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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Why aren't Texas Christians voting on Tuesday to ban divorce and re-marriage?

This Tuesday, Texas will be the latest state to hold (and almost certainly approve) a referendum to incorporate into its State Constitution a ban on same-sex marriages. When Texas Governor Rick Perry signed the bill to create the referendum, he did so at a Christian evangelical school alongside what he called his pro-family "Christian friends." When asked last week why he supports the ban, he replied, simply enough: "I am a Christian and this is about values."

But if Christian values, along with a desire to promote a pro-family agenda, are the motivations behind the gay marriage ban, one would expect that these same advocates would be advocating a ban on divorce and re-marriage as well, institutions at least as un-Christian as same-sex marriages. And yet, while 15 states have now approved referendums enacting gay marriage bans into their state constitutions, none of them has voted to ban divorce and re-marriages, or even to make them more restrictive.

Texas has one of the most permissive divorce laws in the nation. "Second and third marriages" -- concepts as foreign to Christianity as are same-sex marriages -- are not just common, but also accepted, both socially and under the law.

How can Christians possibly allow – and, worse, enthusiastically participate in – the continuation of permissive divorce laws which plainly violate Christian beliefs?

After all, there is little doubt that Christianity prohibits divorce every bit as much as it does same-sex marriages. As one Methodist minister and Associate Professor of Old Testament put it:

Jesus himself explicitly prohibits divorce and remarriage in the New Testament (in Matthew 5:31-32, 19:3-9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18). For Jesus, remarrying a divorced person constitutes adultery, a serious sin which the entire Bible has much to say about.
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D. of Andrews University, explains that while some liberal Christians claim that there is a narrow exception in the Gospels allowing divorce on the grounds of adultery, there is no question that:

The teaching of Jesus is fundamental to the study of the Biblical view of divorce and remarriage because Jesus clarifies the reason for the Old Testament concession (Deut 24:1) and reaffirms God’s creational design for marriage to be a permanent, indissoluble covenant. . . . .

God’s original plan consists of a man and a woman being united in a marriage bond so strong that the two actually become one flesh (Gen 2:26; Matt 19:6; Mark 10:8). The "one flesh" unity of the couple is reflected especially in their offspring who partake of the genetic characteristics of father and mother, and the two are absolutely inseparable. Jesus affirms that it is God Himself who actually joins together a couple in marriage and what God has joined together no human being has the right to separate.

The permanence of the marital union is every bit as fundamental to the Christian concept of marriage as is the requirement of having a man and a woman. Christians are required, of course, to vow to God to remain with their spouse "‘till death do us part" and "for as long as we both shall live." Christian ministers routinely proclaim: "That which God has brought together, let no one put asunder."

And yet, the divorce laws of Texas could not possibly be further away from Christian teaching. Obtaining a divorce in Rick Perry’s Texas is shockingly easy. Texas law allows "No Fault Divorces" -- about the most un-Christian law possible. Under that law, to obtain a divorce, one need merely be able to demonstrate one of two very permissive grounds:

No-Fault Divorce Grounds: (1) the marriage has become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities that has destroyed the legitimate ends of the marriage relationship and prevents any reasonable expectation of reconciliation; or this no-fault ground (2) living separate and apart without cohabitation for 3 years.

That’s all there is to it. If you are a Texas citizen who wants to violate the marital vows you made before God by tearing apart your marital union -- a union which, according to Christian doctrine, God has mandated be permanent and indissoluble -- all you have to do is claim that you have irreconcilable differences with your spouse, or live apart for three years, and the divorce is yours.

And Texans, like citizens in every state which has banned gay marriages, are taking advantage of these anti-Christian divorce laws with great enthusiasm. While the lowest divorce rate in the country belongs to the first state to legalize gay marriages (Massachusetts, at 2.4 per 1,000 population), Texas is in the top half of divorcing states with a rate of 4.1. The highest divorce rates are in the Bible Belt.

Put another way, the states which insist on banning same-sex marriages because Christianity prohibits such marriages simultaneously enjoy laws which allow its citizens to divorce and re-marry whenever the mood strikes, even though such divorces and re-marriages are plainly prohibited by Christian teaching. Indeed, by allowing re-marriages, these states affirmatively recognize and legally sanction relationships which Christianity considers to be sinful and adulterous.

Worse, permissive divorce is not only undeniably anti-Christian, but, as a study released just this week reveals, it is a phenomenon which shatters the lives of our nation’s children.

And yet, not only do most pro-family activists focus on gay marriages to the almost complete exclusion of talking about the epidemic of divorce, many of them are themselves divorced and re-married, having taken advantage of the very permissive, anti-Christian marriage laws which they claim to oppose.

The congregations frequented by Gov. Perry are filled with divorced and re-married church goers, as are the mailing lists of the pro-family groups which are most vocal in their opposition to same-sex marriage. When Gov. Perry condemns same-sex marriage on the grounds that it violates Christianity, he is condemning very few of his constituents and political allies, since, presumably, virtually none of them want to enter such a marriage.

But if Gov. Perry were to condemn the equally un-Christian institutions divorce and re-marriage on the same religious ground, and if here were to advocate a Constitutional amendment banning divorce and re-marriage, scores of his constituents and allies would be personally implicated, since so many of them have either already divorced and re-married, or want to keep the right to do so, even though doing so is plainly prohibited by Christianity.

Is it really a mystery why Rick Perry proudly opposes same-sex marriages on the ground that he is a Christian, but says absolutely nothing about the profoundly anti-Christian divorce laws in his State? And how can Christians justify the continuation of such plainly anti-Christian divorce laws even in those states where pro-family politicians control almost every aspect of government.

Shouldn’t Texas also be voting on Tuesday for a referendum to ban divorce and re-marriage, and shouldn't Gov. Perry be supporting such a referendum on the ground that he cited for his support of the gay marriage ban: "I am a Christian and this is about values."

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