Rainbows and Hashtags
Since June 26th, many Americans have been joyfully celebrating, while others have been troubled, saddened, and even angry. Social media has exploded with comments from both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage, and many profile pictures are now sporting rainbow backgrounds. On the front lines of Twitter, the hashtag #lovewins is trending. I am speaking, of course, about the recent Supreme Court decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case which ruled that all state bans against same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. I refer to the Supreme Court's decision as the “redefinition of marriage” and not “marriage equality” because I do not believe the court’s ruling achieved, nor that any court ruling can ever achieve, actual equality between the marriages of same-sex couples and that of opposite-sex couples. This post is an attempt to explain why that is the case. Also, while the recent Supreme Court decision is certainly significant, I realize that it is only a visible mile marker on a road that we as a country have been traveling on for a while now (36 states already recognized same-sex marriage prior to the Supreme Court's ruling). In fact, marriage in this country has been under the process of redefinition for the better part of a century now. The most recent decision is not a cause, but an effect, not the underlying illness, but a symptom, of a confused and mistaken understanding of human sexuality and civilization. The Supreme Court’s decision is not some shocking new development, but the logical conclusion of the redefinition of marriage that has already been taking place. However, if we look to the more recent past, it’s difficult to understand how we got here from where we were. Just twenty years ago, both major political parties in the United States were (at least formally) opposed to same-sex marriage. Also, according to Gallup polls, from March 1996 to May 2015, the percentage of Americans opposed to same-sex marriage went from 68% to 37% (Gallup). Today, if you disagree with same-sex marriage, you are usually labeled intolerant, hateful, discriminative, and/or bigoted, and the way things are going in this country, you will soon be silenced as if you were a member of some racist group like the KKK. How did this happen? How did five un-elected judges redefine marriage in a democratic society that until recently embraced the millennia-old definition? Well, just as “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Rome didn’t fall in a day either.
The (Really) Old Definition of Marriage
In order to understand how marriage is being redefined, it is necessary to first understand what the original definition was. A working definition of the traditional view of marriage could be: “The civil and legal institution consisting of one man and one woman, for the purpose of ensuring their fidelity and accountability to one another and any children they might create.” You probably noticed that this definition does not include the word “love.” Isn’t that a mistake? No, because even though love is understood by most modern cultures as a necessary prerequisite for marriage, and even though it may be the best psychological and spiritual cement to hold a marriage together, it is not quantitative or measurable in any legal sense and therefore should not hold any interest of the state. If the state is interested in recognizing marriages because of love, then it should be interested in recognizing friendships because of loyalty, shared interests, etc.. Last time I checked, the state isn’t issuing friendship licenses (but I’m sure there’s a movement for that too). It’s important to understand that the historical exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage was due to the definition of marriage, and its understood purpose in a society, not intolerance, hatred, bigotry, or any other discriminative beliefs, even if these have unfortunately existed to varying degrees in many cultures throughout history. That is why cultures that were at once completely accepting of homosexual behavior and relationships, such as ancient Greece and Rome, were at the same time opposed to the idea of same-sex marriage. Dismissing all arguments against same-sex marriage as religion or fear-based discrimination is not only intellectual laziness or cowardice, but historically false.
How Did We Get Here?
Understanding the traditional definition of marriage, let us now examine the factors that led to the Supreme Court decision late last month. The traditional definition of marriage includes and assumes the marital act––sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse has a two-fold purpose by nature: the unitive (it brings the couple closer together), and the pro-creative (it creates new life).* Before sex could be separated from marriage, pro-creation had to be separated from sex, which leads to the first major factor in the redefinition of marriage, contraception (birth control). The second major factor was the elimination of the permanence of marriage, which we will discuss shortly.
* This is not merely an opinion or religious belief––secular biology and psychology textbooks will provide you with the same conclusion.
