Today has witnessed the first legal same-sex marriages within England and Wales. This development heralds the movement into a new stage of public discourse surrounding marriage, within which a different set of issues will become more prominent and pressing. The following are some thoughts at the current juncture in the cultural conversation.
1. Irrespective of its legality, same-sex marriage still isn’t marriage.
In challenging same-sex marriage, our argument has not been that it shouldn’t be permitted, but that it isn’t possible. Calling the union between two persons of the same sex a ‘marriage’ doesn’t make it one, even if that definition is made legally binding. Marriage names the committed sexual union between a man and a woman. By recognizing and naming its unique character and significance, it protects and celebrates the natural relation that brings the sexes together, within which new life is brought into existence, and by which humanity is constituted as a race. This natural relation is the source of our deepest given bonds and integral to the well-being of society, providing a horizon of our existence and relations that precedes and transcends law, politics, technology, and economics, disclosing the primary telos of our sexed bodies and the deep natural grammar whereby we exist through, by, and with others. While Christians recognize a deeper set of issues that are at stake here (about which more soon), recognizing and upholding the natural reality at the heart of marriage and resisting the pressure to present it as being on a par with other forms of sexual relations is a matter of importance for society and its members more generally.
2. We’ve lost a big battle, but the war is far from over.
The legalization of same-sex marriage is a big step in the direction of the normalization of such relations and a significant milestone in our culture’s forgetting of the meaning of marriage. Nevertheless, the currency that same-sex marriages will have in our society is not singlehandedly determined by their being enshrined in law. It is far from assured that placing same-sex unions on a par with relations between the sexes in law will lead to the same equivalence being maintained in the minds and imaginations of the public. While same-sex marriages are now legal, we should seek to ensure that the public continues to regard such marriages as if in scare quotes or with an asterisk attached. The public may want to tolerate such unions, but that does not mean that they are on board with all for which they stand. As marriage culture deteriorates in our society more generally it may well be the case that the preservation of a robust definition and practice of marriage within the Church will lead people to recognize how chipped the coin of marriage is in the society more generally and not give it the currency that it claims for itself. Here the ‘quadruple lock’ may prove very significant.
3. The legalization of same-sex marriage further pushes open the door on other cultural struggles.
When society holds homosexual relations on a par with those between a man and a woman, it compromises its well-being on various fronts. Perhaps some of the most immediate effects are seen in the gradual diminishment of the significance of and weakening of the protections for the natural bonds between a child and their mother and father. The rights of children to their natural mother and father or to a mother and father more generally are compromised as same-sex marriage leads to a normalization of circumventions of procreative relations in favour of the use of reproductive technologies, economic transactions, or legal arrangements. With the legalization and normalization of same-sex marriage, it will be increasingly difficult to speak publicly of having a mother and father as natural, ideal, and normal, or to speak of the bond between children and their parents in terms of natural procreation. The normalization of same-sex unions will also encourage a decay of any public discourse concerning what is ‘natural’ in the sphere of human relations—between children and parents, between the sexes, or within wider family networks—and the elevation of social and legal constructivism over all else in this area.
4. The legalization of same-sex marriage gives momentum to other challenges to marriage.
Now that the big wave of same-sex marriage has broken down our cultural defences, successive waves will find fewer obstacles to their ingress. One of the developments that we should expect over the next decade are a push towards the normalization of non-monogamy, ‘monogamish’, or ‘open’ marriages. A number of the gays and lesbians who have been interviewed or have written on the subject of the legalization of same-sex marriage in the UK over the last few weeks have pointed out that gays and lesbians will retailor the institution for their own needs and preferences. Some have even used the language of ‘redefinition’. The sexual exclusivity of marriage is one thing that will be steadily challenged, weakened, or abandoned over the coming years. A further possible development is a rise in advocacy for the legalization of polyamorous relations.
5. This has the benefit of clarifying where we stand.
The legalization of same-sex marriage is a signal development within what has for the most part been a slow and gradual erosion of the institution of marriage. The foundations of the institution of marriage have been crumbling for decades. However, now that one of the walls of the institution has dramatically fallen away, there is a greater chance of making people aware of what is taking place. We would be deeply mistaken to see same-sex marriage as a development unrelated to previous developments in marriage more general. It is the cultural decay of the meaning of marriage between men and women and marriage culture more generally that has led quite directly to our current situation. For Christians, this development also clarifies where we stand with respect to our wider society and government. Christian values, which were formerly honoured and protected now seem to be in jeopardy and protection for Christian conscience, teaching, and practice are matters of growing concern. Our full participation in the public square and the right to air and uphold historic Christian convictions in education and elsewhere are increasingly uncertain. The expression of many Christian convictions is in danger of being consigned to private reservations and excluded from the broader realm of political, economic, cultural, and civil life. Christians who uphold and express orthodox views on sexual ethics risk marginalization, stigmatization, discrimination, or cultural exclusion. All of this will help Christians to process the fact that we are no longer a Christian country and will have the benefit of teaching us to act and think accordingly. While it has been important to address these issues publicly and politically, our primary concern should be that of creating a distinct culture within the Church, one which exposes the failures in the wider society.
6. As the primary context for our marriage apologetics shifts, we have the advantage of appealing more frequently and explicitly to some of our deepest, distinctively Christian, convictions about marriage.
In the more general cultural and political debate around marriage, in defending marriage we had to limit ourselves to secular categories and principles. While such defences are quite possible and still necessary—Christianity does not have any monopoly upon natural marriage—as the contrast between orthodox Christian understandings of marriage and those of the culture becomes sharper, we will spend more time defending marriage on our home turf. Here we have many more resources and arguments to call upon in its defence. We can make clear, for instance, that same-sex relations are an idolatrous distortion of the image of God—an offence directly against God and against human nature. We can also ground our defence of marriage upon the robust account of nature and teleology that exists within Christian orthodoxy.
7. Many of us will face a raft of new problems of conscience, tensions in our relationships, and difficulties in our workplaces.
Now that same-sex marriage has been legalized, those of us who still believe that such unions are not marriages will face pressures upon our convictions from various angles, personal, relational, legal, social, and political. Some of us will be invited to the gay weddings of friends or family. We will face the challenge of being seen to be rude and intolerant in standing for our convictions. We may risk losing or hurting friends or being socially ostracized. Others of us may be in forms of work that will require us tacitly or openly to approve of such unions with our actions or words, to facilitate the formation of such unions, or to act in terms of their legitimacy. We will need a great deal of grace, nerve, and wisdom in the coming years as these issues are ever more likely to hit closer to home.
8. We need to maintain a resolute and vocal witness on this matter.
We can reasonably regard the first legal same-sex marriages as nails in the coffin of the public debate on this matter. For many Christians who have opposed same-sex marriage, the closing of the public debate will lead to a change in their stance on the issue. Instead of openly speaking out on the matter, they will quietly resist or disapprove of it, regarding it as a lost cause. However, as in the case of abortion, even if there is no change of changing law or government policy, we need to bear a firm and uncompromising witness. Our witness to marriage and Christian sexual ethics are not merely apologetic in character, depending upon a public hearing for their rationale, but are essential dimensions of our Christian identity and testimony within a society. We aren’t merely in a position where we ‘can’t approve of’ same-sex marriage, but in one in which we must actively disapprove of them and have the responsibility to declare this fact as part of our Christian witness. This isn’t going to get any easier.
9. Grace is essential.
Holding a Christian position on same-sex marriage is increasingly going to put us in the position of being regarded as hateful, intolerant, uncivil, and disrespectful. Being in such a position is profoundly uncomfortable for many of us, especially as we instinctively desire to make clear our unconditional love for our gay and lesbian neighbours, friends, and family members. When our Christian witness will lead to our motives being maligned, aspersions being cast on our characters, and being represented as hating people for whom we care about deeply, it can be painful and difficult to maintain it. We must pray for wisdom and opportunity to express such concern, care, and love in such a manner that the true nature of and motives driving our resistance to same-sex marriage will be apparent. Sadly, for other Christians a different struggle will exist. For such Christians, the legalization of same-sex marriage will excite anger, hate, and bitterness towards gays and lesbians who are perceived to be vicious opponents of Christians. We must make clear the sinful character of such passions, wherever they might take root in our hearts. The Christian response to our gay and lesbian friends and neighbours should never be characterized by bitterness, spitefulness, or vengefulness, but must be expressed in a love addressed to them as they are—not to what we might want them to be—and a general pattern of behaviour towards them characterized by respectfulness, grace, and compassion.
