church-wedding

Alexandria, VA Andrew Cherlin – the Benjamin H. Griswold III Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at Johns Hopkins University – has written an important new book on marriage in America entitled The Marriage-Go-Round. (You can hear Cherlin discuss his book on a recent program on the Diane Rehm Show, here).  Its basic thesis is that in America, marriage is a particularly valorized and highly-desired institution, yet American marriage – and indeed, the whole of American relationships – is a remarkably unstable institution, with more American marriages ending in divorce than in any other comparably developed country.  As he writes, what makes American marriage truly different “is the sum total of these differences [from other Western countries]: frequent marriage, frequent divorce, more short-term cohabiting relationships.  Together these factors create a great turbulence in American family life, a family flux, a coming and going of partners on a scale seen nowhere else….  The most distinctive characteristic of American family life, then … is sheer movement:  frequent transitions, shorter relationships” (5).

Cherlin’s basic conclusion:  American marriage is currently incoherent, valorized because of its past status as a core part of our cultural identity (and, I would argue – following Christopher Lasch – because of the role it played as a “haven in a heartless world” during the period of American industrialization), but everywhere seen as ever-more “optional” and subject to the judgments of whether the relationship increases – or forestalls – personal satisfaction.  American marriage – and relationships in general – are increasingly defined above all by the imperatives of individualism, and thereby subject to the demand that any particular relationship is contribute to an individual’s personal development and satisfaction.  If not, then it is subject to fundamental redefinition.

One of the more striking features of Cherlin’s research is his collection of divorce statistics in the year 2000, in which he identified low and high divorce areas.  The areas with highest divorce rates were in the American west and Florida (interestingly, areas that voted Republican in the 2000 election).  His explanation – which sounds more than plausible to me – is that these areas are particularly noteworthy for the mobility of their inhabitants:  most people moved to live in these places, suggesting that these people already had a tendency to change circumstances if they are unsatisfied where they are, and further, that – once arriving at such new places – they have very little by way of social network in which marriages flourish best.  It may be the brute fact of American mobility (and its underlying “restlessness”) that underlies high American divorce rates more than any other factor.

This last observation points to a basic feature of marriage that has largely been left out of contemporary debates over marriage (whether gay marriage or heterosexual marriage).  Marriage is but one part of a larger set of cultural conditions.  Marriage is a condition in which individuality is subsumed to the larger considerations, demands, and obligations of culture and commonweal.  At the most basic level, we sacrifice our autonomy on behalf of the good of a “unit” now defined as a couple, not two individuals.  At a basic level, that unit is the source of future generations – the very source and conduit for the conveyance of human life and particular cultures.  But the unit is itself an expression of, and draws from, the community as a whole.  Thus (as I’ve written elsewhere), marriage is entered into through the blessing of and in the presence of community, not (as Las Vegas versions would suggest) as a contract of individuals.  Marriages derive from, exist for, and are legitimized by the community and culture from which they derive.  Thus, in their earliest instantiation marriages had nothing to do with the wishes of the individuals who composed them.  They were the arrangements by families who looked to the continuity of a way of life (and, yes, family status) rather than the individual wishes of the partners.

Even when the consent of the individuals became a central feature of marriage – an innovation of Christianity, as Remi Brague reminds us (see the last paragraph of the interview that Mark Shiffman kindly linked for us) - it was still understood by all parties that marriage was most fully a union by and for the greater community.  Blessings of parents and the publication of “the banns” was a necessary precondition for a wedding.  This was especially because the married couple – by committing to marriage – was not merely joining to each other in an official capacity, but was in fact becoming a constitutive unit of the community and the conduit for the continuation of culture.  Marriage was thus essential to the life and future of culture, and could not be permitted to take place between two individuals who happened to love each other but who were culturally unrelated.  Rather, and necessarily, marriage was the union not simply between individuals, but between two people who would convey the lived traditions of a culture – most obviously (for instance), a man and woman of the same religious faith (this is one of the main points of Fiddler on the Roof, where Tevye can brook the choices of his two older daughters – even marriage to a communist – because they are both Jews.  It is only when his youngest daughter proposes to marry a Christian that he withholds consent).   Marriage was most essentially a commitment to a community, not the sum of personal choices of individuals.