Out-of-Control Birth Control
Contraception was the first major chink in the armor of traditional marriage. How is this so? The popular view on contraception began to shift dramatically when the Church of England decided that contraception was morally permissible within the context of marriage at the Lambeth Conference in 1930, and nearly all other denominations followed suit. Prior to that decision in 1930, every major Christian denomination was opposed to contraception. Today, the Catholic Church (along with most of the Orthodox Churches) is more or less the only remaining opposition to contraception. However, while the teaching of Catholic Church against contraception is quite clear, most Catholics in modern countries do not subscribe to this doctrine, and most surveys indicate that Catholic married couples use contraception just as much as anyone else. So, what does contraception have to do with marriage? A great deal, actually. The traditional understanding of marriage is that it serves as the foundation for a family, and that healthy marriages are open to children. In other words, marriage includes the marital act (sexual intercourse), and under normal circumstances, that act eventually produces children. Contraception blocks the natural pro-creative mechanisms by various means and effectively eliminates the pro-creative element of sexual intercourse. The removal of the pro-creative element has completely transformed the way that people view sexual intercourse and relationships. Before contraception was widely accepted and available, there was a huge implication of commitment when a person decided to have sexual relations with another person. That level of commitment is both welcomed and well-grounded within the context of a healthy marriage. Outside of marriage, however, pregnancy is usually an unwelcome and even frightening reality, especially for the woman if she is not financially independent. Contraception changed all of this, and by separating pro-creation from sexual intercourse, produced in people an entirely new attitude towards the commitment involved in relationships and marriages. This new attitude, along with other cultural and social influences at the time, produced the so-called “sexual revolution” of the 1960s. It is safe to say that contraception opened the door for marriage to no longer necessitate, or at least imply, the creation and raising of children. Abortion, which is nothing more than back-up birth control, severed whatever pro-creative threads remained in the marriage equation, and children became a commodity or lifestyle “choice” for married couples, instead of a gift and blessing that naturally proceeded from their union.
Until Death or "Irreconcilable Differences" Do Us Part
The traditional definition of marriage also includes the element of permanence or endurance (you know, the whole, “till death do us part" bit). This element also died, at least in the legal sense, with the advent of "no-fault" divorce. In 1969, California was the first state to adopt a no-fault divorce law, which allowed a couple to be granted a divorce without requiring either party to provide evidence of a breech in the marriage contract (e.g., an affair, abuse, etc.). The divorce rate then began to rise rapidly. In the 1950s, the percentage of marriages that ended in divorce was less than 10%, and by the early 1980s, that rate peaked at just over 50%. The divorce rate has since been slowly declining, but it remains relatively high, and that is probably at least in part due to the decreased marriage rate (most of people getting married now are the ones who are more serious about it). Removing permanence from the definition of marriage contributed to a less-serious view of the institution, and coupled with the removal of the pro-creative element, reduced the perceived commitment involved in marriage to an all-time low.
The New (But Not Improved) Definition of Marriage
We've considered what has been eliminated from the traditional definition of marriage. The new definition of marriage does not necessitate an openness to life, or even sexual activity for that matter, and does not necessitate a life-long commitment. The question naturally rises: What’s left? What is the new definition of marriage in this country? Chief Justice Anthony Kennedy, majority leader in the Supreme Court decision, stated the following:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered (Obergefell v. Hodges).What is the new definition of marriage based on then? Love. Chris, what’s wrong with that? Don’t you want people who love each other to have the same rights as everyone else? Shouldn't “love win," as the hashtag says? Let's be clear. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the definition of marriage being based on love. However, is that all there is to marriage? If so, then marriage seems strikingly similar to every other healthy human relationship. Heck, Jesus even told us to love our enemies (Mt 5:44). If love is the sole prerequisite for marriage, then what does the new definition of marriage logically include? First of all, it certainly includes polygamous marriages (marriages involving three or more people). If you question whether or not there’s a demand for polygamous marriage, consider hit shows like TLC's "Sister Wives" and HBO's "Big Love," along with recent statements from polygamist activists in the wake of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. In fact, Chief Justice John Roberts, one of the four dissenting judges, commented on this exact implication:
"It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage. If “[t]here is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices,” ... why would there be any less dignity in the bond between three people who, in exercising their autonomy, seek to make the profound choice to marry?"Second, the new definition logically includes incestuous marriages (marriages between siblings, parent-child marriages, etc.). You might be surprised to hear that incestuous marriages are already technically legal in New Jersey. Also, a recent New York magazine article tells the story of an 18 year old girl who wants to move to New Jersey to marry her long-estranged biological father. If a person is logically consistent in his or her application of #lovewins, then this shouldn’t be alarming or disturbing at all. I can already here the question: "Who are you to tell two people they don't love each other?" Once you base a civil institution entirely on a subjective feeling, you've abandoned any logical basis from which to exclude anyone from that institution. Defining something always involves saying that the thing is this, and not that––some things are always excluded. Now, with the new definition, what is marriage not?