10. This is a time for repentance.
In light of this latest development, we should recognize our own complicity within it. We should recognize how our failure to bear strong witness to the decay of marriage paved the way for this. We should recognize how Christians’ hatred and their use of God’s truth to justify and underwrite their hatred—and the way that many of us, while not following along, stood silently by while this was taking place—have given ammunition to those who dismiss the orthodox Christian position as a mere cloak for homophobia. We should recognize how professing Christians have contributed to the oppression of LGBT persons within our society in a manner that left our society and the Church without the moral credibility to withstand the unreasonable demands of the gay rights movement. Rather than just lamenting the state of our nation, let’s take this opportunity to lament the shameful role that we have played in its creation and seek both for God’s forgiveness and that of our neighbour.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments.
I have written lengthier treatments of the subject of same-sex marriage in various places in the past. The following are the main examples:
The Institution of Marriage, Same-Sex Unions, and Procreation
Questions and Answers on Same-Sex Marriage
The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage—Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Good article, Alastair. I think that in countering the spirit of the age, we will need to point out that:
1.) The highest calling of the church and Christians is not the right to erotic love, even in “marriage”, but holiness, which is the necessary condition on which our relationship with God is based (Hebrews 12:14).
2.) The claim that the right to homosexual relationships arises out of some sort of birthright (the common claim “I was born this way,” or even,”God created me this way!”) is false, firstly because we live in a world in which we suffer the effects of sin, and secondly because in Christ we are commanded to put to death the sinful nature and put on the new self, created to be like Christ Jesus in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24) – something which the liberal elements of the church are signally failing to do or to teach.
3.) Attention needs to be paid to the fact that not all homosexuality arises from “birth”, but may indicate deep-seated emotional hurts or abuse, often the fall-out of family breakdown or sexual abuse, which are preventing people from forming heterosexual attractions. This points to a need for emotional and spiritual recovery and restoration rather than obedience to the desires of the flesh – a process of healing which the church is uniquely placed to offer, but which is forfeited if we equate homosexuality with heterosexuality in our morality or our theology.
4.) We need to recover the ministry of the Spirit in our dealings with sinners of all kinds, as well as recovering our revelation of biblical truth, so that people do not merely come under law, but that they may be set free.
Yes, this will be difficult and costly. I suspect I am not alone in wishing, even as a born-again believer, that I could with good conscience simply say to gay people, “That’s wonderful – let’s all celebrate your love just as much as that of straight couples!” However, the clear message of Scripture simply does not allow me to conclude that God condones same-sex relationships – but it does urge me to preach a gospel of repentance, healing, restoration and submission to God’s good and perfect will, which brings rewards far greater than when we try to form “alliances that are not by God’s Spirit” (Isaiah 30:1).
Issues like this bring to my mind a pretty pressing question: what voice/presence is Christianity going to have in a world where the thing that are basically the arch-enemies of Christianity are normalized? It’s a bit different here in the states, but the question I tend to ask is this: inevtiably, gay marriage will be legalized in all 50 states (or, if you don’t live in the states, will in some way become a socially accepted thing). It may take a minute, but, imo, this is simply going to happen. It will be the norm. Opposition to gay marriage will have the status of opposition to interracial marriage – a product of backwoods, backwards, bigoted, hateful and even dangerous thinking. What place will Christianity have where dilemnas like ‘would you bake the cake’ happen everday, and an answer in the negative is, to put it mildly, the Wrong answer? There aren’t really lots of options, imo, for someone who is opposed to gay marriage. You basically have:
(1) Resist – active, vocal opposition to gay marriage, however, will become something that is more and more marginalized, to the point where it will have effectively no voice. Again, it will be seen as a relic of ancient thinking that is hateful and maybe dangerous (perhaps with legislation to silence such opposition?)
(2) Quietly resist, like you noted. This basically limits you to disapproving and hoping you don’t get invited to a gay wedding.
(3) Go with it – like a lot of liberal/progressive Christians do/are. Realize that in this very not old-fashioned world, old-fashioned values don’t have a real place at the table.
There’s some real dilemnas here, honestly. YOu’ve given some good thoughts on what we as Christians can do – but what about Christianity as a whole?
I suspect that Western Christianity will experience a growing division between liberal and progressive Christians on such issues and those upholding traditional orthodoxy. Liberal and progressive Christians will fairly mercilessly dissociate themselves from and condemn their orthodox brothers and sisters. I doubt that the Roman Catholic Church will budge on the issue quickly, but I imagine that its teaching will be widely avoided, ignored, or opposed by Catholics on the ground and that much of its cultural influence and capital will collapse.
Churches that hold an orthodox line on this issue will increasingly be regarded as hate groups and treated accordingly. The vocal liberal and progressive arguments that God supports homosexual relations will be seen further to justify this. Orthodox Christians will be discriminated against in the workplace and society and not afforded the full protection of the law. They will be stripped of privileges once enjoyed (charity status, etc.) and will be subject to public censure. Larger Christian organizations will compromise or be broken down by the loss of former charity status, litigation, the removal of funds, etc.
The centre of Christianity will shift to countries which maintain opposition to homosexual practice. Africa and Asia will be the ascendant forces in the Christianity that results. The face of Christianity will change much as a result. Christianity in the West will decay (though less rapidly in the US) and much cultural capital will be lost. Orthodox Christianity will increasingly come to be seen as anti-Western.
Orthodox Christianity in the West needs to be prepared for a bitter spiritual winter. Our persecutors will often be other professing Christians. Giving ourselves to prayer is important at this time. We also need to focus upon creating faithful and loving communities where the truth can be seen in its clearest light.
I’m not terribly worried about progressive and liberal Christians leading the charge against us. No doubt a few liberals and some disgruntled former traditionalists will be recruited as spokespeople, but I have serious doubts about the effectiveness of liberal Christians at, well, pretty much anything. We’ve been subsidizing and shoring up the organizations that keep them afloat, through money and enthusiasm. After the separation, I expect progressive and liberal churches and other religious organizations to utterly collapse. Formerly religious charities, hospitals, etc. will dissociate themselves from their traditionalist origins, but the really successful ones will have to become fully secular to keep going. Progressive Christian support is not going to be enough.
Progressive and liberal Christians will never have much influence of their own. The way that they will hurt orthodox Christians is by acting as the lapdogs of a liberal and progressive establishment or as a fifth column within the Church.
By claiming to represent true Christianity and condemning orthodox Christians as unfaithful, they will establish a view which conveniently underwrites the establishment’s persecution of the orthodox. The orthodox will be presented as a pathological and hate-driven distortion of Christianity and hence unworthy of the respect and protections due to religious positions.
I believe that we have seen similar things occurring in the case of Islam, where certain domesticated expressions of the religion are elevated to political orthodoxy in order to justify the suppression of other forms. This is how I believe that the liberal and progressive Christians will hurt us.
The way that they will hurt orthodox Christians is by acting as the lapdogs of a liberal and progressive establishment or as a fifth column within the Church.
From inside conservative Protestant churches? I doubt it. They’d have to simultaneously identify strongly with an organization/movement that has increasingly become a pariah, not get kicked out, and ferociously denounce it at the same time. That’s a very tough trick to pull off. The middle ground in conservative churches is rapidly disappearing, and we can see it in things like Rachel Held Evans active dissociation from Evangelicalism.
It’s also going to really hard to credibly say that your represent real Christianity from the perch of some utterly moribund liberal religious organization. I don’t doubt someone will try it, but I seriously doubt anyone will take it seriously.
When talking about a fifth column, I’m thinking about larger denominations, which still have many evangelicals within them. In the UK, for instance, more evangelicals are found in churches where they exist alongside liberals and progressives.
