Matthew J. Franck
Robert P. George
William J. Haun
David T. Koyzis
Robert T. Miller
James R. Rogers
Russell E. Saltzman
If ain’t so now, it may be one day soon. So argues this splendid piece by George Weigel at NRO.
That is a great piece. Definitely a startling way to look at it. The comments are good too: I especially liked the person who noted how communist marriage was seen often as a way to secure things like a bigger apartment that couldn’t be obtained otherwise. Shades of the benefit warriors arguing marriage’s main value is economic.
Good article. Maybe this is where we’re headed. Maybe all churches should decline to be agents of the government and go back to only performing sacramental or religious marriages. In a short while, we’d have a clear distinction between civil marriages and holy matrimony.
There is one serious flaw in the piece, unless I misread it (& perhaps I do): Communist Poland was not the only country to require its citizens to marry in a civil ceremony. Catholic Italy does as well, according to my Italian acquaintances anyway. So does most of Europe, from what I hear. In fact, the American habit of allowing a religious official to certify a civil marriage seems to be the exception to the norm. It may be a modern norm, but that’s what it is.
Thus, drawing a comparison with 1961 Poland is not going to help Weigel’s argument with anyone who knows something about the matter, unless he gives more detail as to what makes Poland’s practice distinct.
Poland 1961 had an overwhelming majority of the population that wanted to practice their faith in accordance with the principles of the Church, and knew that no government is legitimate that interferes with the right of the individual to do so.
New York 2011 has no such thing.
I’m on Weigel’s side in this issue, but I thought this essay of his was weak. For example:
Should those pressures succeed, the Catholic Church will be forced to get out of the civil marriage business — as it has been forced in some states to stop providing foster care for children and young people, thanks to the pressures of the really phobic parties in these affairs: the Christophobes. Priests will no longer function as officials of the state when witnessing marriages.
So what will Catholics and other adherents of biblical morality do (for evangelical pastors are just as much at risk from the Christophobes as Catholic priests)? They’ll have a civil “wedding” that will be a farce, just like that endured by my Polish friends in 1964. And then they’ll really get married in church.
Surely Weigel knows that this is how they do things in France. You have your civil marriage at the Town Hall, then you go to church (if you want) and have your religious ceremony. France has done it this way for a long time. France does not have gay marriage. I am against same-sex marriage, but the idea that it’s bad because it will not allow priests to continue to act as agents of the state is pretty silly.
If the state can redefine marriage and enforce that redefinition, it can do so with the doctor-patient relationship, the lawyer-client relationship, the parent-child relationship, the confessor-penitent relationship, and virtually every other relationship that is woven into the texture of civil society. In doing so, the state does serious damage to the democratic project. Concurrently, it reduces what it tries to substitute for reality to farce.
But the state already regulates these relationships! I don’t understand what Weigel is saying here. In my state, a parent may not legally drive a car in which her baby rides without securing the baby in a car seat. Am I living in North Korea? In our country, the state reserves the right to take human life — a right most Americans have no problem with. And that is less offensive to Weigel than the state redefining the boundaries of marriage?
I don’t get it. Like I said, I am on Weigel’s side in being against same-sex marriage, but these arguments he’s offered in this essay strike me as silly. I’m open to being persuaded otherwise.
I think this is histrionic and without meritorious consideration.
I do not see government intereference with faith practices at all.
In fact, such screeching is better suited for talk radio.
I am not sure I dislike the idea of getting married twice – a legal ceremony and what you might call the real one.
But there are two other problems that need to be addressed.
One is that benefits intended to subsidize procreation need to be adjusted so that they are shared between reproductive couples. Otherwise the rational for benefits is undermined.
The other is that we need to recognize children having a right to not be reduced to commodity. Adoption must be about finding the best possible home for a child in need, and practices that compromise the child’s interests in order to prioritize those who would use children in selfish ways must be stopped.
I’m surprised that Weigel seems not to remember that a church/clergy wedding is a fairly recent innovation for average Christians, on the order of a few centuries old.
New York State will eventually strip the law it passed of either the same sex marriage element or the exceptional and mostly redundant protections for dissent on supposed religious grounds. It’ll be interesting to see which one. After all, if SSM is so dastard and destructive as claimed by its opponents then the evidence of it should be easy to discover in New York in fairly short order.
