Just hours after the U.S. Supreme struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on June 26, a comedy website (which shall remain unnamed and unlinked-to) offered readers a “Guide to How the Gay Marriage Ruling Affects You,” the monotonous shtick of which was that, unless you are a homosexual who wished to marry, it doesn’t. Are you straight? Married? Religious? “This decision does not affect you in any way.”
Certainly nothing new or surprising about the assertion that “gay marriage won’t affect you.” Who among us hasn’t heard that?
What does surprise me is how folks on the political and moral Left can pretend that when it comes to sex every man is an island, while in most every other area they are so quick to see far-reaching social ripple effects from personal actions.
Think about it. Environmentalists want us to “think globally, act locally,” because, apparently, drinking from a styrofoam cup vaporizes the rain forest and eating a can of Star-Kist slaughters a family of dolphins. Others tell us to “live simply that others may simply live,” the implication being that my luxury is the distant cause of someone else’s poverty. And if former president Carter is to be believed, the Catholic Church’s failure to ordain women to the priesthood has led to all manner of economic and institutional discrimination against them.
Why is it, then, that sex is something that never goes beyond the bedroom? How can these same people, ordinarily so attuned to the interconnectedness of things, state so blithely, “This decision does not affect you in any way”?
This is a favorite challenge of same-sex marriage (SSM) advocates, first, because it does a handy end-run around the argument. Rather than inviting a needed discussion about the meaning of sex and marriage or about the role of the state in regulating them, it shuts down discussion by framing the whole question not in terms of principle but of consequences.
Secondly, because it implies that our motive is nothing more than moral busybodyism—a variation on Mencken’s definition of Puritanism as the fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time.
So I think it’s important, as the SSM train rolls on and its supporters become bolder, for defenders of traditional marriage to be able to offer cogent answers to that challenge. Here are four:
1. Ideas have consequences.
This is the first and most general response we might make. Culture, in which we all participate and by which we’re all affected, is the sum total of the ideas that shape it. The power of those ideas, and their shaping, is proportionate to the number and importance of the cultural categories they affect.
Sex, marriage, children, familial relationships: These things are the most pervasive cultural categories in human history. One doesn’t have to postulate great leaps of causality to see that rapid and radical changes in these areas affect everyone. Western culture as we know it is built on thousands of years of viewing marriage, sex, and family life in certain ways. To say that we can redefine those views and not change the culture is just silly, or else willfully naïve.
2. We all have to live in the world that SSM will create.
Same-sex marriage is not a mere tweak to a few lines of marriage law: It is a codified endorsement of homosexuality. Since the law is a teacher, this endorsement has the effect of confirming in their disorder people suffering from same-sex attraction and removing the stigmas that might have checked others from fully giving themselves over to it. Indeed, considering the low percentages of homosexual couples actually tying the knot in places where SSM has been legalized, and the disdain for marriage reflected in the writings of prominent gay activists and scholars, it’s not a stretch to say that this endorsement—not tax breaks or hospital visitation rights or any other practical benefit of actually getting married—is the primary goal of SSM advocacy.
All this matters because we believe people with same-sex attraction are profoundly wounded and in need of healing. When by power of law the state applauds woundedness, deepens it; when it creates conditions that will increase the numbers of wounded; when it prioritizes making the wounded into adoptive parents, giving them leadership positions in government, education, religion, and the military, and lionizing their condition in public observances, school curricula, and the media—how does this not profoundly affect life for the rest of us?
If culture is the sum of the ideas that shape it, our experience of that culture is the product of the health, virtue, and integrity of the other people who inhabit it.
3. “Error has no rights.”
SSM’s definitive endorsement of homosexuality will have a thousand legal ripple effects. We will need to rewrite family law and develop new speech codes to do it. As artificial reproductive technologies mature we will have to recognize legal parenting arrangements comprising virtually any number of persons and gender combinations. While we’re at it, we’ll need some new genders, too.
You’d think that sorting through all that would be enough trouble, but the law—both in civil/criminal statutes and in the policies of organizations and employers—will also have to occupy itself with quashing dissent from the new paradigm. And that affects . . . you.
Don’t want to attend a gay pride celebration in your office? You will be fired. Don’t want to rent a room in your B&B to a homosexual couple, or bake a cake for a gay wedding? Agree to service a gay wedding but just want to say your peace about traditional marriage? You’re going to jail, or at least getting slapped with a big fine.
In my experience, more and more proponents of SSM are changing their tune on this objection, from denying that such coercion could ever happen to saying that it could—and should. Shouldn’t you be fired for being a neo-Nazi? Wouldn’t it be wrong to deny a hotel room to a mixed-race couple? Homosexuality is a civil right, and being wrong about it is not.
4. Catholicism and gay rights are incompatible.
At present the Church, and all Christians of a traditional sort, coexist in a false and uneasy truce with the sexual revolution. There has always been sin in the world, of course, and Christianity and sin are always incompatible, but increasingly our world is one of sin normalized, institutionalized, made official. Think of the almost unbearable moral contradiction baked into abortion law, for instance. And of the inescapable conclusion that what the state says about abortion falsifies Catholicism.
Same-sex marriage, I think, will magnify this tension, perhaps to a point where it can no longer be smoothed over or ignored. The state and the culture say two persons of the same sex can marry; the Church says they can’t. This condition can’t endure. The Church’s position is just too great an obstacle—an insult—to the sexual liberation project, of which homosexuality has become the popular symbol.
So, you might ask, when the state and all the force of law say that our religion is false, that it is in fact bigoted, isn’t there a teensy chance it will affect us in some way? We don’t have to make wild predictions here—we just have to look at recent precedent. Viewed in the context of the fight against the HHS mandate and the state’s accompanying argument that religious freedom is really nothing more than “freedom of worship,” it seems clear enough that the logical terminus of legalized same-sex marriage is the forced relocation of Catholics to the closet—or the catacombs.