I believe that we have seen similar things occurring in the case of Islam, where certain domesticated expressions of the religion are elevated to political orthodoxy in order to justify the suppression of other forms.
As I said, it will be tried, but, like in the case of Islam, everybody knows these are a joke. Some purported Muslim leader gets to go on TV now and then and denounce his fundamentalist co-religionists.
This is a nice sinecure if you can get it. Rachel Held Evans was briefly the Evangelical equivalent (writing for CNN, appearing on The Today Show), but we all know how that ended.
The airing of such obvious bullshit is a display of power over truth. People know that it is bullshit, but they know that they ought to accept it anyway. That really is how a lot of political correctness works—and it does often work quite well. It encourages a sort of intellectual decadence in the society. You don’t even have to believe it. The more desensitized that you become to bullshit, the less truth will even register in your consciousness.
The airing of such obvious bullshit is a display of power over truth.
True, but does any of it have the slightest effect on fundamentalist Islam? I can’t see that it does.
Have you read any Scott Atran? A great researcher on the psychology of religion in general, but also works a lot on the psychology behind radical Islam. He is positively scathing on the ridiculous ways Westerners try to deal with it, including the old moderate Muslim ruse.
The immediate effect upon fundamentalist Islam is negligible. They aren’t the people that the bullshit really exists for. Rather, it exists for liberals and for us, the general population of Western nations.
I haven’t read any Scott Atran.
When talking about a fifth column, I’m thinking about larger denominations, which still have many evangelicals within them. In the UK, for instance, more evangelicals are found in churches where they exist alongside liberals and progressives.
If progressives do get aggressive, they and conservatives aren’t going to be in the same denomination for long, so I don’t think this is actually much of an issue.
I actually think this is going to be a lot harder on progressives than conservatives in a lot of ways. I’ll give a concrete example: over 60% of the revenues for the Anglican Diocese of Toronto in Canada come from two Evangelical congregations. (There are some other conservative congregations, including a couple Anglo-Catholic churches, but they are small.) If the higher ups in the ACC get too nasty with them, those congregations will probably just leave. So, progressives will have to choose between their cash supply (possibly even their existence) and their desire to denounce conservatives. And the pressure on them to denounce us will be immense. I’d say that in many ways they are in a tighter bind than we are.
While progressive Christians may find that their churches die, they won’t have too much trouble fitting into the wider society, while conservatives will face profound pressures on this front.
Also, we should expect many people to be baying for our blood and to be treated with no regard for our dignity. It will be open season on orthodox Christians in many quarters. Attacking, ridiculing, and condemning us will give our opponents a self-righteousness and moral superiority kick, so we should expect a lot of it. Caroline Farrow’s recent account of her appearance on BBC’s Question Time and Ryan Anderson’s recent interview here are just two minor examples of the ugly turn in the atmosphere.
I expect things to get fairly bad in the short term (say the next 10 years) as gay rights people make a final push to utterly destroy people with traditional views on this matter. However, we aren’t going anywhere, and all we really need to do is survive. It’s going to be pretty hard to maintain that level of outrage for long, and by no means are all of the public really interested in perpetual witch hunts. Liberals being liberals, I seriously doubt that many of them have the stomach to mount any really energetic persecution campaign in the short term. More like petty harassment.
The situation has good point however. Issues are clarified. The dissociation of liberal and progressive Christians from us is entirely to the good. We don’t actually have much in common and the divorce was long overdue.
I imagine the pro-SSM, liberal establishment is going to be in for the shock of their life when we’re still around 20, 30, 40 years from now, and possibly even growing as a percentage of the population, due to higher birth rates among the very religious.
One the greatest battlefields will be schools and homes. I suspect that there will be plenty of energy for that (especially if Christians and other conservative religious groups are a growing population) as it will be a matter of survival for liberals. Liberals typically don’t reproduce primarily through procreation but through controlling cultural institutions. This would hit Christians pretty hard. Those educators not supportive of homosexual practice may slowly be weeded out of the education system. It may become harder to homeschool or set up independent Christian schools. Mandatory LGBT-celebrating sex education will be pushed. Parents who are known to oppose homosexual relations may even risk having their children removed from them under certain circumstances.
I suspect that there will be plenty of energy for that
I doubt it over the long haul. Most liberals are short term hedonists at heart, and persecution blatantly contradicts their own rhetoric of freedom and choice, which is the basis of liberalism’s popularity. I seriously doubt we’re going to get a situation any worse than what is currently on tap in Scandinavia, where the government pretends that Christian schools aren’t teaching Christianity. Libertarian/classical liberal parties may not like us all that much, but they need our votes and quite a few of them actually take the liberal rhetoric of freedom seriously. I doubt the public has an appetite for seeing masses of children taken away from their parents. Homeschooling and other such things have a long tradition in many places and it takes a lot to root those out. Even then, it will happen in some jurisdictions, but not in others. Particularly in places like Canada, the U.S. and Australia which have federal systems, the attack on homeschooling will be uneven, and Christians will concentrate in jurisdictions favorable to them, concentrating their political clout. Christians will concentrate in careers where they are not as vulnerable to attack and that concentration will bring power.* Because of the high heritability of religiousity and related psychological tendencies, like having a teleological view of the world, liberal propaganda and educational efforts will largely fail. Chances are liberals will be too arrogant and clueless to notice the growing number of traditional religious people until it is too late to do much about it. We’ll go from too small to notice to too large to persecute before they realize. Also, the effects of all this will be almost entirely felt by white collar workers, professionals, and intellectuals. Blue collar Christians probably won’t even notice.** We also tend to overestimate how much the modern state is in control. The fact is nobody, not even the liberals are in control.
*A friend of mine, Jack Donovan, who writes on masculinity from a very, very un-PC viewpoint, is a tattoo artist in Portland. I suppose the state could go after his tattoo license, but they’d have to be blatantly vindictive to do so.
**Having worked with some pretty PC people in the area of education and mental disability, I can’t help but notice that they ended up pretty much ignoring the blatant racism and homophobia among our “client group.” There were more immediate issues that needed attending to.
I guess that I’m not quite sanguine about this. The tolerance that you describe is easy to extend to Christians when they are restricted to a cultural reservation or ghetto (and Christianity is hardly much of an immediate threat in Scandinavia). However, we have a way to go until we are broken down to that level of cultural impotence and, for those of us who are more vocal on these issues, the prospect is disquieting.
Also, note that Israeli liberals never bothered to do anything about the ultra-Orthodox until now the ultras are threatening to become a majority of the country! They’re already 34% of all school children in Israel.
The greatest thing our opponents have over us is our expectation of comfort. But it’s a flimsy weapon. Once you realize that worldly honours and professional standing are going be denied you, you accept that. It becomes the new normal. Besides, this is going to be fun, Alastair. A battle with real stakes. We are going to be needed. What greater honour than to sacrifice for Christ. Rascal, did you think you were going live on this earth forever?
The longer term future does not look good for liberalism. It is culturally listless, can’t reproduce itself, and its societies are greying. Immigrants from more conservative countries and the children of socially conservative parents are more represented among the youth. If we used our brains we could sow seeds now that will lead to the collapse of liberalism in the future. In that respect, we are in a position of great opportunity. I have always been a short term pessimist and long term optimist.
I think this is apposite.
I’ve also been thinking of the Iranian Revolution. Do you know that you can get a bottle of whiskey for exactly the same price as in a Western liquor store (or whatever equivalent you have in the UK)? As I said, clamp downs are really hard to sustain over the long haul, especially when you’re doing them in the name of freedom and choice.
Eventually, I suspect that liberal strategy will be to pretend, as much as possible, that we don’t even exist. This presents opportunities.
“In the UK, for instance, more evangelicals are found in churches where they exist alongside liberals and progressives.”
That’s true – and I should note that they haven’t really helped their cause much. Take for instance the CofE, part of the current set of problems comes from evangelicals with very low ecclesiology taking virtually no interest in the church hierarchy, which then turns out to be a lot more liberal than they are.
You could argue that this is also a tendancy in the BU post David Coffey – evangelicals have tended to create their own networks, rather than do the heavier lifting of influencing existing networks.
