A Damnable Administration of Tennessee Law Repudiates the Christmas Story

Dec 15, 2021 by David Fowler

In 2015, then Governor Haslam began to administer a law in Tennessee without constitutional authority, contrary its plain language. He began a practice in our state that necessarily repudiates the whole foundation for the Christmas story. What Haslam began Governor Lee has continued. Here is the problem, why it is so great, and how it can be fixed.
The administration of law is damnable, because it repudiates the foundational predicate for the Christmas story—the glory of God revealed in the Incarnation. That administration arises out of our governor’s actions in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). In that case, the Court said elected officials in Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky could not administer or enforce the marriage licensing laws in their states because licenses could only be issued to a male and female.
Governor Haslam assumed that no different and better argument could be made in defense of Tennessee’s rather unique marriage licensing statutes. I can understand that decision. 

The Gubernatorial Decision I Can’t Understand

What I cannot understand is how a member of the executive branch could effectively ignore and self-interpret the following bold font words, still in the statute, as if there were no longer there: 
No county clerk or deputy clerk shall issue a marriage license until the applicants make an application in writing, stating the names, ages, addresses and social security numbers of both the proposed male and female contracting parties. . . . 
Governor Haslam and Governor Lee could have concluded that the statute, as enacted, was not enforceable because of Obergefell. Consequently, they could have stopped issuing any certificates until the law was changed. 
But here is the constitutional point: Only the legislature can change the wording in a statute. Not even the U.S. Supreme Court can effectively amend a state statute; such is not even within the nature of the judicial power. Moreover, for a federal court to change a state statute would violate the principles of federalism—a federal branch mandating statutory law to a state without state legislative action!
Governors, as members of the executive branch, have no authority to decide they can now treat the above-quoted statute as if it had been amended.  
But that is exactly what Governor Haslam did. As a result of this constitutional malfeasance and violation of the separation of powers, Governor Haslam changed the state’s Certificate of Marriage, the content of which is dependent on the statute, from one that made it clear that marriage was defined exclusively and exhaustively as between a man and woman to one the eliminates this exclusively.[i]
When several ministers filed a Petition for Declaratory Order with Governor Lee to clarify what the law is and what definition of marriage they were agreeing to by signing the Certificate, he declined. He decided to continue issuing the new, dis-gendered Certificate created by Governor Haslam. 

How This Repudiates the Christmas Story

As I noted two weeks ago, the predicate for the Christmas story is the glory of God. We had turned away from the glory of God to find our glory in other things (Romans 1:22-23). Therefore, Christmas is first and foremost the revelation of the “glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Not incidentally, filling the earth with the knowledge of the glory of God is God’s fundamental purpose for creation (see Numbers 14:21, Habakkuk 2:13-14) and makes all other pursuits by us mere vanity.
Moreover, throughout Scripture, it is manifest that the first revelation of the glory of God is creation. (Isaiah 6:3, Psalm 97:6, Romans 1:20-21).  In fact, the glory of God is revealed in human beings themselves (Romans 1:19). Of course, that conclusion is obvious and necessary if we believe that human beings were created in the image of God and intentionally created as male and female. 
Therefore, to blur the image of God revealed in male and female, to treat them as interchangeable, androgynous beings is to blur the clearest witness God has provided of Himself.  It is to obscure a fundamental aspect of the Gospel.[ii]

What I Have Not Understood

Considering the foregoing, what I have not understood is why, over the last six years, Christians, in general, don’t seem to care how our marriage laws are interpreted or administered. 
What I have not understood is why Christian men would actively participate in blurring that witness when they had no constitutional authority, let alone any constitutional mandate, to change the state’s Certificate of Marriage. 

What I Have Come to Understand

I think the lack of understanding rests on the fact that Christians, in general, and presumably our Governors, have not been challenged to think deeply about the breadth, width, height, and depth of the glory of God and the fact that God’s glory is resident in all that He made.
However, I don’t fault our governors or the persons in the pews for that. I was in evangelical churches for almost 60 years before I was even challenged by anything I heard that would have prompted me to consider a link between the Incarnation and civil law. If my experience describes your experience, then listen to the exploration of this link with Dr. George Grant, my guest on today’s episode of the God, Law, & Liberty podcast

Can the Situation Be Fixed? 

Yes, but only if these two things begin to change.
First, I think we need more preachers and bible teachers to connect the story of salvation in Christ that begins in Genesis 3:15 with the creation and the glory of God in creation, Genesis 1 and 2.[iii] To start the Bible in Chapter 3 is like starting any other book in the third chapter—it won’t make sense.
Second, I think more Christians will have to take more seriously their biblical charge:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, emphasis supplied).
That charge is why I have been harping on the subject of marriage and Tennessee’s marriage licensing statutes. It is why have I sent my recent commentaries to Governor Lee and several state legislators and begun to pray for them regarding this matter.
Will you join me in this effort?  If so, would you spend a little time to educate yourself on the Marital Contract Recording Act and then:
  • Begin to pray for our governor and legislators that they will support the Marital Contract Recording Act.
  • Share the document at this link with your minister and the document at this link with your state Representative and Senator.
Perhaps reflecting on these matters and the glory of God evident in what He has made will brighten your Christmas Day.
[i] What remains of marriage, once the biological exclusivity of male and female is eliminated, can no longer be a marriage as a Christian understands that relationship any more than a triangle can still be a triangle if it can have more than three sides. A geometric shape that can be a combination of three or more sides is a new thing, not a triangle.

[ii] Salvation entails not just human beings, but the restoration of all created things, but this salvation and restoration is an advance from Eden to a state in which the glory of all things can no longer be lost or diminished (see Romans 8:19-23, 1 Corinthians 15: 42-50; 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Peter 4, 23, 1 John 3:2).

[iii] For those interested, this separation quite easily leads to dualistic worldview, which quite easily leads to Gnosticism, a false spiritism, rampant in parts of evangelicalism.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. 

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