What was thought impossible only a decade ago has become a political reality in America: more and more state courts are issuing decisions which make legal the civil marriage of two people of the same sex.
In a postmodern, I would argue increasingly post-Christian society, any political position or public argument framed in a particular theological or religious worldview is doomed to failure. This is an uncomfortable reality for those of us who find ourselves in particular religious communities (especially those of us who are theologically conservative or traditional Christians) which oppose the marriage of people of the same sex. No matter what we may think of the merits of our faith and how our spiritual and theological worldview impacts our approach to ongoing political questions, for those who are outside the Church, our theological worldview and the ethical and political beliefs which come with them are irrelevant. Put simply, non-Christian and nominally Christian people who do not understand the Church’s phronema or mindset simply do not care what she has to say on this, or most other subjects.
The greatest vulnerability of those who defend marriage between one man and one woman is that, ultimately, all of our arguments rest on a religious or theological premise rejected by those with whom we disagree. In other words, while we see our theological beliefs (the beliefs common to most Christians throughout history) as profoundly relevant, those pushing for the legalization of gay marriage see our beliefs as utterly irrelevant. We cannot compel those who think differently from us to understand our perspective. We cannot convince secular liberals of the validity of our worldview when ours is a worldview fundamentally alien to and different from their own. Ultimately, we may argue for the merits of two thousand years of Christian Tradition and the witness of Scripture, but for those outside the Church who do not care what Christianity, its living Tradition, or Scriptures have to say on this subject, our arguments will continue to fall on deaf ears.
While gay marriage advocates have framed their arguments in terms of that most-valued concept today, personal liberty, as well as equal access under the law to the economic and legal benefits civil marriage conveys in our society, those opposed to the legalization of same-sex marriage have framed their opposition in terms of religious dogma and a sense of history. It is little wonder that, as the number of religiously unaffiliated people continues to grow in the United States, and as our country’s political sovereignty was established less than three centuries ago, these arguments are less than persuasive to those who do not already embrace them.
Religious conservatives point to hypothetical fears of losing God’s protection as a nation if we move toward further embrace of same-sex marriage, while liberals point to tangible examples of same-sex couples who have successfully argued that their inability to marry (and thus, enjoy the legal protections and economic benefits marriage carries) violates their equal status as citizens under the law. Ultimately, the vulnerability of religious arguments for or against certain legislation is expressed in the Constitution itself, an implicitly secular document which never mentions God and which permits free exercise of religion, but does not set forth or compel a certain religious worldview or set of dogmas. Even the allegedly secular arguments which point to concerns over the possible mental and psychological damage to children raised by homosexual parents are hopelessly rooted in a theological paradigm foreign to the prevailing non-religious cultural discourse of a postmodern society.
Perhaps my sentiment is merely a product of the postmodern, liberal environment in which I grew up, but I have never seen gay marriage as a grave threat to our society, but rather, an inevitable symptom of a far deeper cultural shift. It goes without saying that, for two men to marry each other or two women to do so, such a union takes place outside the blessing and sanction of the Church. The Church cannot bless such unions, and ultimately that reality is a far more permanent and conclusive answer to Christians than the ever-shifting tide of what the political State may or may not allow.
It doesn’t bother me, nor does it bother most Millennials, that my gay and lesbian friends can now get certain legal protections in their partnerships that they could not before. As to the question of raising children, I believe two parents of the same sex raising children, while they could love the child as any other parent would, violates a child’s inherent right to both a loving mother and a father. Yet how many people who decry same-sex parents’ adopting children speak out against the far more common issues of adultery, spousal and child abuse, the reality of orphaned children, and drug and alcohol addiction which devastate a far greater number of families?
Speaking realistically, the world will not cease to exist because gay and lesbian people can now marry each other, despite what some Christians may think. Gay marriage itself is not a disease or threat, but rather a symptom of a far deeper illness in society. Some call the illness ‘modernism’, others call it ‘secular liberalism’. Other symptoms include the above-mentioned adultery, spousal and child abuse, orphaned children, and drug and alcohol addiction. The uncomfortable fact is that the political reality of same-sex marriage could never have come to pass without widespread acceptance and normalization of premarital sex among heterosexual couples, and the normalization and toleration of adultery among married people.
As the postmodern elevation of the individual person (provided he or she is already born) to absolute self-direction and self-will continues to gain hold, and as more and more people fall away from organized religion, Americans will have to confront the reality of a fundamentally altered society. As more and more people reject belief in God, people will increasingly think of themselves as absolute lords and masters over their own destiny, unaccountable to any authority above their own will; in effect, people will live and act in such a way that they perceive themselves as gods.
