On a recent piece I wrote on current polling on people’s attitudes about same-sex marriage, a frequent commenter asked me, “It’s been ten years of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, five years in Iowa. Do you really think you are going to turn back the clock?” Meaning it is inevitable.
A couple of days ago I read an excellent piece by Ryan T. Anderson from the Heritage Foundation who addresses this claim. He wrote at National Review, “Some people would like me and the millions of Americans who continue to believe that marriage is what societies have believed it to be throughout human history — a male-female union — to get with the program and accept the inevitable. We’re clearly, they tell us, on the Wrong Side of History.”
Yes it would be easy to shut up and move on.
But we should avoid the temptation to prognosticate about the future in lieu of working to shape that future. We are citizens in a self-governing society, not pundits watching a spectator sport, not subjects of rulers. We are participants in one of the most significant debates our society — any society — has ever faced.
Some say we should abandon the defense of marriage and retreat to only protecting religious-liberty exemptions. They argue that this is the best course of action in light of what they take to be an inevitable defeat. Others go further and suggest that we should simply disengage with politics entirely, retreat to our own communities, and rebuild a marriage subculture there.
As tempting as these plans may be, they aren’t the right answer.
We must continue to witness to the truth about marriage, find new ways to make the reasoned case about what marriage is, and work to protect our freedoms to do so for the next generation. All of this must be done in service of the long-term goal of restoring a culture of marriage.
This requires both political and cultural efforts. Those who emphasize religious-liberty protections are somewhat right, for to even have the freedom to build countercultural institutions that preserve the truth about marriage we will at the very least need to protect the liberty — including religious liberty — to do so. But they are wrong in thinking we can protect religious liberty without defending the substantive view we seek the liberty to hold and act on. In order to protect our liberty with respect to marriage, we must persuade our neighbors that our views about marriage are reasonable, and thus that our rights to govern our lives in accord with those views should be respected.
He gives six ways to be a witness for marriage. I’ll list his primary points below and encourage you to read his article for his explanation.
1. Stand up for our authority as citizens to pass laws reflecting the truth about marriage.
While those who advocate for redefining marriage may not like it, we do live in a representative democracy. We have just as much right to advocate for laws as they do. Until that right has been taken away we must continue to do so which brings us to Anderson’s second point.
2. Defend our form of government and our liberties.
We must vigorously defend our religious liberty and rights to conscience. Advocates for same-sex marriage like to say “marriage equality doesn’t infringe upon religious liberty.” I suppose that is true if you are not a baker, photographer, florist etc. Anderson makes a counter point. “Protecting religious liberty and the rights of conscience does not infringe on anyone’s sexual freedoms.” He goes on:
Indeed, a regime of free association, free contracts, free speech, and free exercise of religion should protect citizens’ rights to live according to their beliefs about marriage. And yet, a growing number of incidents show that the redefinition of marriage and state policies on sexual orientation have created a climate of intolerance, intimidation, and even government coercion for citizens who believe that marriage is the union of a man and woman and that sexual relations are properly reserved for marriage.
This is undemocratic, unconstitutional and frankly unAmerican. There are reasonable advocates for same-sex marriage who recognize this is a bridge too far, but unfortunately they seem to be the minority voice. Just as homosexuals shouldn’t be asked to violate their conscience people of faith should not either.
3. Make the case for marriage.
Anderson points out that religious liberty protections are more likely to be respected if we make a reasonable, winsome case for marriage. We must, he says, make a distinction about the different views of marriage. He says we must point out the differences between the conjungal view with the revisionist view. He writes:
The conjugal view of marriage, we argued, has long informed the law — along with the literature, art, philosophy, religion, and social practice — of our civilization. So understood, marriage is a comprehensive union. It unites spouses at all levels of their being: hearts, minds, and bodies, where man and woman form a two-in-one-flesh union. It is based on the anthropological truth that men and women are distinct and complementary, on the biological fact that reproduction requires a man and a woman, and on the sociological reality that children benefit from having a mother and a father. As the act that unites spouses can also create new life, marriage is especially apt for procreation and family life. Uniting spouses in these all-encompassing ways, marriage calls for all-encompassing commitment: permanent and exclusive.
The state cares about marriage because of marriage’s connection with children and its ability to unite children with their mother and father. After all, whenever a baby is born, there is always a mother nearby: That is a fact of reproductive biology. The question for law and culture is whether a father will be involved in the life of that child and, if so, for how long. Marriage increases the odds that a man will be committed both to the children that he helps create and to the woman with whom he does so. Marriage, rightly understood, brings together the two halves of humanity (male and female) in a monogamous relationship. Husband and wife pledge to each other to be faithful by vows of permanence and exclusivity. Marriage provides children with a relationship with the man and the woman who made them.
The revisionist view, on the other hand, has informed certain marriage-policy changes of the past several decades and is embodied in much of Hollywood’s productions. On the revisionist understanding, marriage is essentially an emotional union, accompanied by any consensual sexual activity the partners may desire. Such romantic unions are seen as valuable while the emotion lasts. The revisionist view informs some male-female bonds, not just same-sex ones, as both involve intense emotional bonding, so both can (on this view) make a marriage.
But comprehensive union, we argue, is something only a man and woman can form. For this reason, enacting same-sex marriage would not expand the institution of marriage, but redefine it. Finishing what policies like “no-fault” divorce began, and thus entrenching them, it would finally replace the conjugal view with the revisionist emotion-based account. This would multiply the marriage revolution’s moral and cultural spoils, and make them harder than ever to recover.
4. We must diversify and strengthen our efforts.
I touched on this in my article last week. I wrote, “Christians must place as much emphasis, if not more, on cultural missionary work as we do foreign missions work. We can’t afford to cede music, movies, TV, and other popular cultural mediums to secular culture. That’s how we got into this mess in the first place.”
We can’t just address this issue politically. Same-sex marriage advocates didn’t.
5. The Church has a central role to play.
The Church will minister to homosexuals. As I noted before, “The Church must engage the homosexual community in the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ and through servant evangelism.” We must present a biblical view of sexuality and marriage.
We must live marriage. It’s been pointed out to me, numerous times, why don’t we address the issue of divorce and remarriage. Those who say that are obviously not paying attention to the work being done in this realm. We are also having to battle cultural forces with this as well so changes will not happen overnight. There are many ministries that provide marriage mentoring, marriage counseling, marriage encounters and retreats, and there are numerous communities where churches have banded together to provide a standard for premarital preparation and expectations.
With public policy there have been efforts to implement covenantal marriage licenses, and I find we typically see the same people who advocate same-sex marriage resist changes such as these.
6. We must all take the long view.
It didn’t happen overnight, it likely won’t change overnight. Obviously as a Christian I would note that God could bring about revival and bring about radical change. Even if He doesn’t, we must be faithful witnesses, regardless of the political and/or judicial outcome.
As Anderson points out, “the pro-marriage case can win – if we don’t give up on it.