With two landmark gay marriage cases before the Supreme Court we are already seeing a flurry of articles, posts, tweets, and status updates about the triumph it will be when America finally embraces equality for all and allows homosexuals to love each other. These tweets and posts and articles perfectly capture the reason why the arguments for gay marriage have become so persuasive so fast. Given the assumptions and patterns of thinking our culture has embraced in the last fifty years, the case for gay marriage is relatively easy to make and the case against it makes increasingly little sense.
I don’t think the arguments or gay marriage are biblically faithfully, logically persuasive, or good for human flourishing in the long run, but they are almost impossible to overcome with most Americans, especially in younger generations. By and large, people don’t support gay marriage because they’ve done a lot of reading and soul searching, just like people didn’t oppose it on high flying intellectual grounds either. For a long time, homosexuality seemed weird or gross. Now it seems normal. More than that, it fits in perfectly with the dominant themes and narratives shared in our culture. Gay marriage is the logical conclusion to a long argument, which means convincing people it’s a bad idea requires overturning some of our most cherished values and most powerful ideologies.
Think of all the ways gay marriage fits in with our cultural mood and assumptions.
1. It’s about progress. Linking the pro-gay agenda with civil rights and women’s rights was very intentional, and it was a masterstroke. To be against gay marriage, therefore, is to be against enlightenment and progress. It puts you on the “wrong side of history.” Of course, most people forget that lots of discarded ideas were once hailed as the inevitable march of progress. Just look at Communism or eugenics or phrenology or the Volt. But people aren’t interested in the complexities of history. We only know we don’t want to be like the nincompoops who thought the sun revolved around the earth and that slavery was okay.
2. It’s about love. When gay marriage is presented as nothing but the open embrace of human love, it’s hard to mount a defense. Who could possibly be against love? But hidden in this simple reasoning is the cultural assumption that sexual intercourse is necessarily the highest, and perhaps the only truly fulfilling, expression of love. It’s assumed that love is always self-affirming and never self-denying. It’s assumed that our loves never require redirection. Most damagingly, our culture (largely because of heterosexual sins) has come to understand marriage as nothing but the state sanctioning of romantic love. The propagation and rearing of children do not come into play. The role in incentivizing socially beneficial behavior is not in the public eye. People think of marriage as nothing more than the commitment (of whatever duration) which romantic couples make to each other.
3. It’s about rights. It’s not by accident the movement is called the gay rights movement. And I don’t deny that many gays and lesbians feel their fundamental human rights are at stake in the controversy over marriage. But the lofty talk of rights blurs an important distinction. Do consenting adults have the right to enter a contract of their choosing? It depends. Businesses don’t have a right to contract for collusion. Adults don’t have a right to enter into a contract that harms the public good. And even if you think these examples are beside the point, the fact remains that no law prohibits homosexuals (or any two adults) from making promises to each other, from holding a ceremony, from entering into a covenant with each other