Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!
One detects in some quarters a sense of inevitability about momentous changes in the ordering¯or disordering, as the case may be¯of society. Forty years, one may be inclined to think, is not a long time in the history of a culture and its foundational institutions. Forty years ago in the faculty lounges of most universities, eyebrows would have been raised at a professor saying out loud that he thought there was nothing wrong with homosexuality. More than the raising of eyebrows, such a statement would likely have had a bearing on his professional standing and future. For some years now, the situation has been quite entirely reversed. In many, if not most, schools, a junior faculty member who ever so gently opines that there may be something morally problematic, so to speak, about homosexual practices will soon be looking for work outside the academy. This is a change that warrants the word momentous . In the larger scheme of things, it was only yesterday that a few activists were deemed radical for proposing the possibility of same-sex marriage. The proposal provided a frisson of revolutionary excitement for some, was pronounced "a very interesting idea" by others, and met with scornful dismissal by people less susceptible to the imperatives of being sufficiently progressive. A blink of an eye later, or so it seemed, the super-susceptibles came out with a manifesto titled "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage." It was signed by many of the usual suspects, including Gloria Steinem, Cornel West, Michael Lerner, Barbara Ehrenreich, Leslie Feinberg, and Terrence McNally, and declared: "The struggle for marriage rights should be part of a larger effort to strengthen the stability and security of diverse households and families. To that end, we advocate: Legal recognition for a wide range of relationships, households and families¯regardless of kinship or conjugal status; Access for all, regardless of marital or citizenship status, to vital government support programs including but not limited to health care, housing, Social Security and pension plans, disaster recovery assistance, unemployment insurance and welfare assistance; Separation of church and state in all matters, including regulation and recognition of relationships, households and families; Freedom from state regulation of our sexual lives and gender choices, identities and expression." The signers left no doubt that beyond same-sex marriage means beyond marriage. "Marriage is not the only worthy form of family or relationship, and it should not be legally and economically privileged above all others. A majority of people¯whatever their sexual and gender identities¯do not live in traditional nuclear families. They stand to gain from alternative forms of household recognition beyond one-size-fits-all marriage." One has to have a measure of sympathy for those who are intent on being the avant-garde when the New York Times promptly "mainlines" their cutting-edge manifesto. Admittedly, the ability of the Times under the leadership of Bill Keller to define the mainline of anything is much in dispute. But, in the absence of a rival organ that can play that role, the Times is still taken to be the closest approximation of what used to be the voice of the establishment. In any event, there it is on the cover of the Times Sunday Magazine, "Gay Donor or Gay Dad?" (registration required). It is a fetching¯some might say cutesy¯account of extended families of three or more persons brought about by gay men donating their sperm to lesbian couples. Of course, you are not surprised. The mainlining of the trajectory proposed by "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage" begins with gays and lesbians. After all, they are a relatively small minority and are therefore viewed as unthreatening. There is a widespread tolerance of, even sympathy for, disorderly arrangements brought about by disordered desires. But then, who is to say what desires are disordered? At least some of those who signed, and their allies in the media who promote, the radical program of "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage" have read Charles Peguy’s observation about the innumerable acts of cowardice committed out of fear of being thought insufficiently progressive. They are counting on the truth of that observation. Defining deviancy down, defining normalcy up, and we are at last prepared to embrace Norman O. Brown’s proposal of polymorphous perversity. The word for it today is polyamory . The aforementioned Times Magazine story follows the standard line in urging the acceptance of these new "family" arrangements that are unburdened by the outmoded institution that is marriage. It is the same line pressed in favor of same-sex marriage. These people only want to be left alone and to have what others have. While their polyamorous structures may strike others as strange, their everyday lives are more or less indistinguishable from other domestic arrangements. It is the usual boring business of putting up with the oddities of others, bickering over who does the shopping, and so forth and so on. But their unconventional arrangements, they complain, do suffer from not having role models and legal protections. But that, of course, can be remedied by more people entering into polyamorous families. Following this logic, we may soon expect an article in The New Republic making "the conservative case" for recognizing that three- or five-parent families are normal for those who prefer them, and that it is therefore time to stop "privileging" the culturally arbitrary institution of two-person marriage, whether homosexual or heterosexual. Thus does yesterday’s radicalism become today’s progressive accommodation on its way to tomorrow’s conventional wisdom. Largely forgotten in such advocacy is the well-being of children. When that question is raised, the usual answer is that there are no studies proving that polyamorous families have a negative effect on the children involved. Of course not. Society has not, until now, experimented with dismantling the institution of marriage. It will take many years before we know what happens to the children in polyamorous structures. Meanwhile, as is evident in the work of family and marriage scholars associated with the Institute for American Values , there is an abundance of studies dramatically demonstrating that children flourish best in families with two parents, meaning a mother and a father. People who are not intimidated by the fear of being thought insufficiently progressive can also consult their common sense. They may even be so bold as to protest that it is morally repugnant to subject children to a social experiment that is manifestly driven by the desire of adults to satisfy their disordered emotional and erotic appetites.

Not unrelated, it is suggested, to the fear of being viewed as insufficiently progressive is the report that the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster has given permission for gay Catholics to have their own Mass in a London parish. Details are available at Catholic Action UK , and Amy Welborn gives expression to her strong misgivings about Masses for special interest groups here . Westminster is emphatic that this experiment¯which will be reviewed after six months¯represents no deviation from Catholic teaching about the disordered nature of same-sex desire and the sinful nature of same-sex practices. Rather, it is an effort to co-opt and bring within the boundaries of church teaching and jurisdiction a long-standing group of gay Catholics who have had their own Mass at a local Anglican parish. We are assured that the new arrangement has the approval of William Cardinal Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As some readers will no doubt remember, before being appointed to his present position by Pope Benedict, William Levada was archbishop of San Francisco. There is considerable disagreement among close observers of the Catholic scene regarding his leadership there in advancing the Church’s moral teaching about human sexuality.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter Web Exclusive Articles

Related Articles