What would happen, one may ask, if the Catholic Church were sued by someone who was “sacramentally” married in a Catholic wedding, civilly divorced, granted no annulment, and wanted to remarry in a Catholic ceremony? If it is inevitable that someone will try to force the Catholic Church to perform same-sex weddings, why has it not happen that someone who wanted to be “married in the Church” for a second time challenged the right of the Church to refuse to perform second marriages? It is just a fact that although Catholic priests are empowered by the state to marry people civilly at the same time they marry them “sacramentally,” there is a whole class of people eligible to remarry civilly that a Catholic priest would not (and would not be expected to) perform a wedding ceremony for. Has anyone ever seen this as a danger to the Catholic Church before? I don’t know of any cases personally, but I don’t believe Catholic priests always agree to marry any couple that comes to them. Has this been a problem?
The idea that the state will force the Catholic Church, or a minister of any religion, or a rabbi, or anyone else who performs religious marriages, to perform a wedding for people they consider ineligible for marriage is nonsense. And the idea that there be separate religious weddings and civil weddings, while I don’t think it will ever happen in the United States, is not at all unthinkable. Interestingly, unlike many other countries mentioned above that require a civil wedding in addition to a religious one, Israel has only religious marriage and no civil marriage. The government recognizes marriages, but it does not perform them.
Weigel’s argument is fatuous. It is unnecessary ammunition in the hands of SSM-proponents that SSM-opponents cherry-pick their history with histrionics designed more the rouse the base than actually engage in rational argument. The separation of civil and religious marriage is the norm in many nations, from times well preceding Communism.
Weigel’s argument is akin to saying that SSM should be prohibited because bearded men may marry one another, and because Lenin and Stalin had beards, it’s an echo of Communism.
I don’t think it’s a danger because they could just church shop for a pastor that would do so. The Catholic church doesn’t excommunicate vigourously enough to make this an issue. It could be an issue if it did, but then this would fail on church/state grounds. The government can’t legislate who has the right to specifically be married in a Catholic ceremony.
I think the french just pre-emptively made civil marriage meaningless, so there’s little need for SSM. That’s the point: you go to the office to get papers stamped and benefits allotted, but it only gets significance through the church, moral significance.
For the regulation, I thought he meant that the state could arbitrarily regulate based on a vision with little to do with the actual thing they regulate. Kind of like Lysenkoism.
I don’t think it’s a danger because they could just church shop for a pastor that would do so.
No Catholic priest would perform a marriage ceremony for a Catholic who had been married in the Church, civilly divorced, received no annulment from the Church, and sought to get married again in the Church. For Catholics, a second religious marriage after a civil divorce is considered adultery. Ask any Catholic.
My point is that the Church refuses to perform religious marriage ceremonies for people who are fully eligible to be civilly married. The government has never forced a priest to marry two people who the Church considers ineligible for marriage. A priest will not even perform a civil ceremony for two people who are not Catholics. Do you think a heterosexual Muslim couple or Jewish couple or Baptist couple could sue a priest discrimination for not performing a marriage ceremony for them? There is no danger the state is going to force Catholic priests to perform marriages they would otherwise decline to perform, and that includes same-sex marriages.
France requires a civil marriage in all cases before a religious marriage.
Germany requires a civil marriage in all cases before a religious marriage.
Italy requires no other ceremony for marriages by Catholic priests, but the laws are such that other religions generally require a civil marriage before a religious marriage.
Spain and Portugal recognize religious marriages much like the United States.
In Poland, it would appear (though I can’t find very specific information) that Catholic marriage and civil marriage are usually combined in what is called a “concordat wedding,” but those having religious marriages other than Catholic must have a civil ceremony in addition to a religious one. Almost everyone in Poland is Catholic.
Every analogy limps (omnis analogia claudicat) and this one limps more than most.In 1961 the parish priest in Italy acted as an agent of the state first to record the marriage and then presided over the sacramental celebration of matrimony.
Marriage is an occasion where the community is invited to join and celebrate love – that does not rejoice in evil but in truth , a commitment to protect the God given dignity that includes the Father identity of men .
By passing laws that make the whole populace ‘forced’ to bless/approve something that is against what love itself is , the Govt has infringed on our fundamental calling and idenitity .
The Church asks those who are afflicted , to practice the tenets of what love is about – patiently working out the root problem of hatred towards God /self /others that leads to undue appetites ; to be kind towards themselves , by not giving in to the wide and easy way and thus ,also show disregard for others too whom they could influence and instead , turn to The One who is Source of all kindness , to help them and to hope that their efforts will suceed , to trust so , in Him and thus not to fail !
Approval of what is against all that is above is asking the public to relabel the poison of failure as ‘love’ and to approve and ‘bless’ same , which inturn is also to bring that sense of contamination , into what is true and sacred !