Sorry about the delayed response, Chris, I have only just noticed unanswered comments on this thread.
Yes, I completely agree. I was discussing this very subject at length with a friend just a few weeks ago.
Should be: “Liberals being liberals, I seriously doubt that many of them have the stomach to mount even a really energetic persecution campaign in the short term.”
In the main the public debate in the UK was poorly argued on both sides – and remains so, the recent Question Time being one example. There has been some excellent contributions against, yours included, but I wonder how many supporters of same-sex marriage have actually sought these out. This goes the other way too, although I don’t think the quality of the arguments offered, at least those that I read, were of the same standard. But then this was never about which position was more reasonable.
Yesterday evening there was a small protest in Belfast to mark the introduction of SSM in E&W whilst it remains ‘illegal’ in Northern Ireland. Presently the campaign in Northern Ireland seems small but it is growing, and a recent survey showed a majority in favour of SSM. Even in Northern Ireland there is an inevitability about it.
Yes, I have been very disappointed by the quality of the debate on all sides. By the time that people encounter good arguments against SSM—which generally haven’t received wide exposure—I suspect that they are so dulled to and inoculated against them by the numerous poor ones that it is impossible to get through to them.
As for the majority of people being in favour of SSM in Northern Ireland, I really would like to see such figures broken down a little more, as that is where the real story lies. Many of those ‘in favour’ of SSM in such surveys do not necessarily regard such unions as marriage, but see it as a necessary concession in a pluralistic or diverse society. Others just don’t have the stomach for a fight that they presume will end in inevitable defeat. A number of other shades of opinion exist in there. The notion that all of the people ‘in favour’ of SSM are highly positive about the idea (as those reporting such statistics often want you to believe) is far from persuasive to me. Such statistics often encourage the sense of inevitability that is calculated to get opponents to lay down their arms.
It would be interesting to see the survey data broken down, and it was based on a small sample. There are some interesting statistics like the difference of opinion between Roman Catholics and Protestants surveyed.
For various reasons SSM is unlikely to be introduced here any time soon. But there is a growing acceptance of it, for whatever reason. That’s not to say I think we should lay down our arms.
I am interested (predictably) in the position of children with regards to their rights to a natural mother and father, as you mention in point 3. Moving in adoption/fostering circles, I know of many, many same-sex couples who have adopted, and the rhetoric is always that a child doesn’t need a male and a female – there are lots of types of families and they are all equally good. This strikes me as being not only unprovable, but also flies in the face not only of Christian teaching, but also of evolutionary teaching, as in if we have evolved such that it takes a male and a female to reproduce then surely there is an evolutionary reason for that? Doing away with male-female parenting makes no sense whichever way you look at it. And I’m aware of the possible irony of me saying that as a single parent! But I don’t raise that status to an ideal – I recognise it’s a best under the circumstances situation. I work hard to provide male role models, but I’d rather my son had a daddy. And so, apparently, would he, judging from some comments he made the other day!
Also prevalent in adoption/fostering circles, is talk of ‘identity’. We are to protect the child’s sense of identity at almost all costs, maintaining links with birth families, retaining given names, showing photos of birth families to our adopted children, giving them life story books and later-life letters detailing the circumstances of their families and their adoptions. We maintain these links even in the cases of, say, fathers who have never seen or met their children. They were basically sperm donors.
And yet these issues of ‘identity’ are completely ignored when it comes to, say, becoming pregnant via IVF with donor sperm. Increasingly, our quest to control the creation of life leads us away from a consideration of the consequences of these techniques on the identities of the children we create. We are so concerned about maintaining a sense of identity for adopted children, even those who will not remember their birth families. But we have no such concerns regarding children conceived using donated materials, because these techniques, conveniently, give us what we want, which is apparently paramount, so we can overlook any little inconveniences such as the emotional and psychological impact on the child that is created. Such hypocrisy.
This is an extremely important point, and one that is so often avoided in these debates. The treatment of mothers and fathers as dispensable is going to be one of the longer term legacies of such developments, as the gender neutral parent gradually effaces the gendered natural one.
The way that mothers and fathers have distinct relationships to their offspring that aren’t interchangeable is one of the most marvellous but politically incorrect facts about parenthood. The mother and her child have a strong natural, immediate, and bodily connection. By contrast, the father is little more than an inseminator by nature and only truly becomes a ‘father’ through covenant and commitment. Given these two structurally different forms of relationship—which men and women can still represent to some degree even in an adoptive family—neither sex can substitute for the other and each sex has a unique relational role that they can play for a child and set of bonds and realities that they can symbolize (these are some important things that a father can provide, but what I am suggesting goes deeper).
It is important to remember that much of the importance of a father is not found in some generic role of fatherhood, or even in the love and care of a particular committed male figure, but rather in the natural father’s commitment and faithfulness to the natural mother, maintaining the integrity and love of the bond within which the child finds its biological, personal, and existential origins, and expanding that bond into an indivisible society of love as the natural family, within which the child can root its identity and security for the rest of its life.
The bond with one’s mother is far more naturally immediate and not so easily dissolved. The bond with one’s father, however, is forged principally from his lifelong commitment to one’s mother and, through and with her, to oneself. The bond between a child and its father is forged primarily in a marriage where ‘until death us do part’ really holds force, providing a commitment sure enough to offer a rock-solid loving basis for the child’s identity. Where the security of this commitment is in doubt, the role of the father becomes compromised. This is one reason why liberalized divorce laws are such a threat to the role of fatherhood. Even the father who is most committed to his children’s wellbeing can be limited in his role by a weakening institution of marriage.
Where a secure marriage between natural parents continues, the child need never venture beyond the intimate loving bond between their parents to locate their origins. As long as the loving, committed union between their parents is maintained, they can have existential security in the value of what they represent to their parents and to everyone else as the ‘one flesh’ fruit of that union.
And, while many other men may prove powerful positive presences in our lives, there is only one man on the planet who can fully perform this role—a biological father. Only in the natural family is there such a powerful integral connection between the bond between the parents and the identity and security of the children. This is why divorce is such an existential threat to children. It is also why, politically inconvenient as this fact may be in the contemporary context, much as in the case of adoptive families (which are attempts to repair a damaged situation as much as possible), queer families can never provide the same thing as the natural family. Only the natural family holds together biological (genetic and gestational), social, and legal parenthood as a single indivisible unit, granting children a sure and undivided source of origins, and the guarantee that the same love within which they find their origins is the love that surrounds, nurtures, and supports them as they grow throughout their lives.
While adoptive families are attempts to recover or patch up broken situations, the queer family is a normalization of such broken situations, and a denial of the rights of children in this area.
A further issue here is that the natural family comes with a particular account of the child and its meaning. Within the gay or queer family, the child is ‘chosen’. While this sounds positive—surely such a child will be loved, right?—the danger is the way that the choice of adults is made sovereign as children are granted less and less of a claim upon their natural parents. I have discussed the connection between the logic of abortion and same-sex marriage here. Abortion dissolves the bonds between the child and its mother and denies any force or right to the bond between the father (and the wider network of the family) and the child, rendering all parties autonomous choosers and denying the natural bonds involved. Same-sex marriage is an extension of this logic.
I have discussed some of the consequences of same-sex marriage for children in very considerable detail here.
Alistair, I every much appreciate your concise comments in this thread. I also am a short-term pessimist and long-term optimist concerning these very things. The challenge, day-to-day, is to communicate this kind of measured hope and long-term outlook to the Christians around me who are very upset by recent developments and distracted and agitated by the culture war rhetoric. “If we used our brains we could sow seeds now…” is (besides Jesus Christ himself), where I would love to see people’s attention linger. History is long and the span of our lives short. I want to think about what I can do for my grandchildren, rather than myself. This needs more work.
This is one of the very few articles on the matter that makes an actual bold statement as what exactly is going with SSM movement(s)
However, i din’t quite agree with the last point you make. How or what did Chistians do that helped the creation and strength of the SSM ? What and how couldbe done differently?
