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James L. Evans

Debating the protection of marriage continues

I am not usually given to making predictions about future events, but I feel fairly safe with this one: There will never be an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining what marriage is supposed to look like. I am referring to the so-called Marriage Protection Act, which is being debated (again) before Congress. Let me explain why I am so sure it will not become an actual amendment.

First of all, it should not happen. The Constitution of the United States should never be used to establish a religious doctrine. And that's what marriage is — a sacred union between two people who make promises to each other in the presence of God.

The language comes right out of Genesis: "Therefore a man leaves father and mother and clings to his wife and the two become one flesh."

Loftier or more beautiful words describing a vision of what marriage can be have never been penned. But they belong in the Bible and in the liturgy of the church, not in the U.S. Constitution.

Are there civil matters of property and child care in which the state has some valid interest? Yes, of course. But matters of faith and promise that take place between people and their church, and people and their God have no place in the Constitution.

Second, the politicians who are promoting the so-called Marriage Protection Act know that it will never happen. It may happen in some state constitutions, but there is no way 35 states are going to agree to such an abuse of the U.S. Constitution.

The question concerned individuals should be asking at this point is this: If promoters of the Marriage Protection Act know it won't pass, why are they promoting it (again)?

The answer to that is simple — it energizes the conservative evangelical base. This year's mid-term elections are going to be hotly contested. Voter turnout, and especially conservative voter turnout, is vital.

In the 2004 election, white evangelicals comprised 23 percent of the total vote. Of that bloc, 18 percent voted for President Bush. That sounds like a big number until we remember that only 2 percentage points separated President Bush and John Kerry. It would not take too many defections for the balance to shift the other way.

Trotting out the gay marriage issue yet again is an effort to keep the evangelical vote motivated. And let's be honest, for the last decade no other issue, short of abortion, has energized evangelical political activity like gay marriage.

And of course, it is presented as "saving marriage," which is curious when we think about it. The National Association of Evangelicals issued a statement recently citing divorce as the greatest threat to marriage in America. One leader called the divorce rate "a national emergency."

So if that's true, why not adopt a Marriage Protection Act that mandates that married people have to stay together until death do they part?

The reason is obvious — regulating divorce does not get evangelicals motivated. In fact, according to a number of studies, a good number of evangelicals are divorced themselves.

No, the Marriage Protection Act is not about protecting marriage; it's about getting out the vote. Never mind that it demonizes a segment of our population in a legislative effort no one believes will really happen. It works, and that's what matters, apparently.

James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church. He can be reached at faithmatters@mindspring.com.

James L. Evans James L. Evans

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