For some mysterious reason in the early part of the 21st Century what one thinks about marriage can be controversial. What every human culture believed marriage to be until just yesterday, i.e. a relationship between a man and a woman solemnified by church, state and tradition because they can have children, is now seen by our cultural elites as equal to bigotry, or at the least a benighted form of ignorance. Either believe that marriage should be redefined to make gender irrelevant, or be prepared for cultural repudiation.
Last month a group of 50 opinion leaders and scholars released a public statement entitled, “Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both.” I was going to write something on this, but Ryan Anderson and Robert George beat me to it, and as they proved in their excellent book, What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense, they argue clearly and persuasively that this ham-handed call for tolerance leaves a lot to be desired.
I would point out something that Anderson and George do not address, and it gets to the essence of this cultural moment of the ascendance and acceptance of same-sex attraction as something to be celebrated and embraced. Why has this happened at all? The answer gets to the politics of sexual attraction and the assumptions we are forced to accept if we are to be allowed in polite society. Either you accept these assumptions, or the whole edifice of the absurd notion of “marriage equality” crumbles.
Remember that the word assumption means something that is accepted as true or certain without proof. So what must we assume in this case? That sexual orientation is an ontological category no different than race; it is hardcoded into our genes at conception and cannot be changed. A further assumption that undergirds this first one is that sexual conduct, as long as the participants are consenting adults, is morally neutral, a matter of mere preference, and not a matter of right or wrong. Watch any product coming out of Hollywood and you’ll see these two assumptions affirmed always and everywhere. Through our entertainment and mass media, and the brainwashing of our public schools and universities, it is no wonder that most Americans uncritically embrace them.
Those who want to redefine marriage and say they want to be respectful to those who disagree with them can’t have it both ways. If sexual attraction is an ontological category akin to race, then any disapproval of it, including not allowing two people of the same sex to marry, is pure and simple bigotry. And as we saw with the recent case of Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, our culture doesn’t treat bigots kindly.
I’m glad I waited until today to post this piece because this morning I saw an interesting link at Real Clear Politics, “The Case for Anti-Gay Discrimination” by William Saletan at the reliably liberal Slate that proves my point: tolerance has no chance in our culture against perceived bigotry. He also responds to Anderson and George’s piece, but he sees in it a case for anti-gay discrimination. The subtitle states it bluntly: “Opponents of same-sex marriage want a broader right to discriminate against gay couples.” You can decide whether he makes the case or not, and/or whether all discrimination is wrong.
But there is absolutely no doubt that based on his assumptions (unprovable, I repeat, and the same as what I say above) he is right. His final paragraph states it well:
If . . . your position is that same-sex couples should be categorically ineligible for such honors and benefits [i.e. civil unions], or that any expression of same-sex love is immoral, then I’m hard-pressed to understand, in light of the general immutability of sexual orientation, how your view is rationally defensible. And I don’t see why you should be legally entitled to refuse services based on homosexuality, any more than you could based on race.
Notice the assumption asserted here as unassailable fact: Something called “sexual orientation” is “generally immutable.” The problem for Mr. Saletan is that in fact the “generally” qualification gives away the game; he would only put in such a qualifier because of the undeniable fact that people do in fact change their “sexual orientation.” If it is only generally immutable then this thing called “sexual orientation” is not analogous to race, at all. Not that this will keep the self-righteous fundamentalist gay rights advocates from continuing to claim it is so because all along they’ve wanted to turn all of us who embrace religion and traditional morality into Donald Sterlings who must be driven from the public square.
P.S. If you’ve ever had a sneaking suspicion that homosexuality and heterosexuality and sexual orientation are hollow concepts that distort human nature and human sexuality, you might like to read this piece in First Things called, “Against Heterosexuality: The Idea of Sexual Orientation is Artificial and Inhibits Christian Witness.”