What can it possibly mean to defend marriage when one cannot also defend or even conceive of a culture in which individualism is not the reigning basis for self-understanding?  Our “debate over marriage” is emaciated and unsatisfying precisely because the contending parties – Left and Right alike - are not even capable of discerning the more fundamental issues at play, and are content to play out the drama in the most deracinated and culture-less venue imaginable – the legal brief.  At the distant end of a broken connection, we debate over an institution – marriage – that carries ancient connotations but for which the cultural preconditions have ceased to exist.  We debate over a dried and dead husk.

For proponents of gay marriage, marriage is a right, a personal entitlement of full individual expression.  Just as heterosexuals sought to be liberated from the constraints of marriage in the name of individual liberty, so now gay individuals seek access to the positive connotations of the word marriage (even where they currently have all the rights and privileges of marriage other than the name, as in California) in the name of rights.  As the California Supreme Court ruled in the case legalizing gay marriage (and subsequently abrogated by the passage of Proposition 8), “The constitutionally based right to marry properly must be understood to encompass the core set of basic substantive legal rights and attributes traditionally associated with marriage that are so integral to an individual’s liberty and personal autonomy that they may not be eliminated or abrogated by the Legislature or by the electorate through the statutory initiative process.” Marriage is thus framed as a matter of individual rights and personal autonomy – simply arriving at the logical conclusion of what had long before been begun by contemporary understandings of heterosexual marriage. Yet, it is this very underlying set of justifications that have eviscerated the actual significance of marriage:  by making marriage into an option – a “lifestyle choice” – as an institution it does not possess in fact what it is thought to represent in theory.  What gays desire, then, is the imprimatur of an institution whose positive connotations derive from a pre-liberal inheritance – its essence a culture-bearing institution –  and which has been in fact largely emptied of those features as the primacy of demands of individualistic self-satisfaction have trumped its culture-bearing features.  Ironically, at the point at which gays may achieve legal access to the word marriage, marriage will largely have ceased to be in any way the institution that was so desirable in the first instance.  But I suppose that’s the point.  One doesn’t see gay marriage advocates demanding a reassessment of no-fault divorce laws, or calling for the introduction of “covenant marriage,” for instance.  The form of marriage that they wish to join is akin to demands to be able to wear nose rings or engage in voluntary amputation.  It’s yet another expression of individual autonomy.

Meanwhile, conservatives largely defend the institution of marriage in two ways – either as a traditional organization that should not be so easily or blithely remade, or an institution based in the natural features of humans, namely, focused on reproduction and basic facts of human sexuality.  While I am sympathetic with both of these arguments, they do not seem to me to get to the core of the matter – namely, that marriage as an institution is simply the crowning part of a culture that must necessarily reject individualism as its basic feature.  Contemporary conservatives have largely endorsed an economic and political system that places individualism at its core (again, it’s worth noting that those parts of the country that are most mobile and where divorce is highest typically vote Republican, and it was, after all, a Republican president – the great hero of the Republicans, Ronald Reagan – who was the nation’s first divorced President).  David Brooks (and Peter Lawler) have embraced the exurbs as the natural place for “conservative” values to flourish, when in fact this particular living arrangement has contributed profoundly and perhaps irrevocably to the erosion of residual conservative impulses that are closely connected to place and memory.  These “conservatives” basically adopt the “haven in a heartless world” viewpoint, defending marriage as a locus where nature, self-sacrifice, duty, obligation, submission of personal autonomy must be promoted – but, the ONLY place where that is the case.  Any such view, of course, is pure fantasy, dooming marriage to failure if only by asking it to bear too much weight, to carry to much of the load of an otherwise radically individualist society.

If there is inevitability to the legality of gay marriage – as many people increasingly seem to think – it is not only because of the efforts of gay activists, but because of the valorization of “individualism” even and perhaps especially by our “conservatives.”  If the horse is already out of the barn, then it was a door that was opened long ago by the very people who now seem surprised that you can’t contain a bad and viral idea.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar John Médaille June 1, 2009 at 10:00 am

To extend this analysis, as long as marriage is centered on the adults, as long as it relates to their individual “fulfillment” and is not centered around children and social production, then there can be no coherent arguments against “gay” marriage, or indeed against polygamy, polyandry, marrying your cousin, or anything else that advances the (perceived) happiness of the adults. In this situation, children themselves become an optional feature of the marriage rather than the whole point.

