Earlier this week, the Washington Post’s David Wiegel (a quite nice and inquisitive guy, by the way) apologized for tweeting that people who defend traditional marriage “anti-gay marriage bigots.” In an extended post, Wiegel explained why he said what he said:
But why was I willing to be so disrespectful to one group of activists? Unlike with most activists, I don’t really see the direct impact on their lives, or on the lives of the people who agree with them, of the cause they oppose. Antitax protesters are threatened by higher taxes. Anti-health-care-bill protesters fear their coverage will get worse. Anti-meat-eating protesters believe animals are being murdered and the environment is being made worse . . . But who’s threatened by legal same-sex marriage? Whose life is made worse?
When I read those words, they reminded me of a strikingly similar sentiment from a January, 2004 op-ed, written shortly after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts:
Unfortunately, the conservative argument against gay marriage often reeks of hypocrisy. Our society stopped viewing marriage as a sacred (God-ordained) institution long ago. Since the invention of no-fault divorce laws, divorce rates have skyrocketed. Now, almost half of all marriages end in divorce.
Even in the conservative Christian community, divorce is rampant. As the only lawyer in my church . . . I frequently receive telephone calls from fellow church members requesting assistance on child custody matters, property division and other divorce-related questions.
I have fielded so many questions about divorce that I am sometimes surprised when I encounter middle-aged congregants who have not been previously married. The gay community could not treat their marriage vows any worse than many Christians treat their own.
For those who believe gay marriage is morally wrong for Biblical or other religious reasons, this decision changes nothing. Churches can still speak out against sexual immorality and can still choose not to perform gay weddings. The gay couple down the street in no way makes our own straight marriage more difficult or challenging, nor can any decision of any court of law change the definition of marriage in the eyes of God.
Now, why would I remember an op-ed from 2004, when I sometimes can’t even remember blog posts I read five minutes ago? Because I wrote it. For some time after the Massachusetts decision, I supported legalizing same-sex marriage — or, to be more precise, I did not oppose its legalization.
Why? I can basically sum it up in one sentence. I have a strong libertarian streak and was completely fed up with the cavalier way in which the Christian community treated its own marriage vows. .
But I was wrong. No, I wasn’t wrong that Christians have their own marriage problem. That much is obvious. I was wrong in believing that there was essentially “no harm, no foul” legally or culturally in recognizing “gay marriage.” I was wrong to believe that the proper response to the damage to done to the institution of marriage was to essentially throw our hands up and allow even further damage. And I was definitely wrong to believe that legalizing same-sex marriage — as a practical matter — is a libertarian decision in the real world.
With so many college students jumping on the same-sex marriage bandwagon, often for the very reasons I did, it might be helpful to explain why I was wrong, and why I came to understand that marriage must be defended.
First, it’s important to note that I initially approached the marriage question from a fundamentally incorrect starting position — implicitly adopting the argument that marriage exists for the benefit of adults, for their fulfillment and enjoyment. This is a fundamentally selfish view of marriage (I’m getting married to fulfill me). Instead, marriage is the fundamental building block of the family, the cultural cornerstone of a society, and it exists primarily for the benefit not of adults but of children.
Why does that distinction matter so much? Because we now know — after decades of social experimentation for the benefit of adults (from the disaster of no-fault divorce to the widespread acceptance of out-of-wedlock births often to avoid “stigmatizing” — that’s right — the adult), we now understand that we have made a horrific cultural error:
Children from two-parent families are better off emotionally, socially and economically, according to a review of marriage research released Tuesday in The Future of Children, a journal published jointly by the non-partisan Brookings Institution and Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School.
. . .
“When we were saying it doesn’t matter in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s, we didn’t have the experience of enough kids in a culture when families were breaking down. It was just our best guess,” says Diane Sollee, a former marriage and family therapist who organizes an annual conference for marriage therapy professionals.
We consented to no-fault divorce and increases in single parenting in part because there was “no proof” that it was bad for us. But now, the proof is in, but it took a while to accumulate. One does not necessarily discern cultural trends instantaneously:
Only in recent years has research shown the benefits of couples staying together; long-term studies on the children of divorce were not available earlier. But Census data show that single-parent families have increased while two-parent families have decreased.
Doesn’t it make sense for us to encourage and support those institutions that leave children “better off emotionally, socially, and economically” rather than institutions that leave children worse off?
I know the typical response to this: There may be proof that other alternatives to the two-parent, mother-father family harm children, but there’s no proof that same-sex parenting harms kids. It’s a recent phenomenon, and the data just isn’t in. Yet we know that the traditional family is good for kids. We know that every other long-term family permutation has proven bad for kids. How can we logically justify taking yet another risk with our cornerstone cultural institution? So to answer David Wiegels’ question: who’s hurt when we depart from the traditional family structure? The kids.
So, what should we do? To me, the answer is relatively simple. Hold the line on same-sex marriage, try to roll back the pernicious, adult-worshipping institution of no-fault divorce through innovations like covenant marriage, and — crucially — model the right behavior by denying self and serving others in your own life and marriage.
Yet it’s not “just” kids who are hurt when we change the definition of marriage. Ironically enough (considering my initial libertarian impulses), same-sex marriage is leading to a campaign of repression and censorship against religious individuals and institutions. Same-sex marriage is resulting in less liberty, not more. The trend first emerged when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts attempted to force Catholic Charities to match adopted children with same-sex couples. Catholic Charities had to decide between its religious convictions and compliance with state mandates. It chose to follow Catholic teachings and stopped providing adoption services. Since that time, we’ve seen college students punished for refusing to support same-sex parenting, graduate students thrown out of counseling programs for refusing to affirm homosexual sex, denials of tax exemptions for church land when the church refuses to host same-sex ceremonies, photographers punished for refusing to photograph same-sex commitment ceremonies, and social work licenses threatened merely because the social worker publicly supported a state marriage amendment.
And this litany doesn’t even begin to recount the avalanche of constitutional litigation surrounding the “sexual orientation” issue. After all, if the Christian Legal Society loses CLS v. Martinez (argued last month before the Supreme Court), then Christian campus ministries in American public universities may be required to open voting membership and even leadership to individuals who engage in homosexual activity. Such a ruling would have massive ramifications off-campus as well, potentially placing at risk the tax exemptions of every biblically orthodox church in America.
For a movement that says its about “love,” this campaign of repression (which has even included widespread threats of violence and personal retribution against marriage amendment supporters) often seems quite hateful and bigoted in its own right.
In 2004 I was both pessimistic and foolish. I did not foresee the conservative community rallying in response to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision and marriage amendments sweeping the nation. I viewed marriage through the prism of adult rights and adult enjoyment rather than through the (proper) prism of adult responsibilities and cultural foundations. The citizens of each state have the right and responsibility to defend marriage and do what they can to halt a cultural decline that has elevated parents over children. It is not “bigotry” to realize a fundamental truth: “What parents want and what’s good for kids isn’t always the same.” It is not bigotry to oppose legal changes that are leading to a wave of censorship, intimidation, and even threats of violence against religious institutions and individuals.
David Wiegel wrote: “I can empathize with everyone I cover except for the anti-gay marriage bigots. In 20 years no one will admit they were part of that.” But this assumes that the tides of history and opinion are irreversible, that the opinions of our youth are permanent. They are not. And I’m living proof.