Thanks for the comment. I think that we did two key things (among others):
1. We gambled on natural disgust and ugly hatred being sufficient to prevent the public acceptance of homosexual relations. Even when we didn’t approve or share in the hatred people declared or expressed towards LGBT persons, we didn’t exactly speak up about it either. Natural disgust for unnatural relations may not be wrong in and of itself, but it is a weak defence against them in a society where we are widely exposed to them. We soon become desensitized. Such disgust isn’t an argument either and has little persuasive power.
The toleration of hatred was the real problem. By failing to challenge this (and on occasions, the Church expressed this same hatred itself), we became associated with it. By failing clearly to mark out a position of principled opposition to homosexual practice distinct from unconsidered hatred and prejudice, by the time society started to accept it, we were without the moral credibility to put forward an argument.
Perhaps a parallel could be drawn between this and the way that we don’t speak out against the vicious and dehumanizing hatred expressed towards paedophiles. We figure that, since the party being oppressed and hated has engaged in unnatural acts, we can turn a blind eye to the evil dynamics of society’s scapegoating, knowing that, if we stood up against it, we would be attacked too (which suggests that we know that it is driven by evil dynamics, but give it a pass because it is directed against a guilty party).
Also, a guilty people can easily be held to ransom. Society feels guilty about its past treatment of LGBT persons. This guilt enables the LGBT movement to make completely unreasonable demands of us. If the Church had truly acted as the conscience of society on this matter, this degree of guilt would not have existed and society would have found it easier to draw clear and reasonable lines on LGBT rights.
2. We failed to maintain a faithful form of practice against and to take a vocal enough stand on previous developments in our marriage culture. We allowed the foundations to be eaten away, while not saying a great deal. We also often didn’t take a clear stand against divorce culture when it expressed itself in our midst. We didn’t sufficiently challenge contraceptive culture, or maintain a sharply distinct way of life from the fornication-tolerating society around us. We entertained ourselves with material only relatively less lewd than that consumed by our non-Christian neighbours. We became known for hypocrisy. We were salt that lost a lot of its savour. When we finally stood up against same-sex marriage, society wasn’t going to listen to us, and it was, in some part, our fault.
Of course, had we done everything right, we would very likely still be in the same position. However, we would not be without credibility and we wouldn’t need to repent in the same manner.
I think the conservative position in this area is always going to be seen as extreme as long as Christians use religious arguments to call on secular society to change (or preserve) practices or laws, rather than limiting themselves to the church. There are definitely non-religious arguments or concerns about the extent to which LGBT rights should stretch (particularly where children are involved), but people aren’t stupid: Christians have howled at every point along the progression of the gay rights movement and they were very much involved in laying foundations for cultural homophobia. In countries like Uganda, homophobia exists with the active support of American evangelicals. This is more than guilt by association, although individual Christians often do have more nuanced views. By now though, it hardly matters how nuanced people’s views are, as there’s hardly any credibility left.
At this point, the evangelical church’s continued intrusion into secular society (whether justified our not from a Christian perspective) makes it unsurprising that there is a backlash now that the tide has turned. However, there is a definite attempt to tar everyone with the same brush, as if all reasonable people have already accepted all of the claims of the LGBT movement and any remaining on the other side are bigots. It does help to control the argument, especially one that is so governed by emotion. I’d also agree about the attempt to redefine “true Christianity” as “following the teachings of Jesus to love and accept everybody”, while dismissing opposition to homosexuality in the Bible as equivalent to teachings on diet and clothing.
At the end of the day, if Christians keep trying to remove gays from society, gays will do the same to Christians. You may have a more nuanced voice, but that isn’t the one that most people are hearing. You talk of the homosexual agenda of claiming cultural hegemony over society and marginalizing orthodox Christian views where Christians become culturally impotent and their way of life is disapproved of. Schools will write Christian views out of their curricula as damaging to children. This is exactly what Christians have been doing to homosexuals for centuries (and worse). Don’t be naive: homosexuals are not out to get you; if anything, you are out to get them and you are losing the battle.
Thanks for the comment, Jonathan, and sorry about the very delayed response: I only just noticed it. I don’t have time for a long conversation on an old thread so this will be my only response here: I hope that you understand. This will also be fairly forceful. However, I trust that, as you know me, you will know the spirit in which it is presented.
First of all, the conservative position has never been restricted to using religious arguments. Much of the opposition to same-sex marriage has arisen from non-religious arguments and instincts. It is the religious arguments that have typically received the most attention, however. This is for various reasons, but mostly particularly because the religious opposition is the most principled and absolute in its opposition. It has also been focused upon by advocates of same-sex marriage, because, by suggesting that opposition arises from a purely religious instinct, it is easily stigmatized, marginalized, or otherwise dismissed.
Second, Christians are not a homogeneous movement, although it can be politically expedient to characterize them as such. I have yet to have a first-hand encounter with a Western Christian who supports Uganda’s policies, although I have met many from all quarters of the Church who have vocally spoken out against and protested them.
Third, the fact that opposition to same-sex marriage is regarded as ‘religious’ or ‘Christian’ is extremely culturally contingent. The situation in France is illuminating here. The huge and vocal French opposition to same-sex marriage has crossed the division between left and right, hasn’t been ‘religious’, hasn’t generally been opposed to civil rights for LGBT persons in civil unions, and was focused upon the rights of children to a mother and father and the need to preserve the natural bonds formed by procreation. The persistent characterization of opposition to same-sex marriage as ‘religious’ is a convenient way to duck the tough issues that are raised by such a movement. As soon as a movement is perceived to be ‘religious’, it can be dismissed, and told to keep its position to the bounds of the Church, as you suggest.
Fourth, the characterization of opposition to same-sex marriage as ‘religious’ is also a convenient way in which non-Christians who are not really comfortable with it can avoid having a debate that could lead to them being stigmatized as homophobic. They recognize that the same-sex marriage position is unreasonable and deeply flawed, but they don’t really say a great deal about it. Why not? Don’t they recognize the issues that are at stake? Non-Christians in other countries have been very vocal on this issue, recognizing that exceedingly important social goods are on the line, especially when it comes to the rights of children to a father and a mother. Why have non-Christians here and in the US been so muted by comparison? What does this say about their level of principle? Do they fear or recognize that the supporters of same-sex marriage are scapegoating bullies, who would present them as homophobes if they made their voices heard? Does their unwillingness to be seen alongside supposedly unenlightened Christians trump their sense of duty to speak out? Are they quiet on account of the schadenfreude in seeing Christians—who they regard as bullies themselves—being beaten up? Where is the backbone and principle of non-Christians on this issue in the UK and US? What does it say about them that they have surrendered so overwhelmingly to the same-sex marriage position, with so little vigorous dispute upon the matter among themselves? What does it say about them that they swung so completely away from the universal historical position on the most fundamental cultural institution, to the extent that any difference is now presented as not to be tolerated in liberal circles and any who differ are driven out? I really hope that you are not suggesting that we should accord any moral credibility to persons who manifest little to no evidence of challenging moral deliberation.
Fifth, as other people haven’t really spoken up on an issue that concerns us on many levels, many of us as Christians have felt the duty to make our voices heard. We have made many non-religious arguments, arguments whose force has been virtually universally recognized and presumed prior to the last couple of decades. We have argued, not for some new religious imposition upon society, but for the hitherto universal—with vanishingly few and debatable exceptions—cultural belief and practice of marriage as between a man and a woman. However, merely because we are Christians, our arguments have been dismissed as religious. Our religious convictions become a convenient excuse to exclude our non-religious arguments from public discourse or to marginalize them within it.
On the tension between the LGBT movement and Christians we should be clear. First, such a tension will exist between the LGBT movement and any society that seeks to uphold the naturally heteronormative character of marriage and procreation. Any such society will recognize particular significance in relationships between a man and a woman. Most such societies will at best only tolerate homosexual relations, or will treat them as exceptions to the male-female norm. Same-sex relations will typically be discouraged and presented as departures from the ends of the natural order and bearing a problematic relation to the common goods integrated within marriage. They won’t grant the equality of same-sex relations and relations between a man and a woman. Etc. The fact that many liberals are not in opposition to some degree or other to the normalization of LGBT persons and their sexual relations is just a sign of how completely they have sold out the traditional and natural norms of sex, marriage, and procreation, hardly putting up any critical resistance at all. And we are supposed to accord moral credibility to such a spineless lot?