This would even be worse than what the communists did !
Liam makes an important strategic point. When anti-SSM folks make hysterical claims like Weigel’s, it undermines the credibility of our side. Ordinary people on the fence can assess the situation and see that America is not in the same situation as Jaruzelski’s Poland, and laugh at us.
On the other hand, I don’t think rational debate is all that important in this struggle. For every Weigel claiming the advent of totalitarianism with the coming of SSM, I can show you a thousand pro-SSM people who ask rhetorically, “How does my gay neighbors’ marriage hurt mine?” — as if that settled the question.
The difficult-to-deal-with truth that trads have to confront is that gay marriage is growing in popularity (and inevitability) because it conforms so neatly with what contemporary Americans already believe about morality, especially the morality of sexuality and relationships. Gay marriage is therefore logical, and therefore rational, given the first principles already accepted by many Americans (e.g., that sex has no telos, nor does marriage, beyond symbolizing and solemnizing the emotional state of two like-minded people). I wish this weren’t true, but I find it hard to conclude otherwise. Robert George is quite right to point out that once SSM is accepted, there is in principle no reason why polygamous relations couldn’t and shouldn’t be given state sanction. I expect that by the end of my life, this will be seriously argued in our country. The acceptance of gay marriage really is a historical milestone for all kinds of reasons. One of them: it represents the final separation within our culture of marriage from the Christian religion and its norms. For another, and relatedly, it represents a dramatic recognition by the law what has already been widely accepted in the culture: that sex and marriage have no fixed meaning beyond that which individuals give them.
The Harvard sociologist Carle Zimmerman wrote, back in the 1940s, that absent belief in religious dogma sanctioning what we call “traditional marriage,” it is very hard for cultures to hold on to that ideal. Natural law arguments may make sense to philosophers and readers of First Things, but they fall flat with the man on the street. I wish it were otherwise, but we have to deal with the world as it is.
I would say the issue of having a wide gap between the ideals of law and the reality of culture is one of legal culture: the legal culture of the Anglosphere abhors a wide gap between them, while the legal culture of Roman law often tolerates it quite well. I think this difference needs to be taken into account.
I think I understand the problems most if you see with Weigle’s article. As Liam points out, the separation of civil from religious marriage is common in many countries. Yet, this isn’t what is most important about his article is it?
What struck me most about Weigle’s article is the fact that the government now presumes to have the power to define nature itself and that it will inevitably enforce it’s illusions. I think his real point is that we’ve reached a new level of servility.
Then again, as Rod Dreher says so well, “ Gay marriage is therefore logical, and therefore rational, given the first principles already accepted by many Americans (e.g., that sex has no telos, nor does marriage, beyond symbolizing and solemnizing the emotional state of two like-minded people). ”
“The difficult-to-deal-with truth that trads have to confront”
The standard use of “trads” as I’ve always seen it is as pejorative for those who advocate the Latin mass, i.e., people who push for something that most people have no interest in or even comprehension of why anyone would. Its use in this context is bizarre and absurd and suggests some strange pathological desire to be an oppressed minority. Those who support marriage as it has always been defined in Western history are not some subset of people needing our own special term and therefore marginalization. We are the majority of people (else the president would drop his laughable lies about his position in this matter). Let the radicals advocating these changes be the ones with their own label, and let “majority” and “normal” stay as defined.
Sadly, I have to concur with the general sentiment here — Weigel’s piece is far from “splendid” and in fact somewhat embarrassing in its complete ignorance of standard marriage practices in parts of contemporary Europe.
Here in my view is what saves a scraplet of Weigel’s argument: SSM is the most important part of a process pushing the United States away from its Christian secular principles and toward a more French-style laicism in which the state is at war with the Church and seeks (with varying degrees of success) to eliminate every trace of religion from the public sphere.
A note on Rod Dreher’s comments: I think he is exactly correct in saying “I don’t think rational debate is all that important in this struggle”. He then immediately forgets this key point in saying, along with Robbie George, that “there is in principle no reason why polygamous relations couldn’t and shouldn’t be given state sanction”. Of course, reason and principle aren’t in motion here — cultural institutions and values are.
The #1 cultural value blocking legal recognition of polygamy is feminism. SSM fits quite snugly within feminist views of family, marriage and sexuality. Polygamy violates feminism at its core and thus will not come to pass in America.
