Dissolving the Institution of Marriage
For years, opponents of same-sex marriage fretted that the unleashing of gay nuptials would open the door for all types of sexual decadence. Last presidential cycle, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was panned heavily for comparing gay marriage to polygamy at a New Hampshire stop on the campaign trail. After a college student questioned his vigorous opposition to same sex couples being wed, Santorum responded in turn: “If it makes three people happy to get married, based on what you just said, what makes that wrong?” The remark was met with boos from students and condemnation from the liberal press.
Less than two years later, Santorum ran a victory lap after a federal judge struck down a ban on polygamy in Utah. The ruling didn’t enshrine the right to polygamy in the state per se; it only held that polygamous individuals can’t be discriminated against under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. They still don’t have the right to marry, but give it time.
The judge’s decision was easily predictable. Shortly before the Supreme Court struck down the federal non-recognition of same-sex marriages last summer, one liberal writer had already moved on to advocating for legalized polygamy. The berating of conservative slippery-slope hysteria? Quickly forgotten for the sake of more freedom.
Since at least the Reagan Era, the early proponents of same-sex marriage in America assured traditional folks that they only wanted the same monogamous love enjoyed by heterosexuals. Andrew Sullivan, the passionate gay marriage supporter who broke cultural and political barriers as head of the New Republic, wrote in 1989 that marriage “provides an anchor, if an arbitrary and weak one, in the chaos of sex and relationships to which we are all prone.” It was this institution Sullivan wished to incorporate into gay life. While admitting that “gay leadership clings to notions of gay life as essentially outsider, anti-bourgeois, radical” he found being both “gay” and “bourgeois” to no longer be “an absurd proposition.”
Sullivan led the crusade for marriage “equality” long before the President thought it was cool -- and voter friendly -- to endorse. His efforts, which are finally bearing fruit, are laudable, and I believe he was sincere in wanting gay marriage for the right reasons. Even so, I have the sneaking suspicion that much of the support for same-sex marriage isn’t so much about bringing a neglected part of society into the fold, but rather tearing down what’s viewed as an oppressive institution.
By now, it’s obvious gay marriage will soon be a reality across the United States. The culture has largely accepted homosexuality. The next step is normalization. From this growing trend, Ross Douthat of the New York Times recently attempted to negotiate the terms of surrender for social conservatives. As an orthodox Catholic, Douthat frets the self-righteousness of the pro-gay marriage crowd will eventually work itself into government policy that impedes on religious liberty. He quite reasonably asks for “protections for dissent.” He didn’t understand that asking for such shelter is like open-bleeding in an ocean of emaciated sharks. It’s an invitation to attack.
Mark Joseph Stern of Slate immediately denounced Douthat as homophobic while linking his religious beliefs to racism. It’s not the first time this pejorative has been thrown at the NYT columnist. Douthat’s carving out a place for religious beliefs won’t be considered because there is to be no consideration. Anyone who questions what now goes for acceptable opinion on gay marriage is instantly an insufferable bigot that must be punished.
This all leads to a recent piece in the Daily Beast by Jay Michaelson, a gay writer who favors same-sex marriage but is wary of a plot to undermine the institution. He notes that while “we now know that the sky doesn’t fall when gays get married,” there is validity to the “conservative claim that gay marriage is changing, not just expanding, marriage.” Michaelson describes this change as the “Christian Right’s nightmare” because it eschews fidelity, and thus the sacred bond taken between man and wife. Should gay marriage become the norm, it will turn the institution into a “sex-positive, body-affirming compact” with little regard to the spiritual aspect of man and woman becoming “one flesh.” He even goes as far as to note that polygamy and infidelity are widely acknowledged and accepted in the gay community.
I suspect that has been the plan all along. It’s not enough to gain the right to be married in a church. It’s not even enough to agitate public opinion into such a frenzy that dissent becomes a hatred-driven treason against humanity. The end goal is the total annihilation of the bourgeois vision of marriage.
Last fall, Dean Spade and Craig Willse, two lefty radical college professors, penned the treatise “Marriage Will Never Set Us Free” arguing, among other things, that marriage is a tool of oppression and “labor exploitation.” Not only that, they averred marriage represents “property” and thus the unjust passing down the fruits of labor to progeny. And lastly, marriage is viewed by these hard-leftists as a “patriarchal, sexist institution” used by governments as a “tool of social control.”
I don’t doubt governments use the institution of marriage to regulate family life. But that’s not the point. As a metaphysical matter, the union between a man and woman before God is meant to sacralize the participation in creation -- the transcendental act of love which creates a child. It exists to hallow what religious scholar Mircea Eliade describes as “the union of heaven and earth.” Since elitist progressives don’t have much reverence for the Divine, they ignore that matter altogether. In their eyes marriage is just a contract that has all types of historic injustice attached.
The push to absolve marriage and achieve a society of free love is right on a par with other leftist causes. The goal is virtually always the same: a world unrestricted by traditional norms that temper public behavior. They wish to tear down the caste system enforced through social ostracization, and achieve a society where anything goes. The very idea of marriage being between just a man and woman is offensive to radical leftists because it holds male and female as distinct creatures. For egalitarian libertines, that’s a reality too horrid to survive in their utopia.
Those who understand marriage as a transcendental institution understand that same-sex unions are a contradiction. They are, as Catholic University of America professor Michael Hanby puts it, “ontologically impossible.” By its very nature, marriage can’t be between two men or two women. If marriage means loving consent between any two, or three, or various numbers of people, it loses almost all meaning. The law of diminishing marginal returns kicks in, and that which was once sacred turns into something everyday and common.
None of this is to say gay individuals don’t have the right to be wed by someone who consents to perform the ceremony. They have the right to do as they please, so long as it doesn’t inflict harm on anyone else. But calling something “marriage” doesn’t necessarily make it marriage.” Many gay people I know personally don’t wish to rock the boat of Western Civilization. They want the ideal of heterosexual couples: a loving, monogamous relationship and a white-picket fence. Then again, I don’t associate much with the Ivory Tower-types who long to destroy basic virtue.
In the end, there is a great fear among supporters of traditional marriage: how the lower and middle classes react when unchained from moral obligations. The elites will always be able to take care of themselves, no matter the sexual dalliances they engaged in. That’s the added benefit of having a plump bank account. Everyone else, on the other hand, is much more susceptible to financial distress and crumpling personal lives. The kind of order created through marriage -- whether it be fidelity to spouse or the framework to focus on rearing children – is empowering when compared to the hedonistic tendencies that lend themselves to a lack of productivity.
So is there a grand conspiracy against marriage? Yes; just as there is a grand conspiracy against capitalism, privacy, liberty, and basic decency. Since social movements are primarily driven by intellectuals, normal people advocating for gay marriage aren’t necessarily aware of the cause in which they are so entwined. They are blissfully ignorant of the puppeteers operating behind the scenes.
The conspiracy is afoot. Slowly, progressives are coming out and acknowledging their true agenda. The progressive reformation of our world is meant to liberate us from the kind of liberty-fostering order that is necessary for human flourishing. If achieved, it will only implant a myopic culture incapable of recognizing goodness or truth outside superficial desires. It’s a frightening notion, and one that shouldn’t be ignored.