Reality is Harder to Redefine Than Words
Supporters of the redefinition of marriage would like to believe that decisions like Obergefell v. Hodges constitute an expansion in the institution of marriage. This is only true if marriage is merely a personal freedom like the freedom of speech, to be fought for and universally granted, rather than a civil institution that arises naturally from human nature, both biologically and socially. The battle cry, “Marriage equality!” reveals that the new definition is of the former. However, a little clear thinking reveals why there will never be an actual “equality” between homosexual so-called “marriages” and heterosexual marriages––they are fundamentally different. Heterosexual marriages satisfy the natural complementarity between the male and female sexes, and are ordered toward the creation of new life, while homosexual “marriages” are not complementary and are not ordered towards new life. Heterosexual marriage is a self-sufficient institution––homosexual “marriage” is not, because behind every homosexual couple there are two heterosexual couples. In other words, homosexual “marriage” needs heterosexuality, but heterosexual marriage does not need homosexuality.
Why Does the Government Care About Marriage?
Redefining marriage to include relationships such as two people of the same gender is simply a watering down of the definition of the word “marriage.” It’s the equivalent of saying that a dog and a cat are the same animal by reducing the definition of each to, “A four-legged mammal commonly owned as a pet by human beings.” In an analogous way, it can only be accurate to call the relationship between same-sex couples a marriage if by the word “marriage” one simply means, “a state-issued certificate of approval on the romantic relationship between two persons.” If, on the other hand, by “marriage” one is referring to something that is in any way similar to the millennia-old definition, then calling same-sex unions “marriages” is meaningless. After all, if marriage is nothing more than a “certificate of love,” then why is the state interested in marriage in the first place? The only reasons for the state to be interested in marriage are 1) To keep both parties in a couple accountable to each other, which prevents abuse and neglect (one person can’t just walk out on the other), and 2) To keep couples accountable to any children they may produce or adopt. Every child has two biological parents: a mother and a father. Marriage is the social and legal cement that binds together mother, father, and children. There’s no other legitimate reason for the state to be involved in the marriage business (the key word there is: legitimate).
But Wait, Weren't They "Born That Way?"