But Jan, the law in this case would only be reflective of what most Americans already believe to be true about the nature of reality. If the Supreme Court doesn’t declare same-sex marriage a constitutional right (as I believe it will), then in my lifetime (I’m 44), it will come to most of America democratically. The social science data really are overwhelming on this point. The younger generation sees moral disapproval of same-sex relationships with the same sense of puzzlement as my generation sees moral disapproval of mixed-race relationships. To be clear, I do not believe that sexual orientation is on the same moral plane as race — but it is very hard to persuade young people of that fact, because it does not square with their emotional experience.
Anyway, I believe same-sex marriages are no more marriages, in the metaphysical sense, than I believe women ordained as Catholic priests really are Catholic priests. To have the appearance of a thing is not the same as being a thing. But so what? You can prove that a law based on Lysenkoism is nonsense, because it will quickly become obvious that Lysenkoism-based legislation does not accord with the natural order. Will it quickly become obvious that same-sex marriage does not accord with the natural order? I have my doubts. In his book “Family and Civilization,” Zimmerman argues that the “domestic family” — one man + one woman + legitimate children — is the foundation for a stable and healthy social order. This, as opposed to the “trustee family” that preceded it (clannish relations, in which the individual is harmfully constrained by family rules, such as we see in traditional Arab countries today), and the “atomistic family” (in which individualism rules at the expense of wider ties) that follows its decline. If he’s right, then we will discover over a long period of time, with the decline of our society and civilization, that we made a fundamental error in embracing the atomistic family at the expense of the domestic family. But again, gay marriage did not cause this. The process was well underway in the 1940s, when Zimmerman wrote his book.
Sever marriage and intimate human relations from their religious meaning, and it’s anything-goes. The problem is not that the law thinks it can redefine reality when it comes to marriage. The problem is that we ourselves believe we can.
The standard use of “trads” as I’ve always seen it is as pejorative for those who advocate the Latin mass, i.e., people who push for something that most people have no interest in or even comprehension of why anyone would. Its use in this context is bizarre and absurd and suggests some strange pathological desire to be an oppressed minority.
It’s shorthand for “traditionalists,” meaning people who (like me) believe in privileging what is, in our culture, the traditional view of marriage. You have a better word for it for use in blog combox conversation? For the record, to use the word “trads” to describe Latin Mass Catholics is not a slur, at least not the way I use it.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that ours is the majority position on this issue. It was until practically the day before yesterday, given the culture as a whole. Recent polling shows that it no longer is. Unless there is a radical shift among younger Americans — and I see no reason to believe that there will be — as older Americans die, the majority for SSM will become even more solid. That won’t make it morally right from our point of view, but it will be a political and cultural reality that is obvious to anyone who doesn’t live inside a bubble. I believe many of my fellow conservatives do now live inside a bubble that shields them from how widespread support for SSM is. To be sure, mainstream media coverage distorts things in the other direction, but if you doubt how badly we trads have lost the younger generation on this issue, try talking to some of them — especially if they are not in your church. Or maybe especially if they are…
Darel: “Polygamy violates feminism at its core and thus will not come to pass in America.”
Your faith in modern feminism, and in common sense, is grossly misplaced. A couple of years ago National Geographic, hardly a radical or “progressive” magazine, wrote an absolutely despicable article on the polygamous community in TX that actually claimed that women were empowered there and “what has all the trappings of a patriarchal culture, actually has many elements of a matriarchal one.”
I find that hard to believe. We have Catholic pro-choice priests, Catholics who defy the church based on the ordination of women, and other issues. Catholics who defy church teachings on SSM too. You honestly think that somehow that is immune?
I have yet to see sustained feminist resistance to polyamory. Polygamy’s problem is the religious roots. It just needs rebranding.
The difficult-to-deal-with truth that trads have to confront is that gay marriage is growing in popularity (and inevitability) because it conforms so neatly with what contemporary Americans already believe about morality, especially the morality of sexuality and relationships. Gay marriage is therefore logical, and therefore rational, given the first principles already accepted by many Americans (e.g., that sex has no telos, nor does marriage, beyond symbolizing and solemnizing the emotional state of two like-minded people).
If this analysis is correct, given the absence of any significant effort to restore marriage to what it once allegedly was, what is the argument against same-sex marriage? Nostalgia? There is so much about how the definition of marriage must not be changed, but you seem to be implying that the definition of marriage has changed to the point where same-sex marriage is logical. So allowing same-sex marriage would seem to be the right thing to do, absent some realistic program to reform marriage.
