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Dropping the ‘F’ Word in the Supreme Court

As I continue to reflect on the oral arguments that were recently made in the Supreme Court regarding marriage, I noticed that one word—an “F” word—was used more times than almost any other word other than the obvious words “people” and “marriage.” And the way it was used makes me think of another “F” word that may turn out to be more fitting.

In case you’re wondering, the “F” word that was used in Court was not the one that gets bleeped by media censors. But in much the same way as that “F” word seems to get thrown around indiscriminately these days without any reflection on its meaning, the same happened with the word I have in mind.

What Is the ‘F’ Word?

That word is “fundamental.” It was used forty times by either the Justices or the lawyers and in the context that marriage is a fundamental right. The most interesting use of the “fundamental” word was by Justice Sotomayor, whose use was similar to that of Justice Breyer. Here is what she said:

“The right to marriage is, I think, embedded in our constitutional law. It is a fundamental right. … The issue is you can’t narrow it down to say, but is gay marriage fundamental? Has black-and-white marriage been treated fundamentally? The issue was starting from the proposition of, is the right to marry fundamental? And then is it compelling for a State to exclude a group of people?”

But Justice Sotomayor’s starting point is wrong, and as a result she will wrongly conclude that same-sex “marriage” is the equivalent of marriage as it’s been understood for “millennia.”

The Wrong Starting Point

The “starting proposition” isn’t that marriage is a fundamental right. She assumes that it’s fundamental. However, neither she nor Justice Breyer ever articulated any basis for why marriage has been treated as a fundamental right in the past.

As I tell those who attend our Stand for Truth Seminar, “Make those who throw around key words explain what they mean by them and defend them.” And, sadly, no one ever made Justice Breyer or Sotomayor do so.

The point is this: You can’t decide if something is “fundamental” until you know what it is. And then you have to decide what it is that makes that thing fundamental. Only then can you determine if some other thing—in this case same-sex relationships—shares in or partakes of that which made the original thing fundamental.

In this case, the “thing” is “marriage,” and until recently it was always made up of a man and a woman. So what about that relationship might have made us think it is fundamental?

What Makes Marriage ‘Fundamental?’

If we’re going to exclude the possibility of a theological answer, then Webster’s Dictionary provides a little logical help to us here. The first and primary definition of the word “fundamental” is this:

a: serving as an original or generating source : primary
b: serving as a basis supporting existence or determining essential structure or function

Let’s not ignore the obvious here, as many of our Justices apparently want to do. What might the relationship between a man and a woman have been “original” in relationship to or what might the relationship between a man and a woman have been a “generating source” of?

How about children? How about the future generation? How about the ongoing existence of the community or state?

Of course, that is what made previous societies and states think marriage was “fundamental.” There was no future society or state without that relationship! In that sense, it was “serving as a basis supporting existence,” as Webster put it.

Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Cannot be Fundamental

And how does a relationship between two people of the same sex provide “origin” to or become a “generating source” for children and future generations and thereby “support the existence” going forward of community, society, and the state? It doesn’t and can’t except for the intervention of science.

But that intervention itself proves that same-sex “marriage” is not the same kind of thing;
same-sex “marriage” does not share at all in that which is “fundamental” to marriage or, more importantly, that which made marriage “fundamental.” If Justice Kennedy will stop to think about it, that may explain why for “millennia,” as he noted, no one ever thought same-sex “marriage” was fundamental.

So, we can define marriage any way we want, but if we do, it will cease to be something fundamental to anything and will take on the character of another “F” word—fungible. Any relationship among any number and type of people will have to be deemed a marriage if Justice Sotomayor’s thinking prevails.


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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Are Today’s Politicians up to the Task?

This week the Navy announced that it was designing a new kind of ship to replace the existing class of amphibious vessels that are nearing the end of their useful life. As I read the article, I couldn’t help but wonder if our “existing class” of political leaders” isn’t “nearing the end of their useful life” as well.

What prompted this thought was a military official’s statement that the amphibious vessels we use today won’t meet the coming need “due to the concept of operations we are under today.” In other words, what worked before isn’t going to continue to work now, because the nature of warfare and the landscape of the battlefield have changed.

And the same is true of our political landscape. It’s changed from what it was in 1776 and even as recently as the 1950s. Those who don’t understand that will wonder what happened when they get run over. But the change is not just a result of technology and political methodologies, which is what most political parties, politicians, and political organizations think. It’s more than that. The whole nature of the political “conflict” has changed.

In the past, American politics operated more or less on the basis of a shared set of fundamental beliefs. The political conflict or divide rested in how to apply those beliefs to a particular problem. Today conflict over application still exists, but the nature of the conflict or divide is different because the conflict manifests at the level of a core fundamental belief.

By “fundamental” I’m not referring to something as superficial as a belief in whether a strong economy is a “good” thing. And by what “divides” I’m not referring to a belief that more government or less government regulation or taxation is what will bring about a strong economy. I’m taking about something even more fundamental than that.

The dividing line today—the new “battleground,” if you will—is our view of the universe itself, namely, is there a God who intervenes in time and space to hold men and the governments accountable for righteousness and justice according to immutable standards of the same? That is the dividing line.

There are some politicians today who would give lip service to that belief, but many of them betray themselves by the way in which they govern. For example, many of those politicians, Democrat and Republican, believe that the “right” tax and regulatory policies by civil government will produce a strong economy, even if on the cultural front we flaunt God’s design for marriage rooted in His very nature, kill our children in the womb, and worship the creation rather than the Creator.

Too many of today’s politicians either embrace these cultural views or run away from talking about them like they were running away from a devil who has set their hair on fire.

For those who believe that this “kind” of politician is fundamentally wrong and not up to the task that lies ahead, we have to ask ourselves: are we going to do what we have to do to train up a new kind of politician, one who is prepared to challenge the prevailing God-is-dead-or-irrelevant view of the universe and who will talk about the issues the current crop won’t talk about?

If we’re not ready to do that, then like warships no longer fit for battle, our ship of state may be sunk.


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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