Jody Bottum’s Catholic case for same-sex marriage gets this right: The sexual revolution was a war on the meaningfulness of sex, and in the aftermath of that revolution’s utter victory, we have no cultural resources to oppose same-sex marriage: “if heterosexual monogamy so lacks the old, enchanted metaphysical foundation that it can end in quick and painless divorce, then what principle allows a refusal of marriage to gays on the grounds of a metaphysical notion like the difference between men and women? . . . If marriage is nothing more than a licensed sexual playground, without any sense of sin attached to oral sex and anal sex and almost any other act, then under what intellectually coherent scheme can one refuse to others the opportunity for the same behavior?”

The sexual revolution ensured that non -marital sexuality would equally be a value-free zone:

“The seal of virginity, the procreative purpose, the mystical analogy of marriage to Christ’s espousal of his church, the divinely witnessed vow, the sexual body as a temple, the moral significance of chastity: all that old metaphysical stuff got swept away. And regardless of whether the metaphysics was right or wrong, without it there is simply no reasoning that could possibly outweigh the valid claims of fairness and equality.” Bottum concludes that “Same-sex marriage advocates don’t just have better public relations than their opponents. They have better logic, given the premises available to the culture.”

He’s also right, I think, about the limits of natural-law arguments against same-sex marriage: “Natural law was always a little theologically thin. It derived from a rich understanding of the world, yes, but it was something like the least common denominator of spiritual views: a ‘mere metaphysics’ (to misapply a concept of C. S. Lewis’s). And it worked well enough as a philosophy in a time when people generally agreed that the world was enchanted, however vehemently they disagreed about the specifics of that enchantment. Natural law broke spirituality down to its most basic shared components and then built a rationally defensible ethics up again from that foundation.”

I think that Bottum is right too to say that opposition to same-sex marriage is “a defense of one of the last little remaining bits of Christendom—an entanglement or, at least, an accommodation of church and state. The logic of the Enlightenment took a couple of hundred years to get around to eliminating that particular portion of Christendom, but the deed is done now.”

From all this Bottum draws the conclusion that Catholics should give up opposition to same-sex marriage. It’s bad PR for the church, and the fact that society adopts non-Catholic norms for marriage doesn’t matter to the church. Opposition to same-sex marriage is a distraction too: The church’s goal, Bottum argues, “must primarily be the re-enchantment of reality.” This includes a re-enchantment of marriage. He commends Pope Francis’s statements about marriage as “a sign and presence of God’s own love” and birth as “a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom, and loving plan.”

But for Bottum sex is not where “the project of re-enchantment ought to begin.” On the contrary, “there are much better ways than opposing same-sex marriage for teaching the essential God-hauntedness, the enchantment, of the world—including massive investments in charity, the further evangelizing of Asia, a willingness to face martyrdom by preaching in countries where Christians are killed simply because they are Christians, and a church-wide effort to reinvigorate the beauty and the solemnity of the liturgy.”

Bottum rightly sees gay marriage as part of the Enlightenment disenchantment of the world, yet he somehow is agreeable to the institutionalization of this disenchantment in gay marriage. He rightly sees that marriage has become a “licensed sexual playground,” but he doesn’t want to oppose a further legal bolstering of that view of sexuality. Sexuality has become meaningless; so we should stop opposing laws that assume and further that meaninglessness. “Given the premises available to the culture” is the key phrase: Shouldn’t Christians be interested in promoting sounder premises in the culture and in the law?

Bottum is, I think, far too sanguine about the effects that same-sex marriage will have on religious freedom. He says early in the essay that if same-sex marriage is anti-Christian or anti-Catholic, then “to hell with it.” But he doesn’t think that’s what’s going on: “I just don’t think that same-sex marriage is going to be the excuse America uses to go after its Catholic citizens.”

All the momentum is in just that direction. It’s not exactly a same-sex marriage case, but on August 22 the New Mexico Supreme Court decided in Elane Photography v. Vanessa Willock that under the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA), Elane Photography could not discriminate against a lesbian couple by refusing to do photography for their commitment ceremony. The court found that since “a commercial photography business that offers its services to the public, thereby increasing its visibility to potential clients,” it is “subject to the antidiscrimination provisions of the NMHRA and must serve same-sex couples on the same basis that it serves opposite-sex couples.” Refusing to “photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony” is as much a violation of human rights as refusing “to photograph a wedding between people of different races.”

Given such a climate, it’s naive to think that same-sex marriage won’t be used as a weapon to marginalize Christians.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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