Phil-osophically Speaking: June 23, 2011


The Slippery Slope of Same-Sex Marriage

Has it ever struck anyone that in every society, from the most primitive to the most sophisticated, the family is immemorially entrenched in the fabric of human existence? That the state of marriage, while not necessarily between one man and one woman is and always has been, until very recently, a union of opposite sexes? That it was seen as a natural institution and not a prevailing convention because it was the only union capable of producing children?

If this was not the case then marriage would have been forsaken long ago or never fostered in the first place, resulting in a more utilitarian arrangement where relations between sexes could occur without boundaries. After experiencing the familial anarchy of recent decades as a result of skyrocketing divorce rates and unwed mothers, we have re-learned what was being largely denied or ignored: The critical role that both a mother and father play in fashioning the psychodynamics of the human personality; that divorce hurts children in powerful and virtually irrevocable ways and it has dire consequences for society. There are cases when the children are better off if the marriage is dissolved, but this has proven to be the exception and not the rule.

Now we come to the latest phenomenon: The belief that homosexual marriages are entirely within the norm even though they do not produce children, the raison d’etre of the union. This new reasoning is nothing less than a revolution in the most basic and fundamental building block of life itself, the very source of human continuity, yet the culture assails those who are against same-sex marriage as the ones who are extreme. These critics are frequently young bloggers barely hatched, but chirping a great symphony of outrage against traditionalists in an unstaunchable flow of damning invective. They are continually harrumphing about their own intrinsic fairness, which they mistakenly associate with their beliefs for unfettered liberation. Yet, in truth, the pattern of their thinking has been shaped by the culture in the same way (to use a William James metaphor) a hot iron will shape the contours of a piece of linen.

It is impossible to be blind to the “chronological hubris” of this newfound truth that lay undiscovered for ages. In some degree, everyone is acculturated to a way of thinking by being raised in a society where some acts are permitted and others forbidden.  In order to create a commonwealth in the first place, there has to be at least an incipient conception of right and wrong, morality and immorality, or it would never come to fruition in the first place. In all of recorded history, I know of not a single major philosopher or theologian that advocated same-sex marriage, a self-defeating union in terms of reproduction. Nor have I known a society where same-sex marriage was ever countenanced and, frankly, until a few short decades ago, the proponents of such an arrangement would have had their very sanity challenged. Nor has any major world religion, over three millennia ever sanctified such a union but, in fact, has persistently condemned it. It wasn’t until 1973, after intensive lobbying, that the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder, but even this in no way contemplated or even imagined same–sex marriage.

If gay marriage is as natural as heterosexual marriage why has it not materialized in any society until very recently? Certainly homosexuality is as old as man but the idea that the behavior of gays is not fundamentally different from those of heterosexuals is a modern parody that defies logic. One can extrapolate from DeTocqueville’s observations on the workings of Democracy, the dark side of freedom whose career may ultimately include freedom from traditional values leading to every kind of iconoclasm. It was an idea that John Milton explored in Paradise Lost that unbounded freedom means freedom from God.

It is also true that as societies grow more affluent and interconnected by technology, the more their fundamental beliefs come under fire. The soil of liberty is rich for sprouting upheavals and young minds are, in any society, susceptible to indoctrination. “Give me four years to teach the children,” said Vladimir Lenin, “and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” The massive bombardment by the media, academia and the culture itself that homosexuality is nothing more than an alternative lifestyle has borne fruit not only tasted but digested whole.

The interconnectedness of modern life, the gravitational pull of social influences, makes us more prone to a collective mindset especially in a society where secularism is on the ascent and religion has been winnowed of moral authority. Studies have repeatedly shown that people are moved by the collective and instead of thinking, they become prisoners of the dominant opinion. A thought experiment involving 144 Swiss college students, all educated and of above average intelligence, were put in isolated cubicles and then asked various questions in which their answers were intelligent and accurate. The researchers then gave their subjects access to the guesses of other members of the group, answers that varied from their own. The results were depressing as students morphed into a mob mentality mindlessly imitating one another leading not to diversity of thought but a radical narrowing of it. In this vortex of culture, an unwritten law of conformity drowns out other voices no matter how relevant to the debate.

If marriage is redefined, there is no way to stop sliding down the slippery slope. In 1869, the Supreme Court essentially said this to the Mormon community: “We don’t care what the Constitution says about freedom of religion, you can’t be married to more than one person at a time.” The family is not a Petri dish to conduct experiments on multiculturalism. Same-sex marriage will introduce another strain of anarchy into the family, a weather beaten and battered institution that needs clarity, not chaos.

The drumbeat of gay marriage has been incessant, intruding not only on one’s thoughts but also on how one must think about it. It has not all been for naught since whatever the provenance of one’s homosexuality, society has justifiably become more receptive to the rights of homosexuals, that they be free of persecution and that hate crimes against them should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Whatever one’s moral opinions, there is nearly universal agreement that homosexual couples are entitled to live together in peace and have the right to sign legal agreements with one another. But when it comes to marriage and adopting children, which is at the very core of what we have always held most dear and sacred, society is compelled to be loyal to those rituals of the human family that created and nurtured us.

As I write this, an aura of inevitability is weighing on members of the NY State Senate as it tussles again with the issue of legalizing gay marriage. If it passes, I think we will come to regret it, not in the days, the months or even the first years that follow. Life can only be lived going forward but it’s understood only by looking backwards. When the passage of time affords us that perspective we may sadly discover that we were not wiser than our ancestors and, perhaps, a good deal more foolish. The notion, said Andrew Roberts, that history always moves toward the light should have died at Auschwitz.  


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