Let me put it this way: for Weigel’s view to be correct, same-sex marriage would have to be a violation of liberal democracy. But what if it is actually an expression of it? The other day, a priest friend forwarded to me an essay condemning the NY state legislature’s pro-SSM vote, in which the essayist claimed that there were some things — like marriage — that should never be put to a vote. Now, this is precisely the argument that some SSM advocates made a few years ago when Prop 8 passed in California, while the traditionalist side cheered at the people overturning the court-imposed redefinition of marriage.
What happens when gay marriage comes about not by judicial fiat, but by the free vote of a duly elected legislature? That’s what we have in New York. This is liberal democracy at work. Again, I think the New York legislators and Gov. Cuomo were wrong, but to suppose that they are the equivalent of Leninist commissars is risible. The problem, then, is not with the people’s rulers. The problem, if there is a problem, is with the people.
@David Nickol, that’s not exactly right. I do believe that same-sex marriage is logical, given the premises that most Americans today accept imputing meaning to sexual and emotional relations. But I reject those premises, and would therefore oppose same-sex marriage rights. What I’m doing here is trying to show that whether we like it or not (and I definitely don’t like it), moral traditionalists (Christians and otherwise) have pretty much lost the culture on this issue. I don’t have time to say more about it, but I think Philip Rieff’s “Triumph of the Therapeutic” goes a long way to explaining why and how this happened. That, and the transformation of Christianity into something called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
I find that hard to believe. We have Catholic pro-choice priests, Catholics who defy the church based on the ordination of women, and other issues. Catholics who defy church teachings on SSM too. You honestly think that somehow that is immune?
There are a tiny number of dissident priests on issues like the ordination of women and some other hot-button issues. It has been decreed that any bishop who ordains a woman, or any woman who has herself ordained, is automatically excommunicated. (It is the official Catholic belief that ordination of women doesn’t “take,” so an ordained woman is no more a priest than an ordained dog.) I am quite sure that any priest who performed a same-sex wedding would be excommunicated. If there exist priests who do not believe in the indissolubility of marriage and would be willing to perform a wedding ceremony for divorced Catholics, their number would be so small that it would be impossible to “go shopping” for one. If it were known that a priest presided over what would be an illicit and invalid wedding, he would be disciplined, and if he did not repent and promise never to do such a thing again, he would be excommunicated.
I get your point. I have always meant to read the Philip Rieff book.
“Don’t fool yourself into thinking that ours is the majority position on this issue.”
Of course it is. Otherwise Obama would drop his laughable pretense of not being in support of “same-sex marriage.” Now, will it be the majority in 20 years? It seems quite likely not. But it certainly won’t if you think we should call ourselves “trads” and just give up.
And, as Rod has extensively noted over the years, the cultural shift in understanding of what constitutes a social unit has not only been shifting since the “sexual revolution”. It goes back to economic pressures of modernity – starting the driving of agrarian folk off the land into cities, industrialization, a series of severe boom-and-bust cycles without social safety nets (anyone who thinks the Hoover years were great for families has a weird view of history), world wars, et cet. The immediate postwar period was in no small part midwifed by corporatist government (the Roosevelt administration was not going to repeat the mistake of the Wilson administration, and prepared extensively a propaganda and employment campaign with industry and unions to get women out of factories and into making babies when the men got home) and was therefore more artificial than we prefer to think these days and was sustained, later, by getting wives back into the workforce to have two-income households, and also getting middle America sold on asset bubbles to give them the wealth increases they were no longer earning through salary. Et cet.
Hello Jack, Dissenting Me,
As regards the civil-religious marriage separation in Western Europe: It is indeed true that in many continental states – including some nominally Catholic majority ones like France and Italy – it has been the practice to conduct such separate marriage ceremonies for some years now.
The danger I see here is that such states also are notably more hostile toward religion in the public square, and claim greater rights to regulate it, than has traditionally been the case in America. Put bluntly, a society which requires separate religious and civil marriage ceremonies is almost always also one which claims to right to ban burqas, to own all church property, and make any number of other intrusions into religious life of its citizens.
Now, it’s true that unlike these continental states, we have a First Amendment with a long track record of robust jurisprudence fleshing out religious liberty within it. It is also true, and heartening, that the NY Times article advocating ending the religious exemptions in New York that Weigel refers to has a combox fairly peppered with pro-same-sex marriage advocates, some of them gay or atheist, denouncing such a restriction of religious freedom as a bridge too far. So those here who think that Weigel’s Polish communist parallel is overwrought for the United States might have some grounds for thinking so.
