The Court and Catastrophe

Bill Murchison

3/26/2013 12:01:00 AM - Bill Murchison
Sometime in June, the U. S. Supreme Court will define marriage for us: a prospect that helps to define the moral mess we're in as a people. May gays marry gays, or do we, should we, will we stick with the ancient prescription -- one man, one woman? Judges are the ones to tell us? The larger question, maybe, is how in the world did we get to this point?

We got sucked into it, I want to suggest. We climbed, culturally speaking, aboard a train that steadily gathered speed. Every turn of the wheel advanced the radical notion that when we want something badly enough and feel deprived for the lack of it, government is under the sacred obligation to provide it.

A fair number of Americans want very badly indeed the right to marry -- as it were -- a person of the same sex. The claim enjoys increasing public support, at least according to polls. For some, the matter is a no-brainer. According to a comment on The New York Times' website, "The ability to marry the person you choose is a freedom that should not be infringed."

So that's it, is it? We wait for enough people to want the same thing. Enlightened Opinion declares whatever it is to be a human right. The core of the question - is this particular right, so to speak, Right? -- needs no debate. We need desire. We need numbers. That's it: game, set, match.

The reason rights, in the legal sense, commonly trump questions of Right is that humanity contrives these days on important occasions to trump God himself. Let me phrase that a little more precisely. The historic idea of humanity as subject to the purposes of God cuts less ice than it used to - often much less.

The idea that the Big Boy in the Sky might have particular ideas of his own regarding how life should be lived on earth frequently yields to the comfortable notion that he created us smart enough to call the shots ourselves, to figure out our personal needs, as contrasted with other people's.

The ideas God's agents (priests, prophets, preachers and so on) used to promulgate about divine intention might -- or might not -- have been well enough in the old days. That doesn't mean the old concepts -- e.g., marriage as divinely shaped for the reinforcement of sexual complementarity and the projection of human life -- are big deals to Modern People. No, you see, Modern People understand things dead people failed to grasp. Who needs gods? We can do this thing ourselves -- with the government's help.

The notion that creature knows better than Creator is the characteristic notion of modern times. Science and technology spread it around. Genuine gifts to the people -- liberty, democratic governance -- fortify the tendency. Reinvent marriage? Why shouldn't we if enough people want to for personal satisfaction? So goes the reasoning (not too crudely caricatured, I hope) behind the push for same-sex marriage.

As for those who disagree with the reasoning, who see good sense, if not divine authority, in the historic understanding of marriage, the understanding many would like the Supreme Court to throw away -- tough. Sympathy with older viewpoints and with those who see the intelligence in such viewpoints isn't the conspicuous trait of those who demand fulfillment of their claims.

How the Supreme Court will rule in the two same-sex marriage cases before it this week -- Hollingsworth vs. Perry and U. S. vs. Windsor -- isn't clear to anyone. Clearer by far are the stakes. The judicial overthrow of one of civilization's oldest, most useful institutions -- the family, as consisting of husband, wife, and children -- would unleash consequences impossible to foresee or control. That numerous Americans don't care -- can't you see, they want what they want! -- is the most disheartening part of the equation. More than the family breaks down here potentially. Comity, cooperation and order follow suit, and without delay.