But one must ask, why does the question of “marriage” enter the debate on homosexuality? There are two things which make this rather odd. The first is that homosexuality used to be the ultimate defiance of social conventions; it was “gay” in comparison the the “staid” and conventional norms of sexuality. But now, it has become a demand to be conventional. Ironically, gay marriage must lose the very thing that made it “gay.”

The second question is, “why marriage?” as opposed just to a relationship. After all, homosexuality is nothing new, and many cultures have tolerated or even encouraged such relationships. But even the most welcoming culture never spoke of marriage in regard to these relationships. Socrates does not marry Alcibiades. The question never comes up and the term is never applied to such a relationship.

So why now and why marriage? Two reasons, I suspect, one cultural and one economic. Homosexuals no longer wish to be gay, they wish to be conventional. The do not want their “lifestyle” to be an act of social defiance, but a matter of social indifference. But to accomplish that, they must bludgeon every one else into acceptance or at least into silence. To get everybody to be quiet, they must yell at the top of their collective voice.

The other, and perhaps more important reason, is that many goods are distributed on the basis of marital status. Health insurance, social security benefits, certain property rights, etc., are based on this, and homosexuals want in on the action.

Still, there is a cost to conventionality. “Marriage,” in our society, is as often as not the prelude to divorce. And with divorce come two words never before uttered in the “gay” community, words which will decrease the gaiety. These words are “community property.”

avatar Al June 1, 2009 at 10:01 am

Mr. Deneen, thank you for your piece and for highlighting the mobility thesis of Dr. Cherlin. It does seem plausible.

That said, be wary of divorce statistics. It would seem true at first glance that more politically conservative areas have higher “divorce rates,” but depending on how the statistics are taken, this could be misleading.

For example, if someone told you that the divorce rate in Tennessee in 2000 was 5.9/1000 residents and 3.3/1000 residents in Connecticut in 2000, as this chart indicates, one might be tempted to say the divorce rate in TN was almost 2x higher. However, the rate is with respect to residents rather than marriages. When we take into account the fact that TN had a much higher marriage rate (15.5) than CT (5.7), one realizes that TN likely had a higher divorce rate because more people get married in the state. At some level, it’s worse that people don’t even get married at all.

A better statistic might be the divorce rate/marriage rate. TN would have 5.9/15.5=0.38, lower than 0.58 for CT. Moreover, I haven’t just cherry-picked data. You could do the same calculations for the “reddest” states like Kentucky, Utah, Arkansas vs. the “bluest” states like California, District of Columbia, New York and you’ll get some similar results, though admittedly I haven’t done the full statistical legwork.

I looked a bit deeper because this reminded me of statistics that declare that divorce rates between Christians and non-Christians are about the same, which is true until you define Christians according to some standard of orthodoxy or high church attendance rather than self-designation, in which case Christians have a much lower divorce rate, especially considering their rates of marriage.

avatar Dan June 1, 2009 at 10:24 am

“For proponents of gay marriage, marriage is a right, a personal entitlement of full individual expression.”

While I believe this is correct I don’t think it’s the full case. In addition to the ‘entitlement of the full individual expression’ (Which they could have in any Unitarian Church regardless of the law) there is a desire for a privileged legal status, the same privileged legal status of heterosexual couples which provides incentives for marriage. The question is, aside from a source of revenue, why does the state issue licenses at all? It seems that many of the original reasons eugenic, racial, and blood tests are either gone or on their way out. The primary motive factors seem now to maintain the age of consent and prevent bigamy. In an age where sex and marriage are increasingly divorced concepts the social ills resulting from these two requirements are hardly mitigated by the marriage license requirement.