Supporters of same-sex marriage often assert that people who experience same-sex attraction (SSA) were "born that way." Before even attempting to explain exactly how a person comes to have SSA, it's worth asking: Even if people were born with these attractions, would that be a sufficient reason for the state to recognize the union of two men or two women as a marriage? No, because of the reasons mentioned above. It's not in the state's interest to determine whose romantic relationships are valid and whose are not––it's only in the state's interest to guarantee people their Constitutional rights, protect them from abuse, and hold them accountable to the people whom they are legally responsible for (i.e., spouses and children). With that being said, there is literally NO scientific evidence to support the idea that people with SSA are "born that way." Eight extensive studies have recently been conducted on SSA using thousands of identical twins. Identical twins share the exact same DNA, as well as the same pre-natal environments. In other words, when it comes to anything that is genetically determined (e.g., hair color, height, bone structure, etc.) identical twins share a one-to-one concordance (correlation). So, is there a one-to-one concordance for identical twins when it comes to having SSA? No. In fact, in all the studies of identical twins, the concordance found for SSA was around 11-14%. That means that when one twin identified as homosexual, there was an 11-14% chance that the other twin did. Scientifically speaking, this is a complete disproof of the "born that way" theory. New Zealand geneticist Dr. Neal Whitehead, author of My Genes Made Me Do It! A Scientific Look at Sexual Orientation, concluded the following about the genetic basis for homosexuality:
One thing seems clear: any genetic contribution to SSA is much less than in most traits for which genetic influence has been measured. SSA seems 90% a result of random factors. SSA is in fact a good example of not being “born that way”! . . . . Saying a trait is, e.g., 10% “genetic” is nothing extraordinary. There is at least a 10% genetic effect in anything humans are and do, simply because without bodies we can’t act in the environment at all. “Genetic” effects are experienced by everyone because we all have bodies. So homosexuality is like any other human trait. Any genetic effects are mostly quite indirect, and for SSA they are weak. Also, they become relatively less important in the face of contrary environmental input (Whitehead 175).How Should Christians Respond?
As the implications of the legal redefinition of marriage play themselves out, it will become more necessary for the Church to speak the truth about human sexuality and marriage with a united and clear voice. Not to sound pessimistic, but you can expect to see more problems with theological dissent amongst lay faithful and clergy alike regarding this issue and related issues. Also, there will be an increase in legal battles against the Catholic Church and organizations affiliated with the Church. People will sue over disagreements about the content of Catholic primary and secondary school curricula regarding human sexuality and the institution of marriage. The good news is, in the Catholic Church, we do pretty well under persecution. In fact, every period of major growth in the Church, quantitative and qualitative, was the direct result of endured persecution. That's the problem with "those pesky Christians"––the easiest way for us to know if were doing the will of God is whether or not we're being persecuted. To the lay faithful who are troubled and concerned, Christ speaks the following words: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:18-20). And to our shepherds, to all the bishops, priests, and deacons in whom we trust to guide us, Saint Paul wrote the following:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim 4:1-5).As Christians, it's not just preferable that we know how to explain the truth to people––it's our duty (see Mt. 28:18-20). Even in the midst of widespread cultural and legal confusion, we have the certainty of belonging to the Church, which is the "pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15). The Church has survived the rise and fall of many empires, and the moral decline of the United States of America will not be an exception to that.
For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor 10:3-5).What Would Jesus Do?
Many supporters of same-sex marriage will go so far as to say that Jesus would be in favor of it. It's true that Jesus never condemned anyone. It's true that Jesus accepted people who everyone else hated and cast out. It's true that Jesus wasn't afraid to challenge peoples' understanding of human nature and upset the cultural norms of his time. However, Jesus never pretended that sin was not sin, or that what we do with our bodies doesn't really matter so long as we love each other. To the woman caught in adultery, he said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again" (Jn 8:11, emphasis added). Jesus was a committed Jew who said: “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Mt 5:17). To say that, because we have no record of Jesus explicitly condemning homosexual behavior or same-sex marriage, that those things are therefore morally permissible or even praiseworthy, is an extremely narrow and confused view of Divine Revelation at best, and a dishonest hijacking of Sacred Scripture for one's personal agenda at worst. It's ridiculous to think that something as foundational as marriage was equivalent in the Mosaic Law to something like a hand-washing ritual. You can depart from the truth if you choose, but you can't bring the Truth Incarnate down with you. He's bigger than your agenda, and more trendy than your hashtags. #truthwins
God bless you and thanks for reading!
† Under the Mercy,
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994. Print.
Gallup. "Marriage." URL: http://www.gallup.com/poll/117328/marriage.aspx. Retrieved on 07-07-2015. Web.
Supreme Court of the United States. Oberfell v. Hodges. URL: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf. Retrieved on 07-07-2015. Web.
Whitehead, Neal E.. My Genes Made Me Do It! A Scientific Look at Sexual Orientation. 3rd Ed. Huntington House Pub, 1999.