Three years ago, a bare majority on the Supreme Court decreed a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Like many others, I was on the losing side of that decision. I am not persuaded that it was the wrong side.
Opposition to same-sex marriage is now a minority position, and our cultural elites treat it as beyond the bounds of reasonable discourse. The losers are expected to convert or to shut up, and many have. Younger conservatives may wonder why we fought over this at all. But nothing over the last few years has changed my mind. Indeed, I have become more certain that same-sex marriage is a legal and cultural mistake.
As a matter of constitutional law, the Obergefell decision was indefensible. Justice Anthony Kennedy led the majority in playing philosopher-kings, rather than being judges. They believed that same-sex marriage should be legally recognized, and so they invented a constitutional requirement for it. The cultural and media elites who celebrated the ruling ignored that it was a fundamentally autocratic, anti-democratic decision. But sacrificing the rule of law to the zeitgeist has repercussions beyond the individual case. Those who abandon the rule of law to advance their agenda should not be surprised when others do the same.
The implementation of same-sex marriage has also been marked by bullying and intolerance — from its advocates. They once insisted that same-sex marriage was a live and let live proposition. They are now trying to ruin the careers and businesses of anyone who still objects to it — especially anyone who declines to participate in promoting and celebrating same-sex weddings.
And, immediately following the triumph of the campaign for same-sex marriage, the LGBT movement began to aggressively promote a transgender agenda that encourages alienation and disassociation from the realities of our embodiment. From this, too, dissent will not be tolerated. The LGBT lobby is even outraged by mild cautions from sympathetic observers who have realized that blindly affirming all claims to transgender identity puts some children at risk.
It would have been better if advocates for same-sex marriage had been faithful to the Constitution, committed to the rule of law, tolerant of disagreement and accepting of the realities of human embodiment. It would have been better, but they would still be wrong. Regardless of the good or bad behavior of the LGBT movement, same-marriage is wrong in itself because it fundamentally misunderstands the reality of what marriage is.
The proponents of same-sex marriage are not alone in this. Our entire culture has a crisis of sex, relationships, family and fertility. Same-sex marriage is not responsible for this. Those who identify as LGBT are not responsible for it (much). The guilty parties are mostly ordinary heterosexual men and women who degraded and destroyed their marriages by giving in to selfishness and self-indulgence. Long before same-sex marriage was a mainstream cause, the decline of marriage in America provided plenty of ammunition with which to assail arguments for preserving the “sanctity of marriage.”
And the critics were right. Many Americans, Christians included, had disassociated procreation from marriage, embraced easy divorce, and emphasized romantic self-fulfillment above all else. The effects have harmed, and even devastated, millions. And this has been done by heterosexual men and women, many of who nonetheless self-righteously opposed same-sex marriage.
But though same-sex marriage is not responsible for the crisis of marriage and family, it will make it harder to reverse. Just as cultural shifts in the understanding of marriage made same-sex marriage thinkable, so same-sex marriage will make unthinkable the deeper understandings of marriage that are rooted in the natural complementarity and fecundity of men and women. Marriage is a union of the two halves of the human race, directed to the propagation of the human species and to lifelong companionship and support.
The highest expressions of this traditional view of marriage unite love, companionship, partnership, procreation and family. Religions draw on this central human relationship to represent the relationship between man and the divine. The Jewish scriptures repeatedly analogize the relationship between God and His people to a marriage. For Christians, marriage presents an image of the union of Christ and the Church.
Such views are now denounced as bigotry. We are told not to think in heteronormative terms, but marriage is heteronormative by nature. The place of marriage in human culture and civilization only makes sense in heteronormative terms. It is the formation of a new family, not just the recognition of a couple’s romantic love. Treating marriage as mere legal recognition of a current romantic partnership (that can be voluntarily dissolved at any time, for any reason) is as much a decline from the full meaning of marriage as treating it as a mere economic or political arrangement. Marriage incorporates many aspects of human flourishing, and excising some of them (such as procreation and the complementarity of the sexes) is harmful to it.
Consequently, accepting same-sex marriage precludes thinking clearly about what marriage is. If same-sex marriage is legitimized, then marriage is necessarily disassociated from the union of the two halves of the human race and the propagation of the species. This view asserts that men and women are interchangeable, rather than complementary, and it separates marriage from children and the natural family as a matter of definition, rather than of accident.
The fullness of marriage is only realizable between a man and a woman in a union that is naturally open to children. That some heterosexual couples, whether from age or from misfortune, are unable to have children does not alter this. Infertility is a deprivation that should be mourned as a diminishment of a marriage’s full potential. But the intrinsic sterility of same-sex relationships makes what is otherwise an unfortunate accident (or sometimes a deliberate diminishment) into an essential characteristic of a marriage. And same-sex relationships also exclude the union of the two halves of the human race that marriage provides. Legal recognition of same-sex marriage codifies the falsehood that men and women are essentially interchangeable.
It has become culturally forbidden to believe that men and women are essentially different — with limited exceptions. We are told to simultaneously believe that men and women are not essentially different, and that it is imperative to accommodate claims of sexual orientation and gender identity — which presume that men and women are not interchangeable.
For those advancing these seemingly contradictory claims, the differences are merely of sexual orientation (what sort of body turns you on?) or of a “gender identity” that is separate from, and may supersede, one’s embodiment as male or female. Thus, although the case for same-sex marriage rested upon the difference between men and women, this difference was treated not as intrinsic or essential, but as a matter of individual preference — the sovereign inclination and self-created identity of the individual.
We cannot think clearly about relations between men and women, if we believe that men and women are interchangeable, except as regards our sexual predilections or subjective identities. We cannot think clearly about fathers, mothers, sons and daughters if we pretend that there are no differences between them, or that “two dads” or “two moms” are interchangeable with a mother and father.
We are in a crisis of marriage and family. Much of our political and cultural dysfunction is the fallout of broken families and failed relationships — abandoned children and lonely, hurt men and women. Again, this was not caused by same-sex marriage or the LGBT movement, but accepting their ideological framework will impede amelioration. The healing truths that our culture needs are incompatible with an ideology that muddles the differences between men and women, and that rejects the unique value of the natural family.
The sexual revolution promised more than it could deliver, but our culture is still dominated by those who believe that the next hit of sexual liberation will finally bring happiness. Amidst these continued failures, who will provide the social capital to eventually build up what has been destroyed?
It will be those on the losing side. It will be ordinary men and women who believe in and live by a full understanding of marriage, no matter how unpopular such beliefs become.