We are becoming a society in which straight people rightly rejoice that their gay and lesbian neighbors have the same legal protections under the law that they do, but, out of fear of offending, no one dares question the reality that gay marriage, and by extension, same-sex parenting, inherently and absolutely deprives children of both a mother and a father. The above-mentioned ‘symptoms’ of adultery, spousal and child abuse, etc. often serve to break up heterosexual-parented families, thereby depriving the children (for better or worse) of both a male and female parent. We all know of instances in which children are better off with an abusive father or mother out of their lives, and raised by the other parent, but these are conditional exceptions to the prevailing norm of two-parent heterosexual families in which abuse does not take place. On the other hand, a family with two parents of the same-sex is one in which any children are absolutely and intrinsically denied either a mother or a father.
As the saying goes, however they may try, a man cannot be a woman, nor a woman a man. The desire for gay or lesbian couples to parent children is a perfectly noble and human emotion, and we all know of children raised by same-sex couples who, as the saying goes, turn out just fine. Likewise, we all know of broken or dysfunctional heterosexual parented-families in which one or both of the parents does a terrible job. My gay friend could be a wonderful father, perhaps better than I could be, but were he and his partner to adopt a child, they would be forever depriving it of a mother.
Some families with a mother and a father are abusive, some families with two mothers or two fathers are abusive, but all families with either two mothers or two fathers deny the children either a father or a mother. This is an inescapable reality which our culture today does not want to examine, because, by examining it, we come into many internal conflicts about sexuality, parenting, and, most uncomfortable of all, the possibility that children might deserve a reality which a gay or lesbian person’s exercise of personal freedom denies them. In exulting over our gay or lesbian friends’ new legal protections, we forgot to ask ourselves what it means to say, to all future children born in the states where gay marriage is legal, “You have the right to parents. You do not have the right to both a mother and a father.”
I believe we can and must examine the issue of same-sex parenting as a society without impugning the human ability of gay people to love, protect, and cherish children. The equation of same-sex attraction with pedophilia needs to vanish from every church meeting or online debate, as it is a patent falsehood impossible to prove, and easily disproven. The psychological reality of children raised in a fundamentally different environment from that which has been the norm throughout human history is one which, even if we as a society do not wish to address it, will manifest itself soon enough as more and more children are raised by two people of the same sex. The normalization of same-sex-parented households will manifest in any number of ways, but the irrevocable reality is that, as the normalization sets in, the very concepts of what constitute parenthood and the family itself will change beyond our wildest imagination.
As a conservative, it is this fundamental shift in what constitutes parenthood and the family, and thus personhood itself, which most disturbs me, for in saying that children have the inalienable right to parents but not to both a mother and a father our society is shattering the prototype or image of what the family itself is. What concept will replace it remains to be seen, but it will be fundamentally and intrinsically different from that which all human civilization has held until now.
The greatest threat to mankind, inherently and implicitly tied to modernist thought and the secular liberal worldview, is the rejection of or indifference to God, and, thus, the rejection of mankind as made in God’s image. Because of this, I see the increasing legalization of gay marriage as an opportunity for Christians to evangelize by example to a culture which is increasingly shorn of its ostensibly Christian influences. As the culture moves further away from anything resembling authentic, historic Christianity, the Gospel itself will become something more exotic, demanding, and even revolutionary.
Swept up in the passionate midst of the culture wars, partisans on both sides tend to forget the reality that, at the end of the day, all of us are people made in the image of God; that person with whom you vehemently disagree bears Christ’s image as much as you do. As surreal as this sounds, we often forget the reality that the people most directly impacted by the gay marriage debate — gays and lesbians themselves — are not some “out there” group or statistic, but our fellow worshipers at church, our friends, cousins, or siblings. Within the framework of the Church’s ongoing witness to and ontological view of mankind, they are our fellow-travelers in this transitory life who bear a cross many of us simply cannot contemplate.
This means that we should praise our gay and lesbian friends struggling to live the Church’s teachings on sex as living a more authentic life in Christ than our heterosexual friends who more easily ignore the Church’s teachings. It goes without saying that the stigma on same-sex sex is (wrongly) far more pronounced than that associated with pre-marital heterosexual sex, even though the Church teaches that any sex outside sacramental marriage is sinful because it misuses and falls short of our divine image. As all of us know, there is no difficulty in befriending people who live lives essentially unconscious of the Gospel. Our task as Christians in a post-Christian society will be to show our gay and lesbian friends the same genuine love, respect, and decency we show to everyone, while calling all our friends, gay and straight alike, to the Gospel of repentance, hope, transformation, and deification in and through Christ.