At least so far. Given the success of such efforts in so many other western countries (Canada included), the militancy of some in our own legal academic community (which so heavily influences our jurisprudence), and the continued efforts by gay advocates within these religious denominations to force doctrinal change, I am not so sanguine that we’re so secure from future reductions in religious freedom. Other things have happened here once unthinkable only a short while ago, including, well, same-sex marriage.
The problem is not that the law thinks it can redefine reality when it comes to marriage. The problem is that we ourselves believe we can.>/i>
The sharpest observation made in this entire thread.
The #1 cultural value blocking legal recognition of polygamy is feminism.
I’d be tempted to agree with you, if it weren’t for the already robust element in the legal academy advocating for forms of polyamory or other even more radical deconstructions of marriage.
Culture wars, like politics, can make for strange bedfellows.
Rod and Brian,
When I say “feminism” I don’t mean the views of radical academics in Womens, Gender and Sexuality Studies Departments or of reporters getting cheap thrills out of transgressing moral norms. I mean the views of nearly all educated women in the professional and managerial classes who understand polygamy (polyamory is a different creature) as a fundamental violation of male-female equality, thus making it socially untenable.
Those who predict state-recognized polygamy (different from informal polyamory) think the overriding cultural drive behind SSM is freedom. It is not. The cultural drive behind SSM is equality. Once we as a society  accepted the existence of something called “sexual orientation” (back in the early 20th century) and  accepted the moral equivalence of something called “homosexuality” with something called “heterosexuality” (back in the late 20th century), the jig was up.
Now, if would-be polygamists make socially convincing arguments based on equality claims — e.g. my sexual orientation is toward multiple women at the same time — then polygamy might stand a chance. However, this sexual orientation is rightly understood by women everywhere as “generic male” and they won’t have it. Polygamists have always sought legal recognition on the grounds of freedom — free exercise of religion, privacy, and the like — and they’ve failed. Only an equality-based argument stands a chance, and culturally, I just don’t see the support for it.
Mandatory civil marriage was introduced in France by the law of 1 vendémiaire an II (22 September 1792) as part of the same legislation that turned some ten million landless peasants into heritable proprietors.
Under the current legislation, it is an offence habitually to conduct religious ceremonies of marriage for a couple who do not produce a civil marriage certificate. [Code Pénal art 433-21] “Habitually” is designed to protect priests performing a death-bed “marriage of conscience.”
Most French people would find the idea of a minister of religion acting as a delegate of the state profoundly shocking; public functions can only be performed by “personnel laïque” On the other hand, they find nothing odd in the fact that most churches are public property, belonging either to the state or the municipality.
The same rule applies, even in Alsace-Moselle, where the Church remains legally established and publicly funded; it was part of Germany, when the Loi du 9 décembre 1905 was passed and it was never extended to it, when the area was reunited to France after WWI
Just last week, Prince Albert of Monaco and Princess Charlene had two ceremonies, a civil and a religious, even though the Church is legally established in the Principality.
Many Americans became familiar with the idea of civil vs religious weddings with the marriage of Prince Albert’s parents, Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, in 1956, which was the Wedding of the Decade, covered extensively on TV and newsreels.
By the same regime that very shortly sent many hundreds of thousands of those same peasants to the grave – after having already required all clergy to work for the French state, seized all church property, and closed all convents and monasteries. Jacobinism certainly predates the Russian Revolution. And America has, with rare exceptions, always set its face against it.
The average Frenchman now may no longer find it shocking that the local church (whose door he has not darkened in many an age, at 95% odds) is owned by the state, but that does not make it any more acceptable to those of us with more robust notions of religious liberty.
It may well be that religious groups in the U.S., the Catholic Church included, may have to decide to opt for a more radical separation between religious and civil marriage as the least painful option. If so, however, civil society will be the lesser for it.
Rod Dreher writes:
“But Jan, the law in this case would only be reflective of what most Americans already believe to be true about the nature of reality. If the Supreme Court doesn’t declare same-sex marriage a constitutional right (as I believe it will), then in my lifetime (I’m 44), it will come to most of America democratically. The social science data really are overwhelming on this point. The younger generation sees moral disapproval of same-sex relationships with the same sense of puzzlement as my generation sees moral disapproval of mixed-race relationships.”
“The problem is not that the law thinks it can redefine reality when it comes to marriage. The problem is that we ourselves believe we can.”
Thanks for your insightful reply.