In an age in which, as you have rightly pointed out, there are fewer and fewer responsibilities associated with marriage shouldn’t we begin to think of revoking the privileges?

avatar Empedocles June 1, 2009 at 11:44 am

As long as the debate is over the definition of marriage, conservatives will lose. As long as they appeal only to tradition or religion, they will lose. The debate should, as Professor Deneen hints, be about the FUNCTION of marriage. Why are there marriages? What problems were marriage supposed to prevent? At last count 40% of the children being born in this country are born out of wedlock, up from 2% in the 1950s–an increase of 2000%. A vast body of research shows that children raised in single-parent homes are at far greater risk of poverty, school dropout, delinquency, teen pregnancy, adult joblessness, and other problems. Marriage is the social institution which was designed to prevent these terrible societal problems in children.

avatar Daniel June 1, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Patrick,

I think you’re being a bit too glib, or binary, here. Sure, the institution of marriage has changed profoundly, and sure, there are people who treat marriage like it’s just an expression of taste or personal desire, but is it really true that “The form of marriage that [gay people] wish to join is akin to demands to be able to wear nose rings or engage in voluntary amputation”?

Certainly when you read someone like, say, Andrew Sullivan, what you encounter is someone who wanted to get married not simply to obtain the rights that would flow to him as a married person (and in fact I’m not sure that he got any of those rights, since he doesn’t live in the state where he was married), or to celebrate a purely personal commitment. He’s described his marriage as a way to enter more deeply into various communities — to commit himself not simply to his husband, but to his husband’s familiy, to his own family, to their broader community of friends, and to God.

Isn’t it possible to want access — in a logically coherent way — to a substantially (if not essentially) culture-bearing institution in part for its culture-bearing aspects and yet also recognize that its culture-bearing-ness isn’t what it once was. Isn’t it possible, even, to believe that you should have access to such an institution at the same time that you recognize that legalizing your access to it may in some way contribute to the decline of that which makes it desirable to you. I mean, what else is one supposed to do? Take one for the team?

Dan

avatar Patrick Deneen June 1, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Daniel,
I wouldn’t deny that there are gay couples (or individuals speaking on behalf of gay marriage) who understand their own, or potential marriages, in the manner I argue on behalf of here. I would no more deny that than deny the existence of such marriages among heterosexuals. But the overarching societal and cultural understanding of marriage has been deeply infected by basic individualistic and liberal understandings, and it is this institution that gay people are agitating to join. Moreover, most are agitating to join it by invoking the language of rights (such as the formulation articulated by the California Supreme Court), thus deepening the fundamental illegitimacy of marriage as an institution in which the claims of individuals are subsumed to that of the community.

Even in the writings of those who justify gay marriage in “conservative” terms, I see scant evidence of any call for less individualism more broadly in the culture (I would include Andrew Sullivan, by and large, in this assessment). Some, then, would seek to argue for a “conservative” form of marriage while largely willing, or even supportive, of a deeply unconservative broader cultural mileau. In this sense, they are really not all that different from the “conservatives” that I mention here in this post (and why someone like David Brooks is pretty pro-gay marriage when you come down to it).

Echoing Empedocles above, it’s perhaps considering some lines from Robert Nisbet’s Quest For Community published in 1953:

“As Ortega y Gasset has written, ‘people do not live together merely to be together. They live together to do something together.’ To suppose that the present family, or any other group, can perpetually vitalize itself through some indwelling affectional tie, in the absence of concrete, perceived functions, is like supposing that the comradely ties of mutual aid that spring up incidentally in a military unit will long outlast a condition in which war is plainly and irrevocably banished. Applied to the family, the argument suggests that affection and personality cultivation can somehow exist in a social vacuum, unsupported by the determining goals and ideals of economic and political society.”

Not even those who argue the “conservative” case for gay marriage are much concerned about the conditions that have given rise to this “social vacuum” – and, I think, ultimately would not care to do so because of the fundamental commitments that would be required – but, then again, neither do most of our mainstream “conservatives.” So, I stand by my “glib” but seriously-meant assertion that much of the gay marriage movement shares a resemblance to other movements seeking autonomy, but would be further willing to assert that this is no less true for many so-called “conservatives” as well.

avatar Lew Daly June 1, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Patrick:

Of course you’re right that, traditionally, marriage was defined by family interests and communal functions. And I agree that liberalism (economically and politically) has taken a severe toll on communities by redefining marriage and putting individual choice and will at the center of family law. But as you suggest, if defined by its communal functions, traditional marriage can only mean arranged marriage. That appears to leave no place for romantic love as part of marriage. Is romantic love too liberal for marriage as you define it?

