August 2003 – It may soon be a dark day for the institution of marriage in America. In June the federal government of Canada, headed by Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his cabinet, pressed ahead with plans to legalize same-sex marriage. Soon, perhaps this summer, the Massachusetts state supreme court – followed by one or more states in the U.S. – may join our neighbor to the north.
Such a move would certainly toss the subject of gay marriage front and center in our culture – but not for the first time. In 1996, both houses of Congress passed – and President Clinton signed – the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). That legislation allowed states the right to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages that might be legalized in other states.
Homosexual activists, however, have hammered tirelessly against the doors of heterosexual marriage, demanding to be allowed into the sacred halls beyond. They appear to be on the verge of success. Should Massachusetts legalize same-sex marriage, DOMA could be only a short court challenge away from legal oblivion.
Many stunned Christians and conservatives thought it could never happen in their lifetimes. Marriage, at least in its traditional sense, may soon change forever.
As Mark Steyn noted in The American Spectator at the time of DOMA’s passage, "Even the passage of the hasty, poorly drawn Defense of Marriage Act is little more … than a dismal recognition that an institution central to Western society is on the defensive, if not yet on the ropes."
The egalitarian appeal
Homosexuals are determined to win this fight, and have been forcefully pressing their philosophical case for same-sex marriage, framing the debate purely in terms of justice and equality. Society should legalize gay marriage, they say, because homosexual couples deserve to be treated on an equal footing with heterosexual couples.
This equality is sometimes expressed simply in terms of dollars and cents, because same-sex marriage certainly would have a financial upside. From tax breaks to insurance coverage, society does bestow a bounty of benefits upon married couples – and many homosexuals, understandably, want in on the deal.
This egalitarian argument, however, is something akin to an onion, with principles layered on top of principles. On the surface it seems relatively palatable, until you begin to peel away the layers; and that is when a certain something begins to burn the eyes.
The real reason activists argue for egalitarianism is that they insist that homosexual and heterosexual relationships are equally valid. While gays admit that traditional marriage will certainly remain the overwhelmingly prevalent expression of relationships, nevertheless our culture must recognize that other legitimate forms exist.
Of course, in our relativistic age, if they exist, they are therefore good. This is the anchor of the entire appeal for state-sanctioned same-sex marriages. Homosexual relationships are equally valid because there is nothing wrong with homosexuals.
Stanley Kurtz, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a contributing editor at National Review Online, says, "[T]he movement for gay marriage has little to do with an expanded regard for marriage and everything to do with an attempt to gain social approval for homosexuality."
Homosexual attorney Evan Wolfson, who has been in the forefront of the drive to legitimize same-sex marriages for two decades and now heads up the non-profit organization, Freedom to Marry, holds steadfastly to the egalitarian argument, saying "there is no substitute for full equality" for homosexuals.
Marriage and nature
Conservatives seem unable to offer a compelling response to this demand for equality. Steyn says, "If they’re honest, most people’s … objection to gay marriage runs along the lines of: “I dunno. It jus’ don’t seem right.’ The fact that that’s no longer enough is the best evidence of how the other side’s winning."
But what does one say? After all, when someone appeals to the good old-fashioned American principle that everyone is the same from the shoes up, how does one turn around and say, "No, everyone is not the same"?
The answer is to dig down to the source of that gut feeling that "It jus’ don’t seem right," where we find something which precedes America itself – as well as every other culture.
According to Hadley Arkes, professor of jurisprudence and American institutions at Amherst College, when it comes right down to it, the institution of marriage is actually anchored upon the very obvious realities of nature. Arkes says that "it becomes impossible finally to discuss this matter of marriage and sexuality without using the N-word: nature. The question must return to that sexuality stamped in our natures. … namely, the inescapable fact that only two people, not three, only a man and a woman, can beget a child."
With that simple fact in mind, it is not surprising that the male-female model of marriage is virtually universal in human history, and the limitation of marriage to only two people its almost universal expression in the last three thousand years of Western Civilization.
Katherine Young, professor of religious studies at McGill University, says that "marriage, as a universal institution and the essential cultural complement to biology, is prior to all concepts of law."
That means that the institution of marriage is not an invention of human society, but merely a recognition that something predates that society. In the words of Charles Colson, it is "the state’s recognition of a prior moral order."
Such a simple argument draws heated protests from same-sex advocates. What about a heterosexual couple, they ask, in which one or both are unable to have children? Or a heterosexual couple that gets married but decides not to have children? Or the lesbian couple who, through the process of artificial insemination, can conceive a child? Don’t these examples demonstrate either that marriage is unrelated to procreation, or that lesbians, at least, can procreate – and thus should be allowed to marry?
Quite frankly, these cases demonstrate no such thing. The process of artificial insemination, for example, requires a male sperm donor, and is, in fact, an admission that only one man and one woman can conceive a child.
As for an infertile heterosexual couple, attempts are often made to medically correct the situation precisely because the expectation is that male-female couples are meant to reproduce. It makes no more sense to claim that infertile couples prove that marriage is unconnected to procreation than to argue that blindness proves that eyes are unrelated to sight. There is a design in nature, whether or not it always works.
Finally, for the increasing number of couples in Western culture who get married without wanting to have children, such a development likewise does not affect the procreative roots of marriage. Their choice does not alter the biological fact that the male and female come equipped with complimentary sexual organs that can – barring some biological defect – produce children.
Janet Smith, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Dallas and author of Humane Vitae: A Generation Later, says, "[S]exual organs, whether fertile or infertile, temporarily or permanently, by the choice of the individual or not, are ordered to procreation. They are organs of the reproductive kind; thus, they are often called reproductive organs."
