The imposition by judicial fiat of same sex marriage on the citizens of California has reminded us that society’s culture wars are far from over. This example of raw judicial activism should reinvigorate efforts to enshrine in state and federal constitutions the traditional legal understanding of marriage. The stakes are high. Those who see “same sex marriage” as progress towards a more “tolerant” society will – with characteristic intolerance – label their opponents as “intolerant”, “bigoted”, “homophobic” and so on. However, to defend marriage as a monogamous union between one man and one woman is not bigotry. Nor are the efforts of those who seek to enshrine in state or federal constitutions the “traditional” understanding of marriage intolerant.
Of course, in America, we value our privacy and that of others – and so today most agree that one’s sexual orientation shouldn’t necessarily be anyone else’s business. And even those Americans who hold homosexual activity to be immoral and sinful are increasingly tolerant of homosexuality as a “private” phenomenon. They might invite the person who experiences same sex attractions to conversion and, in place of behavior viewed as sinful, propose chastity – but they do not invoke the coercive power of the state to force such a conversion. On the other hand, however, in redefining the legal definition of marriage to include same sex unions, the proponents of “gay marriage” are in effect imposing their views and lifestyle on the larger populace and once legal the state’s coercive power will punish those who refuse to embrace gay marriages. For example, public officials –regardless of their views on the rightness or wrongness of homosexual acts – will be obliged to officiate at same sex “weddings”, public schools will be required to teach their acceptability to children whether parents concur or not. Even First Amendment freedoms will not be protected from assault.
Marriage has been primarily about the raising of children (who seem to be hardwired to be best raised by a father and a mother who are married to each other). The state has had a legitimate interest in favoring such traditional marriages as a way of investing in the future of society by providing for the human flourishing of upcoming generations. Of course, in recent years, in the face of increasing relativism and individualism in the culture, the state has often retreated from vigorously promoting these interests: sometimes this occurred through legislation (e.g. no fault divorce laws); sometimes through judicial fiat (e.g. Roe v. Wade).
In the culture wars, the two sides are fighting about the understanding of man and his relationship to truth and reality. One side – and today “gay marriage” is its poster child – holds that anyone can essentially create his or her own reality. This side holds for a radical autonomy by which truth is determined not by the nature of things but by one’s own individual will. The other side holds men and women are not self-creators but creatures. Truth is not constructed, but received and thus must reflect the reality of things. Or, as the Book of Genesis says: “Male and female, He (God) created them.” (Genesis 1: 27).
The former’s position, like that of the secular Utopias of the 20th century, is a recipe for tyranny; the latter’s position promises a freedom that is only achievable through adherence to objective truth which we do not, and could never, invent. As I said, the stakes are high. Same sex “marriage” – if allowed to prevail in law – will result in the devaluation of all marriages with terrible consequences to society. The common good demands that the understanding of marriage as a union between one man and one woman not be lost. We need a constitutional amendment protecting traditional marriage.