Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Three important perspectives on same-sex marriage

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 17, 2013

“Conservative Christians have lost the fight over gay marriage,” writes Rod Dreher in a provocative piece of the American Conservative. He adds that Christians lost the argument “decades before anyone even thought same-sex marriage was a possibility.” How did it happen? He explains:

Gay-marriage proponents succeeded so quickly because they showed the public that what they were fighting for was consonant with what most post-1960s Americans already believed about the meaning of sex and marriage.

Dreher is right, I’m afraid. During the 1960s the American understanding of marriage was radically altered by the public acceptance of divorce and contraception. Once divorce became socially acceptable, it was no longer possible to assume that any given marriage involved a permanent bond. Once contraception became the norm, it was no longer possible to assume that a marriage was likely to produce children. Permanence and fecundity are the two legs on which the institution of marriage stood; now they were gone.

Today a typical American union is a 3-step process. First a young couple begins living together, because they enjoy each other’s company. Then, if things work out, they agree to make things official, and marry. Finally, some time after marriage, the couple might—might—decide to throw away the contraceptives and produce their 2.0 children. Only at this 3rd stage—and even then, only if they really intend a life-long alliance—does the arrangement begin to resemble the Christian understanding of marriage.

A homosexual couple can obviously take the first step in that progression. For that matter, a couple with no romantic or sexual interest in each other might share an apartment because they enjoy each other’s company. Shared housekeeping obviously does not constitute a marriage. But taking the 2nd step, and acquiring a marriage license, does not fundamentally alter the nature of the relationship. So homosexual activists have found it easy to argue that if heterosexual couples can obtain legal papers to certify their relationships, same-sex couples should as well. And why not? If marriage is not an institution oriented toward child-rearing, why should the sexual preferences of the partners matter?

Dreher’s argument suggests that in the absence of a real religious revival, it is only a matter of time until all American states recognize same-sex marriage. So one might argue that it is wrong-headed for Christians to concentrate their attention on the political battles over marriage—that we are doomed to lose those battles, if we do not win the larger cultural struggle.

That cultural battle will be a long and difficult one, however, because the most influential American opinion-makers are increasingly unsympathetic to the Christian cause, especially where marriage and sexuality are concerned. Mark Steyn sounds the alarm about the “vigilance” that mainstream journalists are showing in their determination to ensure that no negative ideas about homosexuality pass through their editorial filters.

Here and elsewhere Steyn has shown that gay-rights activists are determined not merely to defeat their political opponents, but to drum those opponents out of polite society. The homosexual lobby has frequently succeeded by intimidating rivals, threatening to have them ostracized as “homophobes” if they dare to resist. And the mainstream media, generally sympathetic to the cause, have been quick to accept the demands of the gay-rights ideologues.

So there is little open public debate about the issues on the homosexual agenda. Only a decade ago, the legal recognition of same-sex marriages was unthinkable in most American states; even Barack Obama, during his first presidential campaign, said it was a step too far. Yet now it seems inevitable, and politicians like Obama suggest that anyone who opposes the historical trend is a bigot. This spectacular change is not the result of a national debate. Quite the contrary, it is the result of a one-sided propaganda campaign. Steyn observes:

The tolerance enforcers will not tolerate dissent; the diversity celebrators demand a ruthless homogeneity. Much of the progressive agenda — on marriage, immigration, and much else — involves not winning the argument but ruling any debate out of bounds.

So if the advocates of same-sex marriage control the terms of the debate, and the drive toward acceptance of homosexual alliances is unstoppable, what comes next? Masha Gessen, an influential and intelligent lesbian activist, recently told a radio audience that the acceptance of same-sex marriage “is a no-brainer.” But then, letting the cat out of the bag, she added that “I also think equally that it’s a no-brainer that the institution of marriage should not exist.”

In pushing for acceptance of same-sex unions, Gessen explained, “we lie that the institute of marriage is not going to change.” Of course it will change, she says. “I have three kids who have five parents, more or less, and I don’t see why they shouldn’t have five parents legally.” In their candid moments, the most astute homosexual activists acknowledge that their goal is not to gain access to the benefits that heterosexual married couples have enjoyed, but to abolish those benefits entirely.

So we come full circle, back to Dreher’s point about the Christian understanding of marriage. The fundamental question facing America today is not which people should be allowed to marry. The question is what marriage is. We, as a society, might ultimately decide to restore the Christian understanding of marriage. Or we might settle for the age-old pagan version, based on natural law, upon which the Christian understanding is based. Or we might accede to the most radical demands, and jettison the notion of legal marriage entirely—with results that would guarantee the collapse of our civilization. What we cannot do is continue pretending that we all understand what marriage is, and we’re only arguing about the details of wording on the legal documents.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: John J Plick - Apr. 23, 2013 9:46 AM ET USA

    All this talk about "debate or no debate" is nonsense, and would have been considered nonsense by the Founding Fathers, these topics not even being considered questionable under "Free Speech" at all of as all of the Founding Fathers subscribed to a Judeo-Christian morality base. What are we "discussing" and why are we discussing it? Homosexuality is unnatural and does not even conform to human anatomy and ordinary reproduction. Rebellion is not open for discussion and should be condemned.

  • Posted by: bnewman - Apr. 20, 2013 12:01 AM ET USA

    I have a few questions. Does a state have the right to define marriage any way it likes, just by counting votes? If so I suppose the state could define 2+2=5 if it wanted to and if it could get enough votes. Do these state legislated actions by which it claims to bring about a state of marriage, mean that the two people are actually married? If not should a serious person recognize these fictitious state marriages as marriage, just to be polite?

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Apr. 18, 2013 4:01 PM ET USA

    Which brings us smack up against the much hated Church teaching that sex is legitimate only in marriage and only when the sexual act is open to the generation of life. Even Christians of various stripes (Heck, even Catholics) have abandoned these teachings. The gays are right: if this is marriage, they are entitled to equality.

  • Posted by: Defender - Apr. 18, 2013 2:50 PM ET USA

    What about: “In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.” – “Considerations Regarding Proposals to give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons” John Paul II approved in 2003

  • Posted by: jjen009 - Apr. 17, 2013 9:25 PM ET USA

    Yesterday evening our (New Zealand) parliament approved same-sex marriage, 77 to 44. No conscience clause included. I had been thinking what I might say to friends who asked my opinion. I intend to say that marriage became, long ago, a sort of sentimental tradition, like Christmas (for most people). The present law change is a logical step along the way. jj