Lew

avatar Daniel June 1, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Patrick,

I’m having a hard time (perhaps because I’m not yet that familiar, as a new reader, with your paradigm) figuring out exactly how far your argument is meant to extend. If it’s simply the “seriously-meant assertion that much of the gay marriage movement shares a resemblance to other movements seeking autonomy,” and that such movements tend to deepen “the fundamental illegitimacy of marriage as an institution in which the claims of individuals are subsumed to that of the community,”
then I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t know if I agree or not, having not mulled it over very much, but I can see where the outlines of the argument lie.

What’s vexing me, though, is when you say things like this: “What can it possibly mean to defend marriage when one cannot also defend or even conceive of a culture in which individualism is not the reigning basis for self-understanding?” Or when you write that “We debate over a dried and dead husk.”

A dead and dry husk? Really? It’s one thing to suggest that marriage has been diminshed, but another to suggest that it’s been entirely sucked dry of meaning. Do you really believe that, or am I misreading you?

avatar Esmeralda_Pearl June 1, 2009 at 8:07 pm

“If there is inevitability to the legality of gay marriage – as many people increasingly seem to think – it is not only because of the efforts of gay activists, but because of the valorization of “individualism” even and perhaps especially by our “conservatives.” If the horse is already out of the barn, then it was a door that was opened long ago by the very people who now seem surprised that you can’t contain a bad and viral idea.”–P.D.

I think you’re on target with the above remark.

At this point of time, in the USA, “marriage” as a public act has become a middle to upper class institution. The majority of those on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder fare better economically as “single, head of household” (with a partner on the side…who’s income is not included) than married couples of the same stated and verified income level.

It would take the wisdom of Solomon and a non-activist judiciary to reverse this trend. In the process somebody’s “rights” would become secondary to the idea of something that strengthens the male-female-offspring bond within an economic unit. (e.g. the concept of a “family wage” or guaranteed annual livable income per person, irregardless of household size).

avatar Patrick Deneen June 2, 2009 at 8:54 am

Daniel,
Yes, I’ll admit to some rhetorical hyperbole in describing the institution of marriage as “dead and dry husk.” Perhaps the better description would be that of a palimpsest – an old parchment on which the old writing has been erased and new writing inscribed to replace it. What value it has is largely because of the not-wholly erased older writing; what it is ever-more becoming in fact is what the new writing prescribes. As I’ve argued elsewhere, liberalism flourishes (to the extent it flourishes) because of the persistence of these residual pre-liberal inheritances. Liberalism itself does nothing to replenish these inheritances, but rather depletes them – indeed, aggressively seeks to dismantle them – even as it ignorantly relies upon them. Early modern libreral thinkers at least realized that they relied upon these resources; contemporary liberals now take them for granted, even regarding them as obstacles to progress and fruition of a liberal apotheosis. So, marriage is not altogether in practice a “dead and dry husk,” but in danger of of becoming just that without replenishment of the roots.

avatar Empedocles June 2, 2009 at 12:33 pm

There have been other major blows to marriage besides individualism. The first is the introduction of cheap and effective birth control. This separated sex from the inevitability of children. The second was the introduction of cures and prevention for some venereal diseases. This separated monogamy from “safe sex.” The third was the view that the point of education was not to imbue values and culture in children, but to let them “self-actualize.” This requires the conscious intention of NOT inculcating values and culture in children and reduced any kind of cultural responsibility in parents. Anyone can let a child “self-actualize” and so parents could feel no responsibility to stay around to raise the children, they would be better off without having a parent who would “mess them up.”

avatar D.W. Sabin June 2, 2009 at 3:10 pm

I think to impugn “individualism” as you do is to sanction the current perception of it. Individualism, as it stands today in the popular culture is a state of indiscriminate want that mirrors a panoply of caricature gilded by the popular culture and its media. This is a comic book version of the “Pursuit of Happiness”. The term “lifestyle” is mentioned and this represents the apogee of “individualism” as practiced today in a kind of groupthink where even the renegade seeks mass membership . This is, in my opinion a thoroughly degraded perversion of “individualism”. It implies that a person with a strong sense of individual identity is adverse to community in its comprehensive sense and I cannot accept this definition. An individual of strong personal awareness gets that way from a long-term commitment to the ideas of community and uses these ideas as a kind of measuring stick not to distance themselves from community but to gauge how full an individual they can become within the context of a rich community. Conversely, a community that diminishes individualism becomes a runt stump of a community where group-think….as we have today on a global scale ….creates all manner of perverse conventional wisdoms.

