Search Results for same-sex marriage
In Catholic Voices (HT: First Thoughts) Sarah Teather, a Liberal Democrat parliamentarian with a record of advocacy for gay rights, explains why she dissented (one of only four Liberal Democrats to do so) when the British parliament voted to establish gay marriage on February 5.
I have previously taken a very public stance in support of gay equality in a whole range of areas, including supporting civil partnerships legislation in 2004 (which I was very proud to do), voting for all stages of equality legislation passed in the last two parliaments, working with schools to address homophobia and lobbying the Home Office for fairer treatment of gay people seeking asylum from countries where they fear persecution. I feel strongly about these issues and have devoted considerable time to campaigning on such matters over the last ten years.
However, changing the definition of marriage for me raises other more complex issues.
I believe that the link between family life and marriage is important….
My concern, however, is that by moving to a definition of marriage that no longer requires sexual difference, we will, over time, ultimately decouple the definition of marriage from family life altogether. I doubt that this change will be immediate. It will be gradual, as perceptions of what marriage is and is for shift. But we can already see the foundations for this shift in the debate about same-sex marriage. Those who argue for a change in the law do so by saying that surely marriage is just about love between two people and so is of nobody else’s business. Once the concept of marriage has become established in social consciousness as an entirely private matter about love and commitment alone, without any link to family, I fear that it will accelerate changes already occurring that makes family life more unstable. (I should add, that I also suspect it will make marriage ultimately seem irrelevant. After all, how long before gay people begin to say, as many straight couples of my own generation have begun to say, “if marriage is just about love, why would I need a piece of paper to prove it?”)
If I felt that the current legal framework left gay couples unprotected, I would be much more inclined to support the proposed legislation. However, the civil partnerships legislation, which I voted for in my first parliament, equalised relationships between same-sex couples before the law, providing the same protections as offered to heterosexual married couples… Virtually no new protections are offered to same-sex couples on the basis of this legislation on marriage, and any that are could easily be dealt with by amending civil partnership legislation….
The more I considered this bill the more I was unsure about the state’s role. If an important reason for marriage is that it is a space for having and raising children, I can see the relevance for the state being involved in regulating it and encouraging stability for the good of society and for children’s welfare. Similarly, if there is a need for protection of rights to property and rights to make decisions, there are good reasons for the state to provide regulation. But neither of these things is what this legislation is trying to do. In this case, the state is regulating love and commitment alone, between consenting adults, without purpose to anything else. That feels curious to me, as I would normally consider that very much a private matter.
Teather gets it. Despite the rhetoric of so many, the gay marriage debate is not about gay rights or equality under the law, all of which can be protected without establishing gay marriage. The marriage debate is about the nature of marriage itself. The implications are huge, not primarily for gays and lesbians, but for children, and for civil society. We will be learning the consequences for a long time.
Greg Forster, like fellow First Thoughts bloggers David Mills and R.R. Reno, is skeptical about David Blankenhorn’s call for a new conversation on marriage, a call that seemingly seeks to unite those unwilling to oppose same-sex marriage yet concerned about the catastrophic decline of marriage in American society. Yet Forster wonders whether conservatives are placing too much emphasis on the struggle against gay marriage, and despite his initial skepticism, encourages us to take this development seriously.
In this post I want to ask: is gay marriage really the best place for the marriage movement to be making its big investments? Isn’t that threat avoidance rather than opportunity seeking? ….
The question is, can we do this kind of thing without repudiating our consciences on gay marriage, as Blankenhorn’s manifesto seems to be asking us to do? If not, I see no hope for a humane outcome to the present crisis – one side or the other will have to be crushed. But that kind of thinking is threat avoidance. What we have to do is focus on seeking the opportunity for another kind of outcome….
Rest assured, Blankenhorn’s caucus is where all the cultural power is. Therefore, the terms of the discussion going forward will depend on who engages with them and how. Let’s seize that opportunity. A new movement to destroy casual divorce that brought together supporters and opponents of gay marriage would reframe the marriage debate in America. Such cross-ideological coalitions are actually very common in politics – consider the immigration debate, which pits libertarians and ethnic collectivists on one side against big business and big labor on the other. This is often the way old battle lines get redrawn. The way the lines are drawn now, we are losing badly. Time to get entrepreneurial.
