Same-sex marriage is coming to N.D.
In astonishment, the folks at Belshazzar’s party exclaimed: “Look! There’s handwriting on the wall.”
North Dakota may not be a Babylonian party, but the handwriting is certainly on the wall. For the 73 percent who voted in 2004 for the constitutional amendment that established one man and one woman as a legal marriage, the handwriting is bad news. It says that the traditional marriage provision of the state constitution is going to be declared invalid.
To force this decision, a lawsuit has been filed by seven same-sex partners who are challenging the provision.
To predict the outcome, we need to only look at the judicial record. In the last 12 decisions, the courts have ruled that state prohibitions of same-sex marriage are a violation of individual rights guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.
When it comes to constitutional rights, public opinion is not a consideration, so the fact that 73 percent voted in favor of the amendment has no relevance in the lawsuit. However, it will be touted as a defense.
Speaking of public opinion, a recent Washington Post-ABC poll found a new high of 59 percent approve of gay marriage.
It is very likely that a North Dakota poll would produce different results, but opposition to same-sex marriages would probably be less than the 73 percent recorded 10 years ago. Public opinion has been shifting all over the country and has likely shifted in North Dakota.
As the debate over same-sex marriage heats up in North Dakota, the dialogue will include many theological arguments because this is an issue where secular policymaking intersects with biblical interpretation and instruction.
These arguments will be dismissed the same as public opinion. The courts have not accepted arguments based on Scripture because it is not an obligation of secular states to defend biblical interpretations.
In some cases, constitutional rights can be modified by an overwhelming public interest. As a matter of fact, the lawsuit against North Dakota asks to see a “legitimate governmental interest” for preserving traditional marriage.
Therefore, to affect the issue it would be necessary to prove the state has a compelling public interest in preserving traditional marriage and that society would be harmed by same-sex marriage.
Thus far, none of the traditional marriage defenders have proven to the courts that protection of traditional marriage and prohibition of same-sex marriage justify overriding the constitutional rights of same-sex partners.
Many Christians have both secular and biblical reasons for supporting traditional marriage. The courts probably think that the secular reasons are really biblical reasons in disguise. That is probably very true in many cases.
With a majority of North Dakotans opposing same-sex marriage, there will be widespread anguish when the court renders its decision. So how should Christians who see the issue as biblical respond to the inevitable?
For one thing, it would be appropriate for Christians to behave as Christians. Instead of displaying wrath, it should be a time for reviewing Christian priorities.
In some ways, public issues involving Christian values detract from the primary goals of the church. Since New Testament Christianity is personal, one goal is promoting a Christian lifestyle, not by compulsion of secular legalism but with an obedient heart. If that obedience isn’t there, perhaps the Christian commitment isn’t there, either.
From the Christian point of view, the crusade for changing hearts — called the Great Commission in some circles — should be more important than changing secular legislation.
(Lloyd Omdahl, of Grand Forks, is a former lieutenant governor, state tax commissioner and state budget director)