There is misanthrope of course and degeneracy and they are forms of individual action and choice but I think these are dysfunctional forms, not the more productive form of an Individual-Community balance.

As to transient populations having the preponderance of divorce…I’m not quite sure that is correct and I seem to recall that communal Utah has both a high gay population and a higher than average divorce rate….very puzzling given it’s status as essentially a theocracy within an isolated Western stronghold.

Being the grateful and stubbornly proud participant in a marriage of 28 years…….as one of my clients once said “If I woulda murdered Morty, I’d a been outa jail by now”…..I am a believer. It is an institution of shared trials and victories , of the gift of parentage and the doorway to widening familial connection…the portal of community. Having had Gay friends and associates both richly admired and simply endured, I cannot get too exercised about their desire for marriage as a threat to my own sense of marital identity. I even have to deal with a kind of Gay Cosa Nostra in the design professions that seems to sanction the idea that gays are the most “creative”…kind of ironic given their choice or compulsion to abandon the most creative thing we humans can do but….it is not as though homosexuality sprung fully formed in the modern era . Many different cultures throughout history have dealt with it in a variety of acceptance, sanction and aversion. I have known enough Gays to tell me this life has been less one of choice than something that quite naturally occurred without concrete reasons….and furthermore, was a source of intense anguish and inhumanity. Frankly, I would be more concerned about a Gay Anti-Marriage crusade.

This is, I believe, except for the medical and common property issues, another manifestation of not wanton individualism but the wanton group think that is balkanizing our community into here today, gone tomorrow fads that can only endure within a rather flighty concept of community that has replaced individual strength with insecurity and a kind of chameleon-like quality of blowing with whatever decorated and adorned wind comes along. The American Bar Association must love the idea. Identity Politics continues to distract us from the more disciplined course of life the Framers left us to bollocks up with frenzied abandon.

avatar Aaron Schroeder June 2, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Dr Deneen,

Given your analysis, isn’t the real question that ought to lie at the heart of the homosexual marriage debate something like this: Is there a role for homosexuality to play in our communities? Or this: What is the function of homosexuality in a community?

If the answer is simply “no”, then I would wonder what the paleoconservative (or Agrarian or whatever) movement proposes to do with 10% of the human population that is homosexual. But if it is “yes”, or “yes, but that role does not consist in marriage” then I would ask if you could talk a little more about what you think that role might finally consist in.

avatar Esmeralda_Pearl June 2, 2009 at 4:21 pm

“Still, there is a cost to conventionality. ‘Marriage,’ in our society, is as often as not the prelude to divorce. And with divorce come two words never before uttered in the “gay” community, words which will decrease the gaiety. These words are ‘community property’.”–John Médaille

(*laughing while shaking head*)

John… “Schadenfreude” ??? ;)

It’s happened already. I saw in the news that a woman in New England (can’t remember which state) who married her partner in another state (Calif.?) now wants to be “free.” However, she can not sue for divorce in her state.

What’s that old saying? Oh yeah!” Marry in haste, repent in leisure.” ;)

Getting married is the easy part; making it work is another story! My late (first) husband and I were married twenty four years before he passed away. I don’t know which one of us did the most “growing up” during that time. My current husband and I have been married 13 years. Being remarried in late middle age was a bigger adjustment than the first time around! :P

avatar Daniel June 2, 2009 at 9:23 pm

Patrick,

I think I get it now. I’ll have to do some more reading (maybe do a graduate degree or two) before I’m quite ready to have an informed opinion on your big-picture thesis. It does seem to me, though, off the top of my head, that there’s no particular reason, granting that we need some kind of restoration of these pre-liberal wellsprings, that gay people (some of whom would be married) couldn’t be a part of that.