Concern about the Hollande government’s undemocratic attempt to legalize same-sex marriage is rising in France. The protests against this new attempt to revolutionize marriage feature leadership from sources Americans might find unlikely. Robert Oscar Lopez writes at Public Discourse,
The three most prominent spokespeople are unlikely characters: “Frigide Barjot,” a bleached-blonde comedienne famous for hanging out with male strippers at the Banana Café, and author of “Confessions of a Branchée Catholic”; Xavier Bongibault, a young gay atheist in Paris who fights against the “deep homophobia” of the LGBT movement, believing it disgraces gays to assume that they cannot have political views “except according to their sexual urges”; and Laurence Tcheng, a disaffected leftist who voted for President François Hollande but disdains the way that the same-sex marriage bill is being forced through Parliament.
Reuters likewise reports:
Strongly backed by the Catholic Church hierarchy, Barjot and groups working with her mobilized church-going families and political conservatives as well as some Muslims, evangelicals and even homosexuals opposed to gay marriage to protest….
“The French are tolerant, but they are deeply attached to the family and the defense of children,” said Daniel Liechti, vice-president of the National Council of French Evangelicals, which urged its members to join the march.
Americans like to think that Europeans are far to the left of them on social issues, but the reality is much more complicated. Abortion laws are much more liberal in the United States than in most European countries. And while numerous European countries have established same-sex marriage, they nevertheless tend to bar gay and lesbian couples from adopting children. In the United States, on the other hand, most states (41) maintain that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, but there are generally no prohibitions against gay and lesbian couples, or against singles, for that matter, adopting children.
Many of the French find this problematic.
“I am perfectly happy that homosexual couples have rights and are recognized from a civil point of view,” said protester Vianney Gremmel. “But I have questions regarding adoption.”
Support for gay marriage in France has slipped by about 10 percentage points to under 55 percent since opponents began speaking out, according to surveys, and fewer than half of those polled recently wanted gays to win adoption rights.
Under this pressure, legislators dropped a plan to also allow lesbians access to artificial insemination.
Organisers insist they are not against gays and lesbians but for the rights of children to have a father and mother.
Do the French point the way to a potential compromise? Increasingly most Americans are loath to restrict gays and lesbians from exercising the same rights associated with their relationships that married couples have. Yet the most persuasive public arguments against gay marriage continue to revolve around the interests of children. The evidence is solid (though minimized, due to the politicization of the debate) that children do best when raised by two biological parents – both the father and the mother. Of course, as far as adoption is concerned such an ideal is unattainable. Nevertheless, as much as possible it can be approximated.
The issue here is not a matter of religious morality. Christian teaching, like that of other major religions, is as condemning of heterosexual immorality (i.e., sex outside of marriage, unnecessary divorce) as it is of homosexuality. But the French remind us that this is not really what the political debate should be about. It should be about children and the vital social role of the family.
The fact is, if America is ever to become serious about rebuilding the social fabric of marriage and the family, government and the various institutions of civil society will have to be much more proactive in reestablishing the link between marriage and the procreation and raising of children. Yet there is no reason why this has to require the restriction of the legal or civil rights of gays and lesbians, let alone a focus on matters pertaining to homosexuality. In reality, rebuilding a culture of marriage and fidelity would step on the toes of far more heterosexuals than of gays and lesbians. The question is, are we willing to place the interests of children back at the center of our public discussions of sexuality, marriage, and the family?
Perhaps the heirs of the French Revolution have something to teach us after all.
In the past few days I have put up blog posts on David Blankenhorn’s reversal of position on same-sex marriage, and on Maggie Gallagher’s analysis of Blankenhorn’s change as a case of intellectual capitulation. Blankenhorn argues that while same-sex marriage is not ideal, the fight against it is distracting all of us from the more important struggle to strengthen the institution of marriage and its role in forming children. Gallagher’s response to Blankenhorn was to point out that traditional marriage is something worth defending and that if we have to have a culture war to defend it, so be it.
