The future of gay marriage

Posted: Aug 07, 2003 12:00 AM
For those who adhere to traditional Christian (or Jewish) sexual teachings, the future may look bleak.

America is disfigured by high rates of sexual disorders, including unnecessary divorce, unmarried childbearing, sexually transmitted diseases, a pornographic culture, and the progressive normalization of alternative sexual lifestyles, along with the sudden real threat that courts will impose gay marriage. A Vatican statement simply repeating a 2,000-year-old ethical tradition about marriage and sex has prompted a flurry of threats, overt and implicit, around what we used to call the Free World.

Hate-speech codes intended to prevent violence and harassment are being directed at Catholics simply for being Catholic. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has warned priests and bishops they may face charges for simply quoting or handing out the Vatican statement, according to the Irish Times. "The wording is very strong and certainly goes against the spirit of the legislation," warned Aisling Reidy, director of the ICCL. Violators face six months in jail.

In 2001, the Dutch government considered charging the pope with violating its speech codes before concluding that, as head of state, he had sovereign immunity, according to press accounts. Andrew Sullivan wonders aloud why the U.S. government does not strip the Catholic Church of its charitable status. One of the top Democratic candidates, Sen. John Kerry, charged the Vatican with "crossing the line" violating the separation of church and state for expressing its views of Catholics' obligations.

Commitment to religious freedom among powerful elites seems suddenly uncertain. Call it the revenge of the WASP: In some people's minds, religion is becoming something like what sex used to be: private. Sure, you are free to do it, but only behind closed doors, where you won't annoy or seduce anyone else.

Privately, I hear more and more mainstream people worry about where this is all going to lead: Will the soft power of the state be aimed directly at oppressing faith communities who hold fast to traditional sexual morality? Will radio licenses be yanked, charitable tax deductions pulled, individuals or ministers who try to share traditional Christian (and Jewish) sexual values be threatened with prosecution here?

It is hard for me to give credence to such fears. This is America, after all. Religious liberty is our birthright, part of our founding creed.

But it is even harder for me to give credence to the pessimism behind such fears. What will happen in the short run? I do not know. Which ideas will triumph over the long run? That I do know. In the early '80s, the Soviet Empire appeared to be at its height, but Ronald Reagan, perhaps alone, understood: "The task," President Reagan said then, is "to manage the decline of the Soviet Union." A few years later, a false idea contrary to human nature collapsed in on itself. The Cold War was over, without a shot fired.

Human beings are free to adopt self-destructive ideas, but we are not free to make them work. Ideas based on a faulty view of human nature can grip the imagination of the powerful for decades, wreak havoc and suffering on untold millions, but they cannot triumph in the end. What is contrary to nature, including human nature, cannot ultimately survive.

Many good things, from a culture of civility and minority rights to greater respect for the unique contributions of women, may be rescued from the self-destructive impulses of -- what shall we call this beast, postmodern secularism? Fascist egalitarianism? Meanwhile, every tribe or group that adopts its sex code, from Europe to mainline Protestantism, is dwindling.

The present may look bleak, but the future belongs to those people and cultures that deeply commit to ideas grounded in human nature: Men and women are not interchangeable units, sex has a meaning beyond immediate pleasure, society needs babies, children need mothers and fathers, marriage is a word for the way we join men and women to make the future happen.