It is not as if the ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court permitting the "marriage" of same sex couples came as a surprise. If Massachusetts doesn't care about the sexual practices of some of its politicians, why should it care about what some of its lesser citizens do?

The 4-3 ruling, which orders the state legislature to write a law permitting arrangements similar to what the Vermont Supreme Court approved in 1999 when it allowed "civil unions" the same benefits as marriage, is further evidence that G.K. Chesterton's warning has come true: "The danger when men stop believing in God is not that they'll believe in nothing, but that they'll believe in anything."

Marriage was not invented by the postal service as a convenient way to deliver the mail. It was established by God as the best arrangement for fallen humanity to organize and protect itself and create and rear children. Even secular sociologists have produced studies showing children need a mother and a father in the home.

The first mention of marriage is in Genesis 2:24: ".a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling, which will be used by gay rights groups to lobby for striking down all laws limiting marriage to heterosexuals, is just the latest example of a society that has abandoned any and all authority outside of itself.

History, logic, theology and even the dictionary have defined marriage as: "the mutual relation of husband and wife; wedlock; the institution whereby men and women are joined in a special kind of social and legal dependence for the purpose of founding and maintaining a family" (Merriam-Webster); or "a legally accepted relationship between a woman and a man in which they live as husband and wife" (Cambridge).

These classic examples are being updated to reflect the mood of the times. The online Encarta dictionary defines marriage as a "legal relationship between spouses; a legally recognized relationship, established by a civil or religious ceremony, between two people who intend to live together as sexual and domestic partners." That's a big difference.

What is happening in our culture is an unraveling of all we once considered normal. Anyone who now appeals to virtue, values, ethics or (heaven forbid!) religious faith is labeled an enemy of progress, an intolerant bigot, a homophobe and a "Neanderthal." There is no debate and no discussion. By definition, anyone who opposes "progress" in casting off the chains of religious restrictions on human behavior - which were once considered necessary for the promotion of the general welfare - is a fundamentalist fool, part of a past that brought us witch trials, slavery and back-alley abortions.

But the problem is deeper than the courts. Some of the people who most loudly proclaim the standards by which they want all of us to live have difficulty themselves living up to those standards. A culture is made up of people, but if large numbers of them no longer "hunger and thirst after righteousness" (to invoke a biblical metaphor), neither will their government.

The constitutional way out of this in Massachusetts and in Washington is an amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Whether sufficient numbers of politicians have the courage to vote for such an amendment in the face of stiff opposition from gay rights advocates and much of the media will soon be determined.

What is most disturbing about this latest affront to tradition and biblical wisdom is that those who would undermine the old have nothing new to offer in its place. It is like morally corrupt ancient Israel when there was no king "and everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25).

Is that the way we should live? Do we get to vote? Not if the courts play God. Voters can decide in the next election if they want to continue in this direction, or pull the country back from the precipice. Marriage defined should be the social-issue centerpiece of the coming campaign.

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