The U.S. Supreme Court has marriage under a microscope and in just a matter of weeks will render its verdict on two cases that could blur our understanding of what constitutes society’s most foundational relationship. Gay marriage advocates have masterfully refocused debate with phrases like “freedom to marry” and “marriage equality.” Persuasive rhetoric isn’t it? “How does my gay marriage affect your heterosexual marriage anyway?” “And what business does anyone have telling another couple who they can love?” It’s enough to convince conservatives that they’ve been making marriage a mountain out of a molehill.
Recently, David Adams—Kentucky’s Tea Party General who helped Rand Paul get elected, called the GOP hypocritical by telling the government to keep its hands off their guns while at the same time insisting it has a right to tell people whom they should marry. It sounds so logical, for a moment. And then queasiness sets in when one carries that thought to its logical conclusion.
It’s times like these when one faintly hears GK Chesterton reminding us “Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up.” If you believe the political left, it was a stuffy Southern white man in his sixties who set the rules for marriage. If you follow the political right, marriage is rooted in the laws of nature and unchangeable. Depends which side of the fence you’re on. According to a Washington Post ABC News poll taken in March, 58 percent of Americans approve gay marriage. It was just 10 years ago that Americans were opposed to it by nearly the same number. So what’s changed?
Sympathy for homosexuals has increased for sure. Americans have an innate sense of fairness and chafe when any class is marginalized or hurt. However, a giant leap is made when it is assumed that since gays cannot marry, they are somehow denied a civil right. Separate the issue of fair treatment of homosexuals with the issue of what constitutes marriage and the picture of what is at stake comes into clearer focus.
Homosexuals are right when they insist that they be treated with respect and deserving of the same civil rights as everyone else. All human beings have inherent dignity and worth. But not all human beings have the right to marry whomever they want. Adults cannot marry children. A man cannot marry six women. And grown-up siblings of either sex cannot marry one another.
Significantly rewriting marriage laws does not rescue gays and lesbians. Instead, it abandons a foundation that society and the next generation cannot do without. At least this is the case made in a debate-shifting book called What is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A defense.
In it, two views of marriage are contrasted. The revisionist view sees marriage as “a loving emotional bond, one distinguished by its intensity, with no reference to a duty beyond its partners.” The conjugal view defines marriage as “a bodily as well as an emotional and spiritual bond.” Those in revisionist marriage stay only so long as the partners can draw upon the relational intensity. The conjugal view embraces complementarity between men and women joined together in covenantal lifelong union which results in the creation, nurture and commitment to new life even while emotional intensity ebbs and flows.
The state has always viewed marriage as a societal good and it has always seen marriage as good for children. The Supreme Court said as much in its landmark 1888 Maynard v Hill marriage ruling. "[Marriage] is an institution, in the maintenance of which in its purity the public is deeply interested, for it is the foundation of the family and of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.”
In this light, marriage is a mountain worth keeping intact. Then again, such cultural mountains absent the smog of moral and social relativism were much easier for all to see back then. Perhaps today’s Court will take note.