Second, yes, there is an inescapable opposition here, at least for anyone who won’t capitulate to the normalization of LGBT persons and their relations. Neither party can budge without fundamentally changing who they are in some respect. Society can’t normalize LGBT persons and their relations without radically moving away from its character as a marriage society. LGBT persons can’t uphold the norms of traditional marriage societies without changing their perception and practice of their sexualities and identities. And Christians can’t maintain a commitment to Christian sexual ethics without presenting same-sex relations as a radical departure.
The real question is, why isn’t this a tension that you feel too?
Thanks for the response; don’t worry, I much prefer a forceful response to a dismissive one! I’m currently a fundamentalist sympathizer on BoingBoing anyway, so this will make a nice change!
My argument about homophobia in places like Uganda or more generally in other parts of the world is not to pretend that this is all or even mainly the fault of Christians, but that Christians have often played their part in it and have helped to influence cultures where this is acceptable. In Uganda, American evangelicals have continued to speak against homosexuality in strong terms, even where the treatment of homosexuals there is so misguided. Many Christians have nothing to do with this and find it highly objectionable, but the fact remains that there is a history of unethical practices in this area by Christians that has contributed to the present situation, and this is often the impression people get when they think of the relationship between Christianity and homosexuality. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/05/11/uganda-anti-homosexual-bill-inspired-by-american-evangelicals.html
An interesting anecdote backing up one of your main points: recently Monika (my wife and Alastair’s sister-in-law) had a new patient who was in a same sex marriage. The other nurses expressed their disgust and said things like that they didn’t want to touch her. It was only Monika and her boss (also an evangelical Christian) who said that she was a patient with needs like anyone else and they needed to treat her the same as all the other patients. Of course any of those nurses could “evolve” in their views in a very short time and blame Christian culture for their earlier homophobia.
I think one of the main barriers to dialogue on this issue is that many will never accept that one group has rights over another group’s practices. The fact that Christians propose and support legal barriers to gay marriage is by definition an example of bigotry, so there is nothing people could do even to open a dialogue on the issue. My “sending to the corner” was more or less on this issue: while I don’t fully agree with it, I think it’s understandable that people feel there’s a particular model of marriage that gay couples may or may not meet, leading to the possible exclusion of individual cases or whole groups based on their ability to meet criteria. Conservatives are often prescriptive rather than descriptive (and marriage laws have almost always been prescriptive), which is not necessarily an example of bigotry.
My personal opinion on this is that the church should be free to determine and maintain its own standards on marriage, and should be able to encourage others outside the church to follow these standards. However, it doesn’t have jurisdiction over the wider society and should not be surprised if direct efforts to change laws to enforce these standards are met with a backlash from LGBT persons or their supporters (what’s good for the goose…). A number of commenters on this post are talking of a period of strong opposition, but at this point there are hardly any limitations to the practice of your beliefs. Get married, show the world how much better your way of life is and teach your principles in church; that much will get very little opposition. Insist that others follow the same principles or stop your children from following their own path and there will be more problems. Many people have deep concerns about evangelical practices such as homeschooling to the exclusion of non-Christian teaching or even friendships, anti-scientific views and basing ethics on a book with ethical statements that they find highly objectionable, but they are willing to allow this in the interests of a free society. If their own rights are challenged, not so much. My own personal feeling about homosexuality (including any gut reaction to it or worries about its effects) is not really relevant. Where children are being mistreated or other abuses are taking place, these should be handled on a case by case basis.
As to the tension, aside from what I’ve already said it is interesting to see possible inconsistencies and tensions in core modern beliefs about gender. If the common feminist belief that there is very little non-culturally determined difference between the skills, character etc. of men and women, how do we explain transsexuals or even homosexuality? I think these are serious questions where the tension is often rooted in the inconsistencies of human nature and I want to give people the space to explore answers for themselves in line with their own convictions.
The desire to give people the space to explore answers for themselves is one I can relate to in many respects. However, the problem is that we can’t follow such a libertarian line on this particular issue without acquiescing to the de-institutionalization of marriage. Marriage is about recognizing common goods and social goods that transcend and limit individual choices. Any such institution operates by various forms of ‘enforcement’, by placing limits on choices, by penalizing or socially judging certain actions, and by upholding ‘norms’. Should we just surrender such an institutional view of marriage to appease the LGBT community?
Marriage exists, among other things, to seek to ensure that as few children as possible enter into the world without a welcome and that they are received as a gift, rather than as an intrusion or as persons who can be chosen or not. It also exists to protect the bonds between parents and their natural children and to discourage the complication of those bonds, to ensure that a child never has to look beyond their immediate family to discover their origins and lineage. To do such things, marriage has to limit the choices of adults, place constraints upon them, and a marriage culture employs strong expectations, pressures, and social judgments to get couples to marry and to stay committed to each other.
While marriage has been moving in this direction for some time, same-sex marriage is a decisive lurch in the direction and formalization of marriage as a relationship that exists principally for the two adults entering into it and ordered around their rights. The social fragmentation that this view of marriage has already caused is profound, as is the harm that it has caused to our view of children. Formally establishing such an understanding is a very significant and dangerous step.
The liberal view of the person as an autonomous individual chooser, for whom all ‘differences’ (sex, gender, race, sexuality, etc.) must be treated as essentially indifferent is central to the issue here. For those who hold such a position—a position that I believe is manifestly false—the Christian position will always appear grossly illiberal and intolerant. This isn’t going to change any time soon. However, in the real world, the differences between men and women aren’t matters of indifference, and this is nowhere more true than in the realm of procreation and child-rearing. Liberalism’s view of the person can’t really reckon with the family and, most particularly, the child. The child—especially the unborn child—wreaks havoc with liberalism’s autonomous individual and with its tidy divisions between public and private. The fact that some human persons have wombs is also something that it is ill-equipped to process. These facts undermine the liberal vision of equality between persons and the relegation of differences to indifference.
Liberal feminism and much of the LGBT community are seeking to attack these realities of difference in the name of an ideological ‘equality’. Any persisting patterns of difference in society are presumed to be matters of injustice and the machinery of the state can be marshalled against them. Any failure to achieve the desired ends almost invariably leads to redoubled efforts, rather than to a re-examination of the driving assumptions. People’s perceived identities are on the line here, and they aren’t about to give up the ideology. The logic of such liberalism can be fairly totalizing. If we do not stand against the logic of indifference and detached individuals at the point of marriage and the family, where exactly are we going to do so?
I should add that a common way of framing this argument is in terms of rights and equality, without being willing to accept other issues. It’s a complex debate and but I can see more possible problems with adoption and surrogacy than marriage, especially when this is a civil marriage and churches are not forced to accept an inclusive suffering.
There is actually an issue that is far more connected with this on which evangelicals are silent.
There are plenty of Evangelicals willing to invoke the disgust* card to condemn homosexual behaviour (see Thabiti A’s article on the GC website), otoh there is also an epidemic of rape in American prisons on which they are completely silent. Indeed the only times I’ve heard it referred to from an American pulpit is usually to make a juvenile joke.
[*] Which is problematic for all sorts of other reasons anyway.
Indeed. And the dynamics of prison rape are much more similar to the ‘sin of Sodom’ than that of a consensual same-sex relationship.
I don’t think I’ve posted this here before, but I apologize if you’ve already seen it. I had to do a short assignment looking at outcomes for different family structures for a psychology class I’m taking, and poking around led me to this very interesting study. Take some time to poke around the various outcomes:
No, I don’t think that you have. Thanks for the link!
I am rather wary of social science arguments on such subjects. The methodologies and ideologies of the social sciences have given a lot of strength to the same-sex marriage case. By presenting marriage, parents’ relationship with their children, and child-rearing as if they were opaque realities that can only be discovered by social science research and surveys (all of which are fairly easy to contest), a convenient agnosticism is introduced and other means of knowledge are ignored. The biological family comes to be regarded as at best probabilistically better at securing certain quantifiable results (usually narrowly focused upon being a broadly psychologically functional individual in our modern economy). The qualitative differences are thus ignored, as are a host of less easily measurable issues.
