Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

Conservative and Catholic New York Times Columnist Ross Douthat penned a sobering op-ed in last Sunday's New York Times. His message: The issue of defending marriage is lost. It truly is inevitable, and for this reason, defenders of traditional marriage may find themselves at a place in culture they've never seen or ever expected. In short, Douthat thinks that the battle has been lost, such that opponents of fundamentally altering marriage must begin to accept whatever concessions and protections we can get from culture and from social liberalism. According to Douthat,

It now seems certain that before too many years elapse, the Supreme Court will be forced to acknowledge the logic of its own jurisprudence on same-sex marriage and redefine marriage to include gay couples in all 50 states.


In this scenario, religious conservatives would essentially be left to promote their view of wedlock within their own institutions, as a kind of dissenting subculture emphasizing gender differences and procreation, while the wider culture declares that love and commitment are enough to make a marriage. And where conflicts arise — in a case where, say, a Mormon caterer or a Catholic photographer objected to working at a same-sex wedding — gay rights supporters would heed the advice of gay marriage’s intellectual progenitor, Andrew Sullivan, and let the dissenters opt out “in the name of their freedom — and ours.”

But there’s another possibility, in which the oft-invoked analogy between opposition to gay marriage and support for segregation in the 1960s South is pushed to its logical public-policy conclusion. In this scenario, the unwilling photographer or caterer would be treated like the proprietor of a segregated lunch counter, and face fines or lose his business — which is the intent of recent legal actions against a wedding photographer in New Mexico, a florist in Washington State, and a baker in Colorado.


But it’s still important for the winning side to recognize its power. We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and on the evidence of Arizona, we’re not having a negotiation. Instead, all that’s left is the timing of the final victory — and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.

The battle over marriage will continue, surely. But it will continue on in different contexts. Christian ethics, particularly Christian sexual ethics, will grow increasingly “peculiar” as they conflict with the values of culture. But it will likely be a debate that occurs in local contexts and local communities as the national debate has all but ended. This isn't a "give up" type of mentality. What we must acknowledge, however, is that we're at a cultural disadvantage. What all defenders of traditional marriage must do now is commit to do hard thinking about what marriage is, why it matters, and the consequences of redefining it. We must be prepared to rebuild from the ruins. And we must recognize that the brick and mortar of any civilization is the family, and it is the church that helps communicate this truth.