Last week Rhode Island legalized same-sex “marriage” adding to an increasing list of states permitting homosexual couples to “marry”. In signing the bill, Gov. Lincoln Chafee said “We are making history.” On that point I will agree with Gov. Chafee and I have little doubt additional states will follow as the social and legislative dominoes continue to fall. Those advocating for a redefinition of marriage will continue to argue not only that homosexuals should be entitled under our civil laws to “marry” each other but also that allowing them to do so does not negatively impact in any substantive way those who oppose such legal recognition.
I have read same-sex “marriage” advocates state multiple times, “Why does it matter to you if people of the same sex get married? What impact does that have on you?” Despite the prevalence of this belief, such a position is naïve and fails to recognize and appreciate the monumental shifts legalization of same-sex “marriage” will produce throughout various levels of society. It also facilitates the framing of this issue as fundamentally one of civil rights legitimating the labeling of opponents as advocates of prejudice and bigotry.
To begin with, it is important to understand why permitting same-sex “marriage” will lead to a redefinition of marriage. Homosexual “marriage” and marriage as properly understood cannot simply coexist within our civil structure without fundamentally altering the meaning of “marriage”. Think of it in algebraic-like terms. Let’s say that Marriage= A+B+C+D and Same-Sex “Marriage”=A+B+C. Once the law states that same-sex marriage and marriage are equivalent, the law in essence declares that the essential elements of any marriage amount to those components that same-sex marriage and marriage have in common (A+B+C).
But what about “D”?
What in effect happens is the law pronounces that element “D” which has, to this point, been understood as a fundamental element of marriage is no longer considered essential. Thus, marriage is redefined as an institution without sufficient reference to factors long considered at the heart of the purpose of marriage and the basis for the state’s interest in its protection and advancement, namely procreation and the raising of children to provide for the succession of generations.
Though some argue that children are not necessarily generally best raised in a family with both a mother and father, it is absurd to suggest that anything other than a traditional family structure is optimal for raising children. The presence of both a mother and father is not sufficient to guarantee children will thrive, but it is self-evident that such a family structure is the most apt for forming healthy happy children who will in turn contribute to the continued growth and prosperity of future generations.
The result of this redefinition of marriage will be a new social “gold standard” for marriage set forth in law and promoted through various social and institutional mechanisms such as schools and the media. It is ridiculous to believe that changing the legal definition of marriage will not seriously impact the way our current and future generations understand marriage, its ends and its value to society as the essential building block for the family and society as a whole. Laws matter and play a significant role in shaping persons and the social order. Regarding the socially formative role played by civil laws, Blessed John Paul II said in Evangelium vitae (The Gospel of Life) that “they play a very important and sometimes decisive role in influencing patterns of thought and behavior.” (90)
Nevertheless, some favoring the legalization of same-sex “marriage” minimize the impact such a radical redefinition of marriage will have on society. They argue that as long as an action doesn’t injure anyone else there is no reason for legal prohibition. They either deny same-sex “marriage” will cause any harm to others or posit that any such harm is so insignificant or remote that it ought not trump one’s “fundamental right” to marry another of the same gender. The prevalence of this mindset is hardly surprising in a society that has so enthusiastically embraced the “social contract” theory of thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau and generally advanced the idea that persons are not social by nature but rather “sociable”.
It would seem that the widespread acceptance of this theory has contributed to a diminished sense of the connection between members of society to the point where “harm to another” can be conveniently defined so narrowly that only acts resulting in direct and proximate injury to an individual (rather than social institutions or groups) demand legal proscription. This misunderstanding of the nature of persons and societies can have disastrous results.
A few years ago, a proposal came before the State Bar of Arizona Board of Governors to amend the existing Oath of Admission for attorneys seeking licensure in the state to include non-discrimination language. The proposal would have required attorneys seeking admission in Arizona to affirm that they would not “permit considerations . . . of sexual orientation to influence my duty of care” to clients. In support of inclusion of “sexual orientation” within the oath, Lambda Legal (an organization focused on civil rights issues as they relate to homosexuals, bisexuals, transgendered persons and those with HIV) issued extensive comments to the President of the State Bar of Arizona Board of Governors arguing for the proposed changes to the oath.
The comments, signed by over 80 members of State Bar of Arizona, set forth various legal arguments in favor of the proposed language and stated, among other things, “In state-licensed professions, religious liberty ends where harm to another would begin.” (p. 6) While most would generally agree with this statement, what happens when one fundamental right butts up against another?
If we have a new gold standard for marriage, is there room left for those who, for various reasons, disagree with this newly articulated standard? In Lambda Legal’s letter they argued that not even Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act is sufficient to prevent the Arizona Supreme Court from requiring attorneys seeking admission in the state to first take the oath as proposed containing the provision preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (see Id., p. 7). One can rather easily envision a scenario where those opposed to same-sex “marriage” are eventually excluded from practicing in various professions including lawyers, psychologists and others.
After all, if same-sex marriage is protected as a fundamental right and a state’s right to regulate professions trumps other rights such as the free exercise of one’s religion, what prevents a state from indirectly regulating certain persons out of various professions? Once excluded from certain professions of cultural influence, such persons stand in danger of losing their voice—a voice that same-sex “marriage” advocates have all too often incorrectly categorized as bigoted.
Some proponents of same-sex “marriage” have cleverly framed the issue as one of civil rights and appealed to Americans’ admirable sense of justice and equality. They have attempted to draw parallels between the historical plight of African-Americans in this country and the situation homosexuals now face. However, these are not equivalent and the basis for opposition to same-sex “marriage” is fundamentally different from the unjust discrimination to which African-Americans were subject for generations. One could view homosexual orientation as healthy and homosexual acts as permissible while still standing in opposition to legalization of same-sex “marriage”.
The essential issues involve questions about the elements and ends of marriage and the purpose of the state’s interest in marriage as a social institution. When these matters are examined it is clear that same-sex “marriage” will lead to a redefinition of marriage with far-reaching negative consequences throughout society. It is on this basis that many oppose same-sex “marriage” and not on some erroneous belief that homosexual persons are disordered, second-class citizens or less than equal in dignity with others.
It appears inevitable that going forward additional states will pass same-sex “marriage” laws affording citizens the “right” to marry another of the same gender. There is little question about which side in this debate currently enjoys the cultural momentum. Nevertheless, those opposed to this legal novelty must be poised to articulate in a clear, concise and loving manner the reasons for opposition. This prophetic voice is needed now more than ever in order that wisdom and love might prevail and the common good be advanced, if not now, then perhaps in future generations.
© 2013. Matthew Brower. All Rights Reserved.