It is out of this common sense and self-evident fact of nature that the institution of marriage has arisen. No amount of arguing to the contrary can change that.
Opening the door
The solution for activists, of course, is to change the definition of marriage to suit homosexuality. However, if marriage is to be unhinged from nature, then what should undergird it?
It is here that advocates for same-sex marriage roll out perhaps their most effective argument: Marriage is not about nature, they say, but love and commitment. As long as two homosexual men or two lesbians love each other, they should be allowed to marry.
Such sentiments bring an endless parade of same-sex couples before the public, as homosexuals tout their love for one another, while promising to honor the sanctity of marriage just as much as heterosexuals.
An important component in this emotional appeal is the depicted tragedy of a love dishonored by society. Lesbian writer E.J. Graff says this disconnect between love and law has put her and her soul mate in "matrimonial limbo." In an article in The Advocate, Graff says that they were "wedlocked in our hearts and our friends’ and families’ minds, [but] strangers to each other in the eyes of the state."
To Graff, this goes right to the heart of the current turmoil over marriage: "It’s really a question over what marriage is: an inner state defined by the pair or a stamp conferred by an outside authority? Is it a contract made by the families, a religious sacrament that the two alone enter, or a state-issued license that orders civil affairs?"
It turns out to be a trick question. Like many homosexuals who demand the right to marry their same-sex lovers, Graff conveniently leaves out the real answer from among the multiple choice selections: marriage is rooted in nature. But this oversight –†intentional or not – throws open the door to an infinite variety of relationship permutations.
Kurtz says that if our society decides it can no longer protect the traditional concepts of marriage and family, "then I assure you that marriage will be abolished, and a system of strictly private contracts set up in its place." Legalize homosexual marriage and "we face legalized polygamy, group marriage, and the eventual legal abolition of marriage itself and its replacement by an infinitely flexible contractual system."
If marriage is a "right" anchored in the human need for love and commitment, then, as Arkes asks, why should society refuse to recognize a "marriage" for "the people who profess that their own love is not confined to a coupling of two, but connected in a larger cluster of three or four? The confining of marriage to two may stand out then as nothing more than the most arbitrary fixation on numbers."
Harvard law professor Martha L. Minow has argued for same-sex marriage, but admits that she is "not certain about polygamy." Too bad. She has thrown open the door for her cat, but is not sure whether or not she would like snakes, spiders, and rats to come in through the same door.
When love becomes the sole measurement of the legitimacy of relationships, then that standard must, by definition, allow more than heterosexual or even homosexual couples. Limiting marriage to only two people does become arbitrary, because love can encompass many. And, depending on how loosely one wants to define love, the possibilities are, in fact, limitless.
Marriage and nature’s God
In the end, however, the conservative defense of traditional marriage – even when articulated by gifted writers like Stanley Kurtz – has an underlying weakness. There is an unwillingness to peel back the layers on heterosexual marriage just one more time, to discover what lies beneath the natural law to which Kurtz appeals.
The problem is, marriage is not primarily about the sexually complimentary nature of heterosexual couples, nor social stability, nor children; it is also not primarily about love and commitment and caring, either.
All of it – natural law and passion – arise from that last, bedrock layer to which even conservatives seem hesitant to go: God. Marriage is a heterosexual institution because in creating mankind in His own image, God used the male and female model through which to express Himself.
While it may be true that most Americans view marriage as essentially based on love, that is a sad truth. It is the sorrowful admission that our culture has lost sight of God, and is blind to His creative purposes – even when they are staring us full in the face.
So when we finally, as a culture, make our decision about marriage, it may tell us less about how we view that institution than how we view its Creator.
That may be a fateful day, indeed.
Constitutional amendment is last hope for marriage
Most conservatives believe that at least one state, maybe more, will soon legalize same-sex marriage in the U.S.
"In the wake of that first legalization, the battle over homosexual marriage will be characterized by rapidly escalating confrontation, followed by a radical, nationwide resolution," said National Review Online editor Stanley Kurtz. "It’s too soon to tell which way the battle will go, but it’s clear that a patchwork solution – gay marriage legalized in some states but forbidden in others – is next to impossible."
What alternatives do conservatives have? AFA and other pro-family groups are supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would finally and permanently protect the traditional model of one man and one woman.
The wording of the amendment reads: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."
"Homosexuals won’t stop until the institution of marriage is ripped down piece-by-piece, state-by-state," said AFA founder Don Wildmon. "A constitutional amendment is the only way to protect marriage, and I encourage people to sign the “No Gay Marriage’ petition."
Writer’s Insight – Divorcing God
For many people, marriage is not only somehow tied to nature, it is also tied to nature’s God. There is a vague notion that we have been designed male and female, and seeking God’s blessing at a wedding is a good idea. That’s why so many people, even the unreligious, get married in a church or synagogue.
This vague notion, however, may not be enough to protect marriage. The problem is that, with the increasing secularization of Western Civilization, the religious foundations of culture are being eroded to the point of irrelevance.
When it comes to cultural issues like homosexual marriage, secularists are prone to ask Christians, "What right do you have to bring God into this discussion?"
It’s a good question – and one with profound implications. For the root question is really this: Are we fashioning a secular culture in America, or one based on the belief that we truly are "one nation, under God"?
If secular, then of course God is not welcome. If the latter, then let’s act like it. Let’s keep marriage anchored to nature and the designs of nature’s God.
In the debate over same-sex marriage, America is coming to a simple, yet terrifying moment in its history, when it has the option of officially divorcing God from its cultural life. It is a momentous choice, akin to Joshua’s exhortation to Israel: "Choose you this day whom you will serve." (Joshua 24:15)
Unfortunately for a culture that defies natural law and nature’s God, the consequences are rarely benign or short-lived.