Now at the First Things blog Greg Forster asks an excellent question, one that should give all those who think we should resign ourselves to a culture war great pause. He simply asks, in a culture war, what would victory look like?
If “winning” means the preferences of our cultural subgroup are enacted as policy, there is no hope for victory in the culture war – for either side. We will not submit because our consciences don’t permit it, neither will they for the same reason, and there is no serious prospect of either side eliminating the other. As long as we aim for a “victory” in terms of dominance for our cultural subgroup, the war will grind on. All we will accomplish is the fragmentation of society, the hollowing out of what used to be a real moral consensus and shared culture across religious divisions, and the ongoing destruction of the relational capital that might provide a basis for “living together.”
Culture warriors do not take this warning seriously enough. Do those who think everyone should have to submit to a particular interpretation of the Bible really want to press this case at the expense of “the fragmentation of society, the hollowing out of what used to be a real moral consensus and shared culture across religious divisions and the ongoing destruction of the related capital that might provide a basis for ‘living together’? If we cannot attain 100% Christianization (i.e., utopia), is this really the result that our Christian culture warriors want?
Forster responds with some thoughtful suggestions:
If we want to rise to them, we have to rethink what counts as victory in the culture war. Victory means a truce we can all live with. We have to find a way to live together that doesn’t require eitherside to sacrifice its conscience.
I am not giving up the fight against gay marriage. I am with Gallagher, not Blankenhorn. Opposite-sex marriage is a permanent reality grounded in human nature, however various its legal expressions have been through the years; same-sex “marriage” is not. And we don’t do anyone any favors by helping them live in a false reality.
In fact, Forster offers some comments that affirm my own conviction that thinking about everything that we do in terms of a culture war does far more harm than good, and that it is disastrous for our own basic values.
But I do think it’s time to stop thinking about winning a war. Distinctly conservative religious subcultures, even if they all banded together (which itself is a difficult undertaking) would probably account for no more than a third of the U.S. population. And even if we had a majority, our beliefs give us no right to rule our neighbors. “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14)
Policy needs to be based on a moral conesnsus that is shared across the religious subgroups of a society; otherwise we cease to be a free people. There is plenty of evidence that Americans beyond the conservative religious ghetto know what makes for a good life, in natural human terms: marriage, work, church and civic involvement. The objective conditions for moral consensus are there. If the social elites would just “preach what they practice,” in Charles Murray’s terms, the culture would right itself.
This outcome would not be seen to be a victory for conservative religious subgroups. Indeed, it would probably be framed in terms that were sometimes unwelcoming to us. The elites would need to reassure themselves that when they preach marriage, work, church and civics, they are not thereby agreeing to be ruled by a bunch of crazies. Yet this outcome would give us what we claim to want - a culture that affirms the basic structures of decent human life. Wouldn’t that be a victory worth having?
In other words, our ultimate goal in cultural and political engagement is not conquest. We will never turn the institutions of this age into the kingdom of God, nor should we try. Our task is to demonstrate love to our neighbors in obedience to Christ in every area of life. In order to do this we have to actually care about results, not just utopian principles. For all the moral causes that we should support – and indeed, we should support many of them no matter how much opposition we receive – we must remember that in the end the most basic requirement of love is that we learn to live together. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
It’s better to have same-sex marriage than to privatize it: preserving marriage as a public commitment
In a controversial op-ed in the New York Times prominent traditional marriage defender David Blankenhorn has given up his opposition to same-sex marriage. I was not planning on commenting on this piece, but a friend urged me to consider it more seriously. I want to make a few comments with reference to those thoughtful conservatives who think government should simply get out of the business of marriage and leave it to private organizations, as well as to those thoughtful liberals who think supporting the basic institution of marriage is more important than defining it traditionally.
Blankenhorn’s op-ed is striking because he begins by reaffirming the basic tenants of his defense of traditional marriage. Few critics of same-sex marriage could make the argument as well as Blankenhorn does.
I opposed gay marriage believing that children have the right, insofar as society makes it possible, to know and to be cared for by the two parents who brought them into this world. I didn’t just dream up this notion: the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which came into force in 1990, guarantees children this right.
