilot program to test opportunity scholarships in low-performing schools. Last year, none of the seven senators who voted to keep boys out of the girls’ locker rooms the year before would even make a motion to discuss and debate a more scale-down version of the same bill. But maybe that’s because some in leadership prefer to put the emphasis on the last part of right of center.

To get a feel for the “new” that’s coming, one need only look at the changes about to take place in the state House. Since every bill, to become law, must pass the state House, a shift to the left there could change everything.

In the state House, 15 members have already announced their retirement after this session, two more are leaving to run for the state Senate, and one has already moved to the Senate (by County Commission appointment). In other words, 18 of 99 seats will be changing hands in 2018, and that doesn’t count how many might not return because they lose a primary challenge.

But the biggest potential change in the House in 2018 will be the change in Speaker, brought about by Speaker Beth Harwell’s run for governor. The Speaker appoints all the committee chairs and decides how conservative, moderate, or liberal a committee will be based on whom he or she assigns to the committee.

Last year Speaker Harwell held onto her speakership against a more conservative challenger, Jimmy Matlock, now running for the U.S. House, by winning her caucus’ nomination by a vote of 40-30. The outcome of the caucus’ nomination for 2018 will turn on what happens in August.

At least 13 of the Republicans who voted in that caucus election are retiring. Whether Republicans will vote for a moderate or conservative Speaker of the House in 2018 will depend on how many of those seats swing from moderate to conservative and vice versa, and it may not take but a change of four or five, depending on what happens with some incumbent Republicans who may face primary challenges.

Of course, that’s not going be all the “new” that 2018 rings in. We will have a new governor. While I’m not ready to name names, I can say that not even all the Republican candidates are true conservatives in my estimation.

A governor wields a lot of influence, and, unfortunately, I’ve seen moderate governors move a conservative legislator to his way of thinking. I’ve never seen a governor lean on a fiscal or social conservative to stay the course when under pressure to move to the left.

What this means for you is that you better know who you are voting for in 2018, and we’ll do what we can to help. We will, again, be scoring incumbent legislators’ votes, but with so many incumbents retiring, finding a good way to evaluate those in a primary for those open seats will be a challenge. They will have no voting record, and increasingly candidates don’t like to fill out surveys that force them to talk about issues they would rather ignore.

Figuring out how to evaluate these primary candidates is one of the things I’ll be working on over the next few months. One possibility is enabling one of the organizations for which I work, Family Action of Tennessee, to do something new by making endorsements in some key races. If you have thoughts on that, let me know.

But one thing is for sure: The new year is going to bring a lot that will be new to the political world in Tennessee.

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

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Smiling woman holding a gift surrounded by a holly wreath and Christmas presents

How to Wish the Politically Correct Crowd a Merry Christmas

The politically correct crowd insists that it is somehow not correct to wish people a “Merry Christmas.” Instead, we are supposed to say something like “Happy Holidays.” But something’s always troubled me about that. And now I’ve put my finger on it. I’ve put all my legal skills at parsing words into sorting out this complex problem, and perhaps there is another way to express ourselves.

I know that the problem with “Merry Christmas” is that those who extend that greeting are supposedly hoping people find merriment in a Christian religious observance. And I guess they think the greeting is some attempt to impose on them the greeter’s religion. Of course, if you think that at this point our culture, on the whole, really perceives Christmas as a religious observance more than a secular holiday, then you may not have noticed how many people get up at 3 a.m. on Black Friday to usher in the Christmas season at “services” offered at the mall.

I know that wasn’t very politically correct, but onto the business at hand—what greeting do you give people at this time of year? The politically correct crowd that is constantly worried about offending someone’s feelings and sensibilities suggests we say, “Happy Holidays” to respect those who celebrate Kwanzaa or Hanukkah or maybe something else I’ve forgotten.

But what about those who, like Jehovah’s witnesses, recognize no holiday this week? Doesn’t “Happy Holidays” impose on them our beliefs about the celebratory nature of the season? So, I think that in order to be tolerant and sensitive to other’s feelings, we should just say something like “Enjoy the Season.” After all, it is a season of the year for everyone.

Ah, but winter is not that enjoyable to a lot of people. Rather, the cold makes them feel miserable and being light-deprived by the short days makes them feel depressed. But I guess that’s a good reason to wish they could enjoy the season, because wouldn’t we rather them enjoy the season than be miserable?

But, wait. That creates another problem. Why would I want to try to tell people how they should feel? After all, my feelings are just that, my feelings. Why should someone else try to tell me how I should feel? That’s not very sensitive. We should be affirmed in whatever feelings we may have and others should respect that.

Trying to be the most politically correct person that I can (which, you readers know, is my life’s ambition), let me suggest the following to those of you who really want to avoid any offense. Maybe you should not say anything and just print this on little cards and hand them out:

Please feel however you want to feel about this time of year, or if you prefer, please do not feel like you have to have any feelings at all about this time of year or feel like you have to have any feelings about any other time of year if you do not feel like feeling anything right now. And, of course, feel free not to feel anything at any time of year if that’s what you feel like, in which case, I hope nothing or no one interferes with how you are feeling or not feeling at the time you choose to be feeling or not feeling something.

To all the rest of you willing to risk being offended, I say, “Merry Christmas!”

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

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