It also occurs to me, granting your thesis, that if the horse is already out of the barn, then shouldn’t we look to what are, perhaps, second-order claims about equality and fairness in order to determine whether gays should be allowed to marry. Maybe you don’t find the case for gay marriage all that convincing because it rests on a mis-apprehension of what marriage is, but isn’t it still more convincing than the case against gay marriage?

Dan

avatar Brian June 3, 2009 at 10:39 am

In an essay written more than fifteen years ago entitled “Why Gays (As a Group) Are More Moral than Christians (As a Group),” Stanley Hauerwas makes a similar point:

“Gay men and lesbians are being made to pay the price of our society’s moral incoherence not only about sex, but about most of our moral convictions. As a society, we have no general agreement about what constitutes marriage and/or what goods marriage ought to serve. We allegedly live in a monogamous culture, but in fact we are at best serially polygamous. We are confused about sex, why and with whom we have it, and about our reasons for having children.”

Hauerwas’ essay is really about Christians and their ready acceptance of state-sponsored violence. He wonders if Christians would be subjected to something like a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy if they took justified-war criteria seriously,that is, if they were willing to die rather than engage in unjust violence. In any case, his point presages Mr Deneen’s: current arguments over the dry husk of marriage are the latest stage of a much longer process of cultural incoherence.

avatar Kevin Rice June 14, 2009 at 5:03 pm

It was refreshing to see an article arguing against gay marriage by focusing on the communitarian nature of marriage and against the radical, over-emphasized “rugged individualism” of American culture that is behind the assumption that same sex marriage is a right. I have argued along those lines in the past, and usually it takes a great deal of time for people exposed to that argument to even understand it, given the ubiquity of individualism as the backgroud assumption in the use of all rights language in this culture.

I have also found it effective to argue that, given that the elementof the consent of the community is always implicitly present, there is a massive violation of conscience in the legalization of same sex marriage, because the implied consent of those who oppose that agenda is being assumed, thus the legitimization of same sex marriage compells such consent by force from those who would not give it willingly.

avatar LadyofGod June 25, 2009 at 3:17 pm

NO GAY MARRIAGE

I love how the gay activists have tried to name this a civil rights issue and it is not. It is an attempt by a group to mainstream their lifestyle. Lets get a few facts in order.

1. The first and most important consideration is that God said that it is an abomination for a man to lay with a man and that those who do so would have blood on their hands and their life would be forfeit. Leviticus 18:22 “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.”

2. The scientists have discovered that Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed exactly in the manner that the Bible said it was. If you look at a satellite photo of Sodom and Gomorrah, you will see that a white dot shows up around these two cities, evidence of the intense amount of ash covering them. Also, perfectly round balls of 98% pure Sulphur (brimstone) are embedded in the remaining structures. First of all, there is nowhere on earth that Sulphur is found in such high concentrations, the most is 40% and that only when there is geo-thermal activity, of which there is none in that area. Also, Sulphur is NEVER found as a round ball. It was compared to every single piece of Sulphur at the Smithsonian Institute and none of them match this kind of Sulphur, either in shape or color. The evidence is clear that something out of the ordinary happened over there and the few remaining structures show signs of intense heat and melting. In other words, Sodom and Gomorrah was DESTROYED and then PRESERVED as a reminder to people as to what can happen when you live outside the will of God. This lie that the gay community is telling is that it was destroyed because of a lack of hospitality is bunk. The word clearly says that ALL the men were homosexual and wanted to have sex with the two angels that God had sent.

3. Back in 1973, gay activists led a hate campaign against the psychiatrists because up until then, doctors with years of clinical experience and who made observations and assessments, classified homosexuality as a deviant, psycho-sexual disorder. Because of this hate campaign, they were able to intimidate the medical community into deleting the diagnosis. Not based on new clinical observations or new information but based on violent activism against the psychiatric community.

The fact is, gay marriage is wrong and against the will of God and the people of God need to speak up or they will be teaching it to our children.

I guess when little boys come home and want to have gay weddings with their little male friends; maybe then parents will see the dangers here.