Marriage is how society recognizes and protects this right. Marriage is the planet’s only institution whose core purpose is to unite the biological, social and legal components of parenthood into one lasting bond. Marriage says to a child: The man and the woman whose sexual union made you will also be there to love and raise you. In this sense, marriage is a gift that society bestows on its children.
At the level of first principles, gay marriage effaces that gift. No same-sex couple, married or not, can ever under any circumstances combine biological, social and legal parenthood into one bond. For this and other reasons, gay marriage has become a significant contributor to marriage’s continuing deinstitutionalization, by which I mean marriage’s steady transformation in both law and custom from a structured institution with clear public purposes to the state’s licensing of private relationships that are privately defined.
Well put. And Blankenhorn declares that he still believes all of this. So why is he now reversing his position on same-sex marriage? Simply put, it seems that he is disillusioned with the traditional marriage cause because it is not making these sorts of arguments and it is not making its opposition to same-sex marriage part of a serious effort to strengthen marriage generally. Rather, it is relying on anti-homosexual bigotry.
I had hoped that the gay marriage debate would be mostly about marriage’s relationship to parenthood. But it hasn’t been. Or perhaps it’s fairer to say that I and others have made that argument, and that we have largely failed to persuade. In the mind of today’s public, gay marriage is almost entirely about accepting lesbians and gay men as equal citizens. And to my deep regret, much of the opposition to gay marriage seems to stem, at least in part, from an underlying anti-gay animus. To me, a Southerner by birth whose formative moral experience was the civil rights movement, this fact is profoundly disturbing.
I had also hoped that debating gay marriage might help to lead heterosexual America to a broader and more positive recommitment to marriage as an institution. But it hasn’t happened. With each passing year, we see higher and higher levels of unwed childbearing, nonmarital cohabitation and family fragmentation among heterosexuals. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to the reconceptualization of marriage as a private ordering that is so central to the idea of gay marriage. But either way, if fighting gay marriage was going to help marriage over all, I think we’d have seen some signs of it by now.
I have to say, there is something in Blankenhorn’s argument here that resonates with me. What is the point of being opposed to same-sex marriage if more than half of our children are born out of wedlock? Why waste so much money and energy on this issue if those resources could actually be directed to strengthening marriage and recommitting ourselves to ensuring that all children are raised by their two biological parents?
In short, and here I agree with Blankenhorn, it is better to affirm same-sex marriage and save the institution as a public commitment than to oppose same-sex marriage by advocating its privatization. There is simply too much at stake. Too many of our children are having their lives destroyed by selfish adults committed to sex, pleasure, and having their own way rather than to caring for others in the context of justice and accountability. It is a crime against the next generation to allow the institution of marriage to be destroyed (i.e., abandoned by the government, whose responsibility is to ensure a basic modicum of justice for the most vulnerable members of our society) for the sake of purism. Marriage is absolutely fundamental to the survival and development of both individuals and of society generally. It is patently unjust for Christians or liberals to damage the public commitment to the institution of marriage by defending its privatization.
This is really not that radical of an argument. It is analogous to the argument John Calvin repeatedly made when comparing tyranny to anarchy. Better to have a government that preserves basic peace and order while often abusing its power for injustice than to have a society with no government whatsoever, where everyone can steal, murder, rape, and pillage at will. In short, better to live in China than Somalia. Better to preserve a tarnished marriage than to have no marriage at all.
But are these really the only two choices? Are not the more obvious choices defending marriage as the institution that it has always been and abandoning it to chaos? Take a look at how Blankenhorn arrives at his proposal for tolerating same-sex marriage for the good of the institution as a whole. He does not actually make an argument. He simply appeals to the sentiment of toleration and suggests that since the efforts of the last two decades haven’t really worked we should try something new. What? Your only argument is to “try something new” because who knows, it may just work? It’s not as if we have anything to lose. What about the fact that abandoning traditional sexual norms for the past 50 years has virtually destroyed one of the most vital institutions in any society? Haven’t we been trying something new for long enough? Hasn’t the jury already delivered its verdict on that experiment? (For those not paying attention to life around you, it has, and the verdict is that the sexual revolution has a lot more in common with the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution than it does with the American Revolution. It has ultimately been destructive of society, not liberating or empowering.)