The fact that the social sciences are dominated by liberals, whose studies typically reflect their heavy biases doesn’t really make me feel any better about our reliance upon them. While flawed liberal studies will receive little criticism and much positive press if they prove the desired position, any conservative research will be picked apart and discredited in any manner possible. Unwelcome results can also usually be explained away as contingent upon some unmeasured cultural factor or other (persisting or internalized homophobia, or something like that).
I would like to encourage a deeper acquaintance with the natural grammar of human relations, the character of the relationship between a child and their biological parents, and the relation between the sexes. We need to think about these things from the inside out, foreseeing as yet unobserved effects on account of our profound familiarity with the reality of marriage and its causal potential. We inhabit these realities and shouldn’t always have to go outside of them to achieve any understanding of them. I believe that this is a far healthier and firmer basis for our reasoning and one which enables us to escape many of the limitations of the social sciences to make claims that are more general and not limited to certain countries, forms of culture, or socio-economic backgrounds.
I think that the habitual neglect of such reflection upon the inner nature of human relations, as opposed to their outward effects is one of the primary reasons that we have such a confused understanding in the first place. It is also one reason why we consistently miss some of the bigger social questions that I have tried to raise in my writing on the subject: How does same-sex marriage affect our phenomenology of children? How does same-sex marriage relate and reinforce to our contemporary philosophy of personhood? How does same-sex marriage introduce the dynamic of the marketplace into the institution of marriage? How does same-sex marriage change the logic and meaning of marriage for society more generally? etc. etc.
“How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” — Abraham Lincoln
I would also look at the history of what has happened in countries like Canada and the Netherlands where gay marriage has been legal for quite some time. There has definitely been some petty harrassment, but in Canada, for example, overreaching by gay activists and other PC types has actually resulting in a strengthening of free speech laws. For example, the federal government stripped the Federal Human Rights Commission of jurisdiction over speech issues. There have also been several decisions where the courts have refused to apply provincial human rights laws in the area of speech. One cannot rule out reverses, of course, especially once large and symbolically important countries like the U.S. and Britain legalize gay marriage, but the early signs are reasonably encouraging.
That much is heartening. It will be interesting to see how things turn out here in the UK.
As usual, I agree with most of Thursday’s points.
An early poster brought up a parallel to interracial marriage, making the common argument that opposing “gay marriage” is going to become as socially unacceptable as opposing interracial marriage. Well, I have two responses to that.
First of all (less importantly), do note that being uncomfortable with interracial marriage is not nearly as uncommon or as taboo as one might think. Oh, sure, it’s not a politically correct sentiment; most people will say, publicly, that they’re “just fine” with interracial relationships. But they don’t want their sister/mom/whoever in one. Even (gasp) today, in 2014. Similarly, discomfort with homosexuality is not going away.
Second, and more importantly, it just ain’t the same thing. Black civil rights were supported, or certainly not strongly opposed, on Christian grounds. Homosexual relationships are the opposite. Christians, and biblical teaching, just aren’t going away. The proper analogy is not with race issues, but with abortion – over time, Christians are going to be able to convince significant numbers of people about the dangers of the homosexual lobby. Maybe they won’t achieve a lasting “victory” in the near future, but opposition to homosexuality just ain’t going away, never, no-how.
I particularly agree with Thurs that Christians are just going to develop strategies (much like medieval Jews who were shut out of certain professions, and actually prospered nonetheless). I don’t mean to be a Pollyanna, but if there’s going to be a struggle, then let’s embrace our inner faith and toughness, for God’s sake.
One of the only points where I disagree with Thurs, or at least question his perspective, is with his mention of Canada. As a fellow Canadian, I must note that Canada is a weird country where people are genuinely tolerant in a way that is astounding and just doesn’t happen and isn’t possible in most of the world. Politics tends to be much rougher in the USA, which is why I think that the worsening, and subsequent reversal in fortune, of the homosexual lobby will take place there more strongly and more violently than anywhere else.
Thanks for the comment, Samson.
I think that there is always going to be some residual racial prejudice. Racial stereotyping develops fairly naturally in young children, even without any teaching from the adults in their lives, and this will often be reinforced in various ways over time. Given other cultural, socio-economic, religious, national, and physical differences that typically have a strong probabilistic relationship to race, race isn’t going to cease to be a feature of people’s thinking any time soon.
Interracial marriage can be perceived as a relatively strong form of exogamy. Given the various factors that racial difference can correlate to, an instinctive wariness of such unions may be fairly pronounced, especially as they cross strong cultural, linguistic, religious, or socio-economic lines, geographical divides, or involve significant power differentials that result from these factors. The presumption that a prejudice against interracial marriage is fuelled by mere racial prejudice is probably unfair. For a strongly endogamous group, such as Orthodox Jews or the Romani people (both of which have experienced displacement), endogamy may be about religious or cultural preservation, not about some racist animus towards other people groups (although I suspect that racism frequently comes with the territory). Extreme levels of exogamy also present challenges when it comes to forming a meaningful kinship between two sides of a family, which has long been a key purpose of marriage in many cultures historically.
For all of these reasons, I think that we should be cautious of chalking instinctive resistance to interracial marriage down to racism alone. We should also remember that most people, of all races, have a weighted preference for partners of our own race and that interracial marriages, even when not prohibited are uncommon or rare (there are also different exogamous tendencies between particular races and between the sexes of particular races). Many interracial marriages are not in the Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner mould. Nor should we expect this resistance to disappear any time soon, especially in countries where cultural identities are rather more deeply rooted and ethnically related than they may be in many parts of the US. Racial difference is not about to become a fluid distinction.
When it comes to resistance to interracial marriage, a few points should be made:
1. Interracial marriage has a long history in practically every major human society.
2. Anti-miscegenation laws were far from universal and varied significantly from culture to culture, even from state to state.
3. Interracial marriage was conceived of as a possible entity. A marriage between two persons of different races was a possible form of marriage, but certain forms of interracial marriage were forbidden in certain jurisdictions. The contrast between this and same-sex marriage in this respect should be obvious.
4. Laws against interracial marriage have been regarded as culturally contingent, often even by those cultures within which those laws exist. They did not address the fundamental reality of what marriage is, but proscribed certain marriages for racist or cultural reasons.
5. Same-sex marriage has not been illegal historically. There was not a set of laws forbidding two men from marrying. Such unions just weren’t marital by definition.
6. While there were firm judgments upon religious exogamy, interracial marriage was practiced in Israel and defended by God (even though it was resisted by some, see Numbers 12, for instance).
We will need to develop strategies. One of the things that we will most have to struggle with is the intrusive character of the modern state and the manner in which it seeks to involve itself and insert its ideologies into family life. While the Jews that you mention were shut out (and we might find that in some circles: witness the recent situation in Mozilla), our greater challenge may be that of keeping the state out of intrusive involvement in our children’s and communities’ lives.
I agree with your point about Canada. Also, as long as there are powerful forces of resistance to the LGBT lobby the fight is going to be pretty bitter.
Pingback: Worth a Look 3.31.14 – Trevin Wax
Pingback: On the Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage in England and Wales » ZIONICA.com
Pingback: Alastair on SSM in the UK | Notes from Mere O
I see nowhere in your article where a distinction is drawn between civil marriage and Christian marriage. Perhaps the conflating of the two is the heart of the issue?
Civil marriage is merely a collection of pragmatic rules designed to reflect settled expectations and minimize transaction costs. Therefore, any reasoned opposition to extending the benefits of civil marriage to same-sex couples ought to rely primarily on such arguments. After all, moral suasion is not a relevant policy lever in property law. Rather, moral suasion is the purpose of criminal laws. In that sense, denying the benefits of civil marriage to same-sex couples is tantamount to employing a property rule to inflict a criminal punishment upon them (e.g., by denying them a litany of legal and financial benefits that are otherwise lavished by the state upon those who avail themselves of the legal institution of civil marriage). Therefore, by opposing civil same-sex marriage, traditionalists are merely attempting to make a disingenuous end-run around the abolition of anti-sodomy laws. In that sense, I would have much greater respect for traditionalists if they would cut out the casuistry over marriage, and simply advocate for the re-enactment of anti-sodomy laws, where the punishments involve fines instead of prison terms.
