The Law of Unintended Consequences
Fritz Haber was born in 1868 to an affluent Jewish family in Breslau, Prussia. His father owned a pharmaceutical and paint business. However, Fritz wasn’t interested in the family business. He studied chemistry in college and received a doctorate from Friedrich Wilhelm University in 1891. While teaching at the University of Leipzig, he teamed up with Carl Bosch and invented the Haber-Bosch process of making ammonia. It’s considered a breakthrough in industrial chemistry because it’s the process used to manufacture the synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, which helps produce half of the world’s food supply. For his work, Fritz Haber was awarded the 1918 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Occasionally, something that at first seems wonderful, a significant breakthrough or accomplishment, can turn out to be something that has disastrous side-affects. It’s called the law of unintended consequences.
On June 26, 2015, Justice Anthony Kennedy issued the majority opinion granting same-sex couples the right to marry. Obviously, the decision was heralded by the LBGT community as a major victory. Their response to the last paragraph of his ruling is particularly noteworthy; many calling it beautiful, eloquent, and even poetic. The problem, however, is that Anthony Kennedy is not a poet. He’s a Supreme Court Justice.
As a judge, Kennedy should have limited his ruling to the legal aspects of marriage. He could have established the legal definition of marriage as a civil contract between two individuals, a lawful union which is recognized by the State and entitles the spouses to certain protections under-the-law regarding: taxation; inheritance and property rights, as well as other spousal privileges. He then could have argued that the right to enter into a civil contract is protected by the Constitution, and cannot be infringed upon by the State. He could have, but he didn’t.
Justice Kennedy’s opinion goes well beyond a legal definition of marriage. His 28 page brief delves into the philosophical, theological, social, emotional, and spiritual aspects of marriage. It’s an all-encompassing definition that will be litigated in courts for decades. He has sown the seeds for what is certain to be an all-out assault on the First Amendment, and potentially given the State unlimited authority to insert itself into the private lives of its citizens.
Kennedy defines marriage as a keystone of social order, an institution that safeguards children and families. What happens if a marriage fails to live up to that definition? If a dysfunctional marriage creates an unhealthy environment for children, does the state have the right, or even obligation to nullify it? He continued, defining marriage as an enduring bond, which promotes the freedoms of; expression, intimacy, spirituality, and is critical to the right of self-identification. It’s a wonderful sentiment, but the State does not have the authority to establish the reasons for why people get married, or to question their motives? Are we going to have the State administer a compatibility-test to ensure that people enter into marriage with only the most noble and unselfish intentions?
A marriage, like any relationship, is unique to the individuals who enter into it. It’s up to the individuals themselves to determine the emotional, philosophical or spiritual significance of their union. It is not within the purview of the Court to define that for anybody. Kennedy overstepped his authority, and although briefly touched upon the First Amendment, failed to adequately differentiate between a legal marriage, and the sacrament of marriage.
The sacramental rite of marriage, how it is defined and who is eligible to receive it, is something that belongs exclusively to the Church. Each faith must define the sacrament within the context of its own theology. Catholic theology states that a marriage is a union between a man, a woman and God. It is a sacred and holy union because it is the union through which God brings forth new life into creation. The Church instituted the sacrament of marriage in order to recognize God’s presence in the union, and his role in the creation of life. The sacrament is not exclusionary and does not discriminate against anyone. It simply acknowledges what the Catholic Church believes to be the fundamental truth of creation.
Because Justice Kennedy’s opinion strayed from the legal definition of marriage and ventured into a spiritual definition, he has paved the way for a showdown between Church and State. There are groups within this country that despise organized religion and want to eradicate it from our culture. It is inevitable; law-suits will be filed to force churches to perform same-sex marriages. Today, military chaplains are being coerced into performing same-sex marriages that are contrary to the teachings of their faith.
Justice Kennedy has fractured the separation between Church and State that has protected the rights of believers and non-believers for more than two centuries. The State does not recognize an annulment as legally binding, and the Catholic Church does not recognize a divorce as spiritually binding. However, the Church is obligated to, and does recognize the legality of divorce, and complies with the dictates of civil law. Justice Kennedy’s opinion blurs this separation and threatens the protections guaranteed to us by the First Amendment.
It’s possible to do the right thing for the wrong reason, and for the Court to render the right decision with the wrong opinion. Now, it’s up to history to decide how Justice Kennedy’s opinion will be viewed.
Fritz Haber won the 1918 Nobel Prize but actually didn’t receive the award until 1919. Europe was at war, and he was unable to travel to Stockholm to accept the award. In addition to the title of “Nobel Laureate,” Fritz Haber also enjoys the title of “Father of Chemical Warfare.” He developed the chlorine gas weapons used by the German army in World War I, and personally supervised their deployment on the battlefield. The Nazis built upon Haber’s work to develop the Zyklon-B gas that killed 1.5 million of his fellow Jews in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Dachau, and Buchenwald.