Forgive the sarcasm, but should not Blankenhorn at least make some kind of argument to demonstrate that the argument against same-sex marriage, which he has just recapitulated for us, can be met by some newer, better argument? How is it, again, that redefining marriage in terms of a union of sentiment that has nothing to do with sexual reproduction will help us achieve our overall goal of reestablishing the public commitment to raising children within the context of marriage? How is it that honoring sexual unions that cannot bring children into the world with the lofty institution of marriage will ensure that people start to think of sexual reproduction only in the context of marriage? I am sorry, but I fail to see any argument whatsoever in Blankenhorn’s piece. I simply see capitulation to sentiment (and elite pressure) at the expense of reason.
Again, I want to stress that I find Blankenhorn’s position preferable to that of some of my conservative intellectual friends. I care more about marriage and its relevance to children than I do about homosexual relationships. I would rather stand with Blankenhorn than with the libertarians on this issue, not to mention those who are driven by a hateful bigotry. But if it is the cultural elites who are pushing same-sex marriage why doesn’t Blankenhorn recommit himself to the hard work of winning them back to common sense. What is the purpose of an intellectual if not to serve his community by making arguments conducive of the common good? Defending traditional marriage for the sake of our neighbors is the right thing to do even if all kinds of intellectuals want to “try something new.” Basic justice is not something to experiment with. It’s something to defend.
It’s hard to claim that allowing a tiny percentage of gay men and women to marry will destroy an institution that already has little to do with what conservatives say they are trying to preserve.
Nearly half of births are to unwed mothers. Many more children grow up in households wrecked by divorce. Marriage is not in a meaningful sense a legally binding contract.
One of the reasons it’s plausible for so many people to think Christians oppose same-sex marriage because they are bigots is because on the whole Christians have shown themselves to be much more fired up about homosexuality than about problems like divorce, adultery, and what was once known as illegitimacy (problems with which Christians themselves are quite complicit). To be sure, many Christians opposed the liberalization of laws pertaining to divorce and adultery. But many others proved highly susceptible to the feminist claim that such radical liberalization was essential to the liberation of women, unable to distinguish between reforms that were necessary and those that went too far.
If social conservatives – most of whom are Christians – have any hope of recovering the institution of marriage as a meaningful factor in the procreation and raising of children in this country, they are going to have to get back to the basics. Set aside same-sex marriage for the moment. What should traditional marriage look like? The relevant audience that needs to do some hard thinking here is not simply the audience committed to gay marriage, but the audience committed to the rights of men, women, and children to have sex, get married, have sex with people married to other people, and get divorced at will.
How do we recover the binding legal character of marriage so that it will benefit children, men, and women without allowing that institution to be used for the exploitation of women as it so often was in the past? What might laws regarding adultery and divorce look like – laws with teeth – that protected and empowered women as much as they promoted the interests of men? Perhaps most important of all, how do we persuade a skeptical audience – in practice made up especially of those both at the top and the bottom of the socio-economic spectrum – not only that marriage matters, but that it is good? That, not the narrow issue of same-sex marriage, may be the vital social question of our time.
The classic documentary Weapons of the Spirit tells the story of how a group of Huguenot (French Protestant) villages in the mountainous region of southern France saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust during World War II. Living on the legacy of centuries of faithful religious practice in the face of persecution, these devout Protestants had a sense of identity strong enough to defy the antisemitism and collaboration that became ‘common sense’ in their time.
The documentary begins with the following epigraph:
There always comes a time in history when the person who dares to say that two plus two equals four is punished with death. And the issue is not what reward or what punishment will be the outcome of that reasoning. The issue is simply whether or not two plus two equals four.
- Albert Camus, The Plague
Of course, the circumstances are radically different, but I think Camus’s quote captures the bewilderment of many conservatives at the sweeping progress of the movement for same-sex marriage during the past decade. How can it be that one would have to defend the claim that marriage involves the sexual union of a man and a woman? And how in the world would you defend such an intuitive claim in the first place? How do you defend the claim that two plus two always equals four?