What you say here is true for many people. Maybe it’s true for most Americans. If that is the case, then you’re right, there is not much sense in fighting the inevitable. But is it true? Is this the situation? You seem to be advocating that Maggie Gallagher, Bishop Nolan, Robert George and others are wasting their time. In my own experience, and I have quite a lot of exposure to teenagers and young adults, there is a lot of instinctive revulsion expressed toward homosexual behavior. There is a lot of tolerance, yes, but kids still seem to see homosexuality as a distasteful and undesirable thing. I guess I wonder if the goose is cooked or not. If the situation is as you describe, why have all legislative efforts failed which advocate SSM, with the exception of NY? Isn’t part of the job to re-educate people as to the meaning of not only marriage, but also family, friendship, kinship, etc.?
Or, do you believe we’re too far-gone for all that?
Good points, Jan. I wouldn’t say that these people are wasting their time. I wrote a column last week chastising Abp Dolan for not doing enough in New York state. Given that he used apocalyptic rhetoric to denounce gay marriage, it was puzzling and disappointing that he didn’t fight harder against it than he did.
That said, I do have serious doubts about the efficacy of our current efforts, given that they don’t make a lot of sense outside of what you might call a “matrix of meaning” that values human sexuality and human freedom rather differently than the main currents of our culture do. I sympathize with gay folks and their advocates when they wonder why straights live as if marriage meant nothing more than a contractual agreement between two people who happen to love each other for the time being — and then say that such a contractual agreement cannot be available to same-sex couples. If that’s all that marriage is, then they’re right, it is only irrational prejudice that forbids the extension of this contractual right to same-sex couples.
But I believe marriage is something much different from this. So do you. So does Gallagher, and George, and the archbishop. The problem is that we have found no persuasive way to advance our argument in terms that make sense either to the secular public square, or to young people who have been raised in a Christianity (or Judaism) devoid of serious content. The church has been terrible at providing a meaningful counternarrative to contemporary notions of individual freedom and sexual morality. This is why we don’t connect with young people.
What we call “traditional marriage” is a great civilizational achievement. We have spent most of the last century deconstructing it in the name of liberation. This is what Gallagher et al. are fighting against, not gays per se.
I would suggest that one practical problem is that the Church has done an awful job of addressing the single life in the developed world as a state of life in a world where people live well into their 80s and 90s and where war and famine and disease are not the constant companions they once were. The toggle is married/religious; the in-between is dutifully acknowledged but more elided than engaged. It’s really an area of very stunted development.
In my experience, gay people from Catholic and Jewish families in particular are more likely to be embraced by those families when they’ve established a long-term relationship. Indeed, I know of elderly Catholic parents of many children who, though otherwise very “conservative”, *far* prefer their gay children or grandchildren *not* to be single but to have a domestic partner. These parents have a moral imagination that is strongly influenced by “it is not good for man to be alone”, and it’s much easier for them to accommodate a gay or lesbian partner than it is for them to see their child remain single, which does not really compute in Catholic terms (especially since gay and lesbian people are barred from clerical/religious life).
This dynamic, which is just one of a few, does not fit neatly into the standard talking points. The commentariat industry is much more interested in doing its “job” than in engaging in the messy reality that doesn’t fit neatly into its job.
And that’ one aspect of the Achilles heel at work here.
I should add that these kinds of parents are cradle Catholics, not converts. So their Catholic imagination is built upon narratives and relationships, not intellectual propositions and assets. (Indeed, despite the welter of theology at its disposal, the day to day praxis of the Catholic church is that that is the typical imagination of the faithful.) Many commentators in the SSM arena come at this from the experience of conversion and/or apologetics, which encourages a cognitive blindspot regarding this area.
Assents, not assets. Sorry.
(and sorry for the comment drooling here.)
“The idea that the state will force the Catholic Church, or a minister of any religion, or a rabbi, or anyone else who performs religious marriages, to perform a wedding for people they consider ineligible for marriage is nonsense.”
What about removing the religious institution’s tax exemption for refusing to perform such marriages? Is that nonsense? Or is that really what the ultimate goal is?
In my own experience, and I have quite a lot of exposure to teenagers and young adults, there is a lot of instinctive revulsion expressed toward homosexual behavior. There is a lot of tolerance, yes, but kids still seem to see homosexuality as a distasteful and undesirable thing.
This, I would argue, is homophobia. I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not saying opposition to same-sex marriage or a belief that homosexuality is immoral are, in and of themselves, homophobia. It is one thing to make a moral judgment about certain sexual behavior. It is another thing to view it with “instinctive revulsion.” Some may regard a husband and wife having intercourse while the wife is menstruating with “instinctive revulsion.” That is very different from considering it immoral. I really don’t like to watch people eating a whole lobster or eating snails or liver. That doesn’t make it immoral.