Where are the Priests, Pastors, Ministers, Rabbi’s and people of God to speak out against this?

avatar Travis June 25, 2009 at 4:50 pm

LadyofGod, I suggest you brush up on your own theology.

Leviticus also prohibits the wearing of clothes of mixed fibers or the consumption of shellfish, among other things. So, are you a shrimp-eating, poly/cotton-wearing sinner?

avatar Rajiv July 5, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Travis, I suggest you brush up on your own theology.
The New Testament is crystal clear on this issue.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor HOMOSEXUALS, nor SODOMITES, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you.But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, 9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust. (1 Timothy 1:8-10)

26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their 9 women exchanged the natural use for what is against naure. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the 2woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. (Romans 1:26-27)

So, do you still want to spit on the Bible?

avatar Randall Jennings September 7, 2010 at 4:19 pm

The best article I’ve read on the subject to date. Certainly this whole thing has a feel of a debate over a “dried and dead husk.”

avatar Carlo April 12, 2013 at 10:30 am

I think the crucial point, though, is that individualism is linked with a bourgeois notion of happiness separated from the recognition of any objective order of being. Otherwise, individualism would be existentially unsustainable, as it was in all previous human societies. This was Augusto del Noce’s diagnosis in the late sixties:

“The idea of indissoluble monogamous marriage and other ideas related to it (modesty, purity, continence) are linked to the idea of tradition, which in turn presupposes (since “tradere”means to hand down) the idea of an objective order of unchangeable and permanent truths (the Platonic True in itself and Good in itself). But if we separate the idea of tradition from the one of an objective order, it must necessarily appear to be “the past,” what has been “surpassed,” “the dead trying to suffocate the living,” what must be negated in order to find psychological balance. The idea of indissoluble marriage must be replaced by that of free union, renewable or breakable at any time. It does not make sense to speak of sexual perversions; on the contrary, homosexual expressions, either masculine or feminine, should be regarded as the purest forms of love.
Thus, the domain of free sexuality is the pure present, and this brings us back to the sub-human level, to animalism (think of Leibniz’s mens momentanea). We try to get out of this situation by escaping into “another reality.” This is why there is a necessary connection between eroticism and the “artificial paradises” of drug addiction.
This leads to three very important conclusions:
1) The question of eroticism is first of all metaphysical. Only a restoration of what for brevity I will call “classical metaphysics” can truly dismantle the framework of judgments that make up eroticism.
2) Politically, eroticism is linked with “democracy devoid of the sacred,” which today has manifested itself like never before.
3) Any “dialogue” with the advocates of sexual liberalization is perfectly useless, simply because they start by denying a priori the metaphysics that is the source of what they regard as “repressive” morality”

avatar Vincenzo April 13, 2013 at 5:26 am

I would like to draw attention to some ancient (and conservative) theological insights as regards the fundamental meaning of marriage (from an orthodox Christian perspective). (The implications of these are fleshed out by Professors Salzman and Lawler in their recent monograph “The sexual person: towards a renewed Catholic anthropology”, which is well worth a read.)

The Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov writes that St Chrysostom argued that marriage was instituted for two reasons, “to lead a man to be contented with one wife and to give him children, but it is the first which is the principal reason.” Marriage does not absolutely include procreation, “the proof of which is the number of marriages which do not have children.” St Basil says that children are added to marriage as “a possible not an indispensable consequence of marriage.” The brilliant young theologian Eugene F. Rogers Jr. expands on this theological view (see (see http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3069 ): “I want to reflect on the theology of marriage under the rubric of sanctification. This approach is consistent with the tradition of the Orthodox Church, which regards marriage as a way of participating in the divine life not by way of sexual satisfaction but by way of ascetic self-denial for the sake of more desirable goods. Theologically understood, marriage is not primarily for the control of lust or for procreation. It is a discipline whereby we give ourselves to another for the sake of growing in holiness — for, more precisely, the sake of God.”

In the light of this theological perspective, how is it possible to deny conservative (or liberal), C(c)atholic (or atheist) gay men and lesbian women the opportunity to enter into civil marriage? (I will leave aside the question of sacramental marriage, though that issue will itself have to be faced in the not-too-distant future – though, by then, we as humanity might have simply outgrown the question!)

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