On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly apparent that advocates of same-sex marriage feel the same way. How can it be that a nation devoted to liberty and equality would deny marriage to a class of its citizens whose identity is entirely beyond their own control? Surely the only basis for such a denial is bigotry rooted in misguided religious commitments. Does such bigotry really merit thoughtful, rational engagement?
And so we are reduced to shouting slogans, launching political campaigns, and hoping the courts will favor our side. And when a thoughtful person seeks to have a discussion about what marriage is, and why the state should be concerned about it in the first place, as did Ryan Anderson on CNN’s Piers Morgan show on Tuesday, the result is a patronizing and arrogant dismissal, followed by an appeal to the prejudices of the crowd.
Of course, this is nothing new. Despite the ideals of its best theorists, democracy has never revolved around dispassionate and rational deliberation. Most people don’t develop their deepest convictions on the basis of reason or careful reflection, nor are they persuaded by those who do. Democratic debates in American history have always been driven by emotive or symbolic displays of conviction, with politicians seeking to win votes by any combination of pageantry, promises, and even booze.
Yet the disconnect between those on opposite sides rarely runs as deep as is the case in the current debate about same-sex marriage. Perhaps the only times America has been so divided on such a fundamental issue was during the debates over slavery and segregation. Deep-rooted differences about freedom, equality, and the nature of human life and flourishing are obscured by arguments that lay claim to the same moral and rhetorical ground.
The width of the gap first became apparent to me in a seminar at Emory University in which a number of graduate students were discussing Martha Nussbaum’s book Sex and Social Justice. In the book Nussbaum, a prestigious professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago, makes the case for same-sex marriage, arguing that while prohibitions of polygamy, adultery, or fornication punish particular actions, the refusal to allow same-sex couples to marry unfairly discriminates on the basis of identity. She then favorably quotes Williams Eskridge’s The Case for Same-Sex Marriage:
Pedophiles, transvestites, transsexuals, sadists, masochists, sodomites, and hermaphrodites can get marriage licenses in every state – so long as they can persuade the state that they are heterosexual pedophiles, transvestites, transsexuals, sadists, masochists, sodomites, and hermaphrodites…. Gay people constitute virtually the only group in America whose members are not permitted to marry the partner they love (Nussbaum, 201).
When I first read this argument I thought it would be obvious to everyone – certainly to graduate students – that it was blatantly fallacious. The argument complains that sexual deviants can marry as long as they are heterosexual, but that homosexuals cannot marry the person they love. But of course, a pedophile cannot marry the child that he loves. That is sort of the point. The same goes for the other sorts of people identified in the quote. In all of these cases, as well as in the case of homosexuality, the person in view has the full right to marry, though not the right to reinvent marriage according to her or his own predilections (i.e., pedophilia, sadism, homosexuality, etc.). There are no laws prohibiting homosexuals as a class from entering into marriage. Many homosexuals are and have been married throughout American history.
To my surprise, another graduate student declared that Nussbaum’s argument resonated with him. When I objected, pointing out the obviously fallacious nature of the argument, it was me at whom the entire group of graduate students in the seminar looked with astonishment. They couldn’t see the fallacy at all. In fact, as one laughed afterwards, they viewed my declaration, that homosexuals have the same right to marry as does anyone else, as itself fallacious.
Why the disconnect? It’s because both sides presuppose a definition of the nature of marriage, a definition that they then rely on throughout the argument. From my perspective, marriage is defined in terms of a sexual union between a man and a woman, a union integrally related to procreation (which is the only reason the state has an interest in the matter at all). There is nothing legally prohibiting a person from entering such a marriage, even if that person is a pedophile, a sadist, or a homosexual. But from the perspective of my fellow graduate students, marriage is defined in terms of an intimate sexual union between two persons irrespective of gender. It has nothing to do with procreation and everything to do with sentiment. From this perspective it is blatantly fallacious to claim that homosexual persons have full rights of marriage.