Do you have any thoughts as to why traditionalists are not more active in advocating for enacting criminal punishments against gay people? It seems that arguments based on moral principles and telos belong more properly in that context.
Or is there something different about civil marriage in the UK, as compared to the US, which would lead one to conceive of civil marriage differently?
There isn’t really a distinction between ‘civil marriage’ and ‘Christian marriage’. There may be a distinction between civil weddings and Christian ones, but these are just two different ‘doors’ to the same house. Both the Church and the State hold that marriage is a single thing. This is even more the case in the UK, where the law has recognized every marriage, whether the wedding was civil or religious, as resulting in the state of holy matrimony, as defined by the Book of Common Prayer.
For that matter, neither the Church or the state have ever ‘defined’ marriage into existence. This is another canard. The state has legally adumbrated marriage as a natural union that precedes it and has claims upon it (much as it recognizes the dignity of the person as something that it has a duty to recognize and defend). Much the same is the case in the Church. The Church has recognized the natural union of marriage within the scope of its God-given jurisdiction by formally blessing it, with the blessing that God first placed upon it at the creation. The idea that marriage is just a legal construct that we can redefine in its most basic reality as we might so choose is a radical departure. So, no, I can’t agree with your claims about civil marriage.
However, let’s suppose for the sake of argument that ‘civil marriage’ is a thing and that it is ‘merely a collection of pragmatic rules designed to reflect settled expectations and minimize transaction costs.’ The first thing to point out is that ‘civil unions’, even though granting virtually exactly the same rights as those resulting from marriage in the UK and other jurisdictions, were not seen as enough. This isn’t just about the legal rights provided by a legal construct, but about public meaning.
The second thing to point out is that there is no reason why same-sex unions in particular should be granted such privileges and those in, say, committed celibate friendships with no sexual component should be denied them. Marriage has historically been recognized and legally adumbrated because the sexual union between a man and a woman is unique. It brings together the two sexes—the two halves of human society—realizing the most fundamental natural telos of our sexed bodies, it is the means of procreation, it ensures paternity, and it holds together biological, social, and legal parenthood as a single entity. Such a union naturally has public significance: the sexual union between two men or two women does not have remotely the same significance at all and in fact has a distorting effect on many of the goods listed above.
The third and final thing to point out is that the same-sex marriage case has fairly consistently been about rights and social status—holding a sexual union between two men or two women as equal in social significance and status to the procreative union between a man and a woman—and very little has been said about the institutional dimensions of the union. Because the union between a man and a woman has the capacity to produce new life, with all of the new relationships, responsibilities, and claims that new life entails, the institution of marriage has functioned to limit sexual autonomy. Marriage culture has stigmatized non-marital relations, which can lead to children coming into the world without a stable network of relationships within which they will be welcomed. It has pushed the majority to pursue marriage. It has made divorce difficult. It has ruled out extra-marital relations. Etc. An exceedingly common theme that one witnesses upon same-sex marriage supporters is that they want the privileges, status, and destruction of heteronormative social meaning that comes with same-sex marriage, but they are far from ready to submit to marriage as an institution. They don’t want the LGBT community to be expected to pursue marriage as a matter of course. They don’t want to commit to sexual exclusivity. They don’t want any stigmatization or discouragement of sex outside of marriage. They don’t want tough divorce laws. All of this is a real problem. Marriage is being lost as a social institution and being reinvented as a private and bespoke lifestyle choice.
Moral principles and telos really don’t belong more properly in the criminal sphere. They apply in every sphere according to its character and the scope of its jurisdiction. For instance, I believe that abortion is a radical violation of moral principles and human telos, but on the ground of related moral principles, I also strongly oppose treating mothers who abort their unborn children as criminals.
I agree that having an established church confuses things. In the US, where there is formal disestablishment, civil marriage and Christian marriage are distinct institutions. Frankly, I favor deleting the term “marriage” from civil law, and replacing it with something else. That way it’s clear that marriage is a religious institution in which the state has no legitimate interest.
I’d be open to civil unions, if accompanied with the abolition of civil marriage. In the US, civil unions were not equivalent to civil marriages in terms of legal rights and financial benefits. For example, parties to a civil union were taxed at much higher rates than parties to a civil marriage. In some cases, parties to a civil marriage owed no taxes, while parties to a civil union would owe a 40% tax on the same income stream.
Even in the US, civil marriage and Christian marriage are not different things, even though there may be a difference between a civil wedding and a Christian one. The difference is not between two different entities, but between the way that a single entity is registered within two different ‘jurisdictions’. This is fairly elementary, but widely missed.
It is also important to recognize that marriage is not just a private contract for private ends, as a civil union might suggest, but is ordered to social ends that transcend those of the parties entering into them. In other words, marriage was never just about Jack and Jill expressing their love to each other and getting tax perks as a result. More importantly, it was a means by which, among other things, society sought to ensure that those children who were born into it were born into stable and committed homes, where they were ensured a relationship with both of their biological parents. Many contemporary views of marriage miss this social and institutional dimension completely.
Just out of interest, do you believe that there is anything different about sexual relations between men and women that should justify them being given distinct treatment and recognition from homosexual forms of sexual relations?
Alastair, would you mind elaborating on the different moral spheres that lead you to regard abortion as an action differently than the morally just response to it as far as personal relationships are concerned? I believe I agree with you, but I’m interested in the basis of your thoughts.
Holding mothers criminally responsible for taking the life of their unborn children—holding doctors responsible is a different matter—is an overreach of the state into the realm of nature. The unborn child is a human being, but is not yet a ‘person’ in the realm of the state.
Liberal anthropology is a distorted mess that is ill-equipped to take account of the complicated relationship of coinherence between an unborn child and its mother. We need to do justice to the sui generis character of this relationship and not seek to shoehorn it into categories and a jurisdiction that is designed for persons who are bodily distinct (perhaps the only other partial analogies that we might have here are those of Siamese twins).
I am an American, so perhaps I don’t understand the ways of a country with an established Church. If there is no difference between a Christian marriage and civil marriage, are two Hindus who get married in Britain in a Christian marriage?
Thanks for commenting, Julia.
No. They are just in a marriage. There may be Christian weddings and Hindu weddings, but there is only one type of marriage. The different weddings are like different doors to a single house.
I’m late coming to this link.Thank you for your excellent blog. I’ve read though the dialogue on this site & now realise that the ramifications of the SSM law are far more extensive than I’d previously imagined.This law has really opened a Pandora’s box.
I’ll just respond briefly for now. Your prophetic words about orthodox Christians becoming a marginalised minority resonates with me, as do your words about taking a resolute vocal stance, grace & repentance. We are accountable to God.
I’d like to share a prophecy I heard at Spring Harvest in 1995* – a prophecy made by Alex Buchanan. At the same gathering, Nicky Gumbel spoke about the ‘Toronto Blessing’. Alex B. said we were being given the blessing to strengthen our faith for the time when we would be persecuted in the UK – he estimated the persecution would begin c.2005. He said UK Christians could be imprisoned for their faith. It hit me like a brick. I didn’t want to believe it, yet it rang true.
As you said, Alastair, the war is far from over – and like you, I am a long-term optimist.
I am not a theologian or an apologist but this is really ‘burning in my bones’.I want to do my bit, limited though my ‘bit’ may be! I feel that the SSM frenzy is the tip of a big iceberg in this free-for-all, anything-goes, throw-away society we seem to live in now & we need to take a firm stand. You have put the case eloquently & firmly & it has done me good.
* Steve Chalke also spoke (on the subject of the Internet) at the same gathering. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.
And one year on I realise that what grieves me most is the pride in ‘Gay Pride’ – I have been re-reading Deuteronomy 8
Pingback: Nuff said: A week later with the same-sex ruling | Notes from the Trail
Pingback: Nuff said: A week later with the same-sex ruling | Notes from the Trail | Random Notes from the Trail
Pingback: The New Inquisitors | Panther Red