R. Dreher responds to you: What we call “traditional marriage” is a great civilizational achievement. We have spent most of the last century deconstructing it in the name of liberation. This is what Gallagher et al. are fighting against, not gays per se.
However, those who respond to homosexuality with “instinctive revulsion” and see it as “distasteful” are often—I said often, not always—fighting against “gays per se.” To be sure, one may respond to something one believes to be immoral with revulsion, and perhaps respond to something with revulsion because one considers it immoral. But I think you were correct in using the term “instinctive revulsion,” which I would say does not spring from a moral sense but from some kind of gut instinct or fear.
A certain amount of the anti-same-sex-marriage rhetoric here on First Things attempts not to persuade morally, but to elicit or capitalize on “instinctive revulsion.” That is why every once in awhile someone says, “Hey, wait. Everything you have just said applies only to gay men (in fact, only some gay men) but not to lesbians.” Lesbians want to get married, too. There is often an effort in certain discussions to capitalize on the revulsion heterosexual men (who make up most of the commenters here) feel about men having sex with men (anal intercourse, HIV/AIDS, “taking the woman’s role”). Of course, revulsion regarding homosexuality is reasonably common, and I am not saying it is morally wrong to feel it. But to interpret one’s feelings of discomfort and disgust as moral judgments is, I think, common, and it is a matter of prejudice, not morality. It’s what we feel when people don’t look like us, or don’t dress like us, or don’t talk like us.
“The difficult-to-deal-with truth that trads have to confront is that gay marriage is growing in popularity (and inevitability) because it conforms so neatly with what contemporary Americans already believe about morality, especially the morality of sexuality and relationships.”
Is anyone aware of any studies that have attempted to track these views over time? I can understand 25-year olds thinking gay marriage is fine. However, 10 years later, when the young children of the now 35-year olds come home and announce that their female teacher has a picture of her “wife” on her desk, do you think they are going to feel the same way?
“ I sympathize with gay folks and their advocates when they wonder why straights live as if marriage meant nothing more than a contractual agreement between two people who happen to love each other for the time being…”
“What we call “traditional marriage” is a great civilizational achievement. We have spent most of the last century deconstructing it in the name of liberation. This is what Gallagher et al. are fighting against, not gays per se.”
My thoughts exactly. I often make the same point to gay friends and others. I also, don’t blame gays one bit for feeling as they do, given the current understanding of marriage.
“I would suggest that one practical problem is that the Church has done an awful job of addressing the single life in the developed world as a state of life in a world where people live well into their 80s and 90s and where war and famine and disease are not the constant companions they once were.
This is very, very true. Marriage is given this emphasis in the Church which over shadows almost everything. This would certainly strike Jesus, the Apostles, and the Church Fathers as very strange, wouldn’t it? Doesn’t quite jibe with the sentiment expressed by “it’s better to marry than to burn.”
Liam and Rod Dreher,
You each have posted such thoughtful comments. I hate it, but I have to agree with just about everything you are saying. It seems, what is needed first and foremost, is a renewal in the Church. By that, I mean a catechesis not only of what marriage is for, but what celibacy, friendship, and human beings are for. Wish I had something more profound or witty to say, but I don’t.
Civil marriage in communist societies was ludicrous enough, for there obligations of support and rights of succession, which such marriages were instituted to regulate, were nugatory.
Likewise, if the Code Civil is right, in defining the family as those linked by a common descent, same-sex civil marriage appears similarly futile.
The question of Same-Sex Marriage cannot be treated in isolation from those of adoption and assisted reproduction. At all events, the countries that have made marriage accessible to same-sex couples have all authorized adoption by such couples and developed systems of assisted conception – even surrogate gestation – to enable such couples to have children.
Given the principle of the Civil Law that “Only things in trade can be the subject of an agreement” (Art 1128) I suppose we are now to regard children, along with human genetic material, as articles of commerce.
Once again, it is worth noting that it is secular France that has resolutely opposed these developments, restricting infertility treatment to pathological conditions, outlawing surrogacy and restricting joint adoption to married (opposite-sex) couples.
I don’t think that feeling revulsion at the idea of homosexual sex is evidence of bigotry or fear at all, but is probably quite normal for the vast majority of people who are not homosexual, irrespective of time or place. Feeling revulsion at the presence of homosexuals, just standing around fully clothed, probably is, though.
For example, if I knew someone had a bizarre habit like self-mutilation, I wouldn’t have any problem associating with them, even though I would definitely stop them if they tried to harm themselves in front of me.