And of course, at this point the debate can go back and forth with vehemence and growing bitterness, political power becoming the only means of resolution, without us ever actually discussing the real issue in question. And that is what has happened in America. Advocates of same-sex marriage might complain that traditionalists are wrong to presuppose the normativity of their own definition of marriage. But defenders of traditional marriage rightly note that it is those who seek to change the nature of marriage who ought to be forthright to the American public, communicating their rejection of that which has long been assumed by Americans and by American law. Simply appealing to “marriage equality,” while refusing even to acknowledge the legitimacy of a discussion about the nature and purpose of marriage, is hardly a form of good-faith deliberative discourse.
All this may be water under the bridge. Few of the powerful media and cultural elites in this country have shown much interest at all in actually discussing the revolutionary significance of changing the nature of marriage at its core. This, despite the fact that there is very little controversy about the half-century long decline of marriage in America, or about its catastrophic consequences for children, consequences that reverberate through their adult lives.
So some of us are left trying to find rational arguments to show that two plus two does still equal four. Yet as Camus’s comment suggests, whatever the Supreme Court decides in the next few months, and whatever force may be brought to bear on those who dissent from same-sex marriage, the issue in fact remains the same. Is marriage, in fact, the union of a man and a woman?
In another thoughtful piece at First Thoughts Greg Forster explains why the struggle for marriage is eminently winnable in America. No, he’s not primarily talking about the struggle against same-sex marriage. He’s thinking of the character of traditional marriage itself, an institution fearfully weakened long before anyone thought same-sex marriage was anything more than an inherent contradiction.
Forster writes for the First Things blog but he is Reformed, has written for Presbyterian magazines like Ordained Servant, and has published books like The Joy of Calvinism. In this post, responding to a piece by Dan Kelly, he writes,
Firstly, I agree with Dan that homosexuality is a distraction; the root cause of our problem is liberalized divorce laws. Liberalized divorce establishes fully and indisputably that marriage is a meaningless piece of paper… In my opinion, it is only because liberalized divorce has established that marriage is a meaningless piece of paper that gay marriage makes deep intuitive sense to people, while opposition to gay marriage seems like it could have no cause but irrational hatred.
Forster quotes Kevin Williamson to illustrate his point:
I might be more interested in the politics of [gay] marriage if the legal standing of the institution were not already degraded to the point of triviality. Here is an experiment: Imagine that you have a marriage that you wish to escape and $50,000 of credit-card debt that you do not wish to pay — which claim do you imagine will prove more enduring? Or try unilaterally canceling a contract with an employee, without showing any fault on his part, simply because he no longer suits your taste. Your contract with your cell-phone provider is legally enforceable, and your marriage vows — “forsaking all others until death do us part” and all that — are not.
So why does Forster think the struggle for traditional marriage can be won? Because he recognizes that even the cultural elites of this country are becoming deeply disillusioned with the current state of the family. They recognize how important stable marriages are for the health of civil society and for the nurture of productive citizens. They are increasingly open to new suggestions for how marriage might be bolstered for the good of the country. As Forster puts it,
The forces at the top of the culture are already waking up on these issues. They have recognized that the breakdown of marriage threatens all their most cherished values: equality of opportunity for all and especially for the poor, equality of dignity across social strata (what some call “social equality”), and protection of the interests of women and children. This has been growing for some time and to my view (these things are subjective) it looks ready to reach a tipping point.
I’m confident that Forster is right on this point in part because his comments ring true to my own experiences at Emory University. Two of the professors on my dissertation committee edited this book, only one example of numerous contributions they have made on the subject.
But how do we lead the cultural elites to take the final step towards reaffirming traditional marriage (or something like it)?
It’s to rub their noses in the failure of their preferred solutions. They’ve admitted this is a big problem – indeed, a dire one. But their solutions don’t work. The next step is to offer a solution that manifestly does work and then demand to know: “if not this, what?” There are challenges to doing this effectively – you have to do it in such a way that they don’t feel like they have to sacrifice their position at the top of the culture, their credibility as cultural leaders, by adopting your solutions. We don’t want to displace them from the top of the culture, we want to force them to co-opt our preferred solution and pretend it was their idea all along. That can be done. Numerous social movements have done it on other issues in the past. This is where my concern to “deinstitutionalizing enmity” comes in – we want to defeat liberalized divorce, not conquer our unbelieving neighbors and subjugate them to Christianity.
