Columnist Damon Linker recently wrote a piece for The Week titled, “How Christianity Gave Us Gay Marriage.” Its thesis is partially borrowed from Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1835 book, Democracy in America, in which the French political thinker and author documented the dying aristocratic order and an emerging democracy.
According to Linker, “The ultimate source of the democratic revolution—the motor behind its inexorable unfolding—is the figure of Jesus Christ, who taught the equal dignity of all persons, and declared in the Sermon on the Mount that the last shall be first and the first shall be last, and that the meek shall inherit the earth.”
No serious student of Christianity suggests that Jesus endorsed anything other than marriage between a man and a woman (Linker admits this), but as he suggests, it is this underlying philosophy of equality that has brought us to the supposedly inevitable redefinition of an institution.
Linker continues his article by pointing to Tocqueville as an alternative interpretation of Chrsitianity’s role in the creation of a revolutionary ideal of human equality. “For Tocqueville,” he writes, “the march of equality was upending age-old institutions and moral habits ‘in all the Christian world.'”
It’s true that Tocqueville put a high price on liberty and equality, but, like Jesus, he had his limits. In his book, Tocqueville describes the progress of Roman Catholicism in America. He argues that men in democratic societies are “prone to shake off religious authority,” but when they do agree to submit, it should be “single and uniform.” As men in these societies attempt to exempt themselves from some of the doctrines of their faith, they will eventually divide into only two parts, “some relinquishing Christianity entirely and others returning to the Church of Rome” (Book 1, Ch. 6).
Progress can be a good thing, but it can also go too far. Jesus was certainly no advocate of an “anything goes” social order. Regardless of what you may think of Tocqueville’s conclusion, it is worth noting that even he saw a point in which a line in the sand would be drawn.
Many proponents of same-sex marriage frown at the idea of redefining marriage to include, for example, polyamorous relationships. They too draw lines in the sand; they just draw them in different places (and then accuse Christians who don’t share their views of being “hateful”).
I’ll admit, when I first read Linker’s article, I thought of it as a back-handed compliment, but after some thought, I think he’s just plain wrong.
This idea of same-sex marriage does not naturally flow from the sort of equality that Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount. What Jesus proclaimed was the idea that all human beings are to be treated with dignity, and he was steadfast in his renunciation of sin.
The Catholic Church maintains that homosexuals must be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and that “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (CCC 2358) The key word is “unjust.” Just discrimination happens. For example, many of us are not eligible for college grants intended for specific ethnicities, but almost no one cries foul over this. In the Catholic worldview, marriage has a specific purpose. This worldview is neither hateful nor unjust.
Near the end of his article, Linker throws a bone to those of us who favor traditional marriage:
By all means, let’s ensure that the religious rights of these opponents are protected. But let’s also hope that they will eventually follow Tocqueville’s example in recognizing that a major reason why equality always wins is that the new order is always more just than what preceded it. This is why Tocqueville counseled resignation and acceptance rather than a reactionary response—because, he concluded, trying to “stop democracy…[is] to struggle against God himself.”
I can think of several new orders that weren’t more just than those that preceded them (Nazi Germany, anyone?), and I seriously doubt that Tocqueville, when he penned those words, ever imagined that the American democracy would eventually attempt to redefine the institution of marriage.
Linker misuses both Tocqueville and Jesus to make his point. Same-sex marriage is not the product of progressive equality that began with Christ. It’s a distortion of an institution spurred on by a large segment of society that has relegated God to the fringes.
Trent Horn will be giving a talk on the subject of same-sex marriage at the 2014 Catholic Answers National Conference in San Diego. You can find details about the event and register at catholicanswersconference.com.