Forster’s is an eminently pragmatic approach, one that recognizes the distinction between the demands of loving your neighbor in a vocational sense (i.e., in the vocation of political citizenship) and winning them over to the gospel of Jesus. It reflects the wisdom of focusing on concrete, practical issues, rather than reducing every conflict into a war of civilizations or clash of cultures (as some, for instance, insist on doing with any matter pertaining to Islam).
The prominent sociologist Christian Smith has written a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education that is an absolute must-read for anyone who remotely cares about the contemporary debate over same-sex marriage. I could summarize every single paragraph here (because they’re all important) or I could just tell you that you need to read the whole thing. I’ll do the latter. Read the whole thing.
But for those of you who refuse to click on another link, here are the main points.
Smith’s article calls out his colleagues in his own field, pointing out just how much solid academic research in this area is being avoided and even smothered by the overwhelmingly liberal guild of sociologists. Smith writes,
The sociologist Mark Regnerus, at the University of Texas at Austin, is being smeared in the media and subjected to an inquiry by his university over allegations of scientific misconduct.
Regnerus’s offense? His article in the July 2012 issue of Social Science Research reported that adult children of parents who had same-sex romantic relationships, including same-sex couples as parents, have more emotional and social problems than do adult children of heterosexual parents with intact marriages. That’s it. Regnerus published ideologically unpopular research results on the contentious matter of same-sex relationships. And now he is being made to pay.
Regnerus’s study, Smith explains, is solid methodologically, and Regnerus’s own credentials are impeccable.
But never mind that. None of it matters. Advocacy groups and academics who support gay marriage view Regnerus’s findings as threatening…
Regnerus has been attacked by sociologists all around the country, including some from his own department. He has been vilified by journalists who obviously (based on what they write) understand little about social-science research. And the journal in which Regnerus published his article has been the target of a pressure campaign.
So what is going on here?
The Regnerus case needs to be understood in a larger context. Sociologists tend to be political and cultural liberals, leftists, and progressives… Many sociologists view higher education as the perfect gig, a way to be paid to engage in “consciousness raising” through teaching, research, and publishing—at the expense of taxpayers, donors, and tuition-paying parents, many of whom thoughtfully believe that what those sociologists are pushing is wrong….
The temptation to use academe to advance a political agenda is too often indulged in sociology, especially by activist faculty in certain fields, like marriage, family, sex, and gender. The crucial line between broadening education and indoctrinating propaganda can grow very thin, sometimes nonexistent. Research programs that advance narrow agendas compatible with particular ideologies are privileged. Survey textbooks in some fields routinely frame their arguments in a way that validates any form of intimate relationship as a family, when the larger social discussion of what a family is and should be is still continuing and worth having. Reviewers for peer-reviewed journals identify “problems” with papers whose findings do not comport with their own beliefs. Job candidates and faculty up for tenure whose political and social views are not “correct” are sometimes weeded out through a subtle (or obvious), ideologically governed process of evaluation, which is publicly justified on more-legitimate grounds—”scholarly weaknesses” or “not fitting in well” with the department.
What Regnerus is experiencing, in other words, is simply the tip of the iceberg.
[T]he influence of progressive orthodoxy in sociology is evident in decisions made by graduate students, junior faculty, and even senior faculty about what, why, and how to research, publish, and teach. One cannot be too friendly to religion, for example, such as researching the positive social contributions of missionary work overseas or failing to criticize evangelicals and fundamentalists. The result is predictable: Play it politically safe, avoid controversial questions, publish the right conclusions.
The whole field, in other words, is skewed. The quiet pressure on graduate students that never comes to the point of conflict or controversy is just as effective as is the browbeating and the decisions about publishing and tenure.
It’s not just traditional marriage that’s at stake. The whole academic enterprise, the very integrity of the university, and the best interest of the public is in severe jeopardy.
Smith is no minor sociologist, and from my own private conversations I know that he is not the only prominent sociologist who holds the views he here articulates. The academy needs to decide whether its mission is fundamentally one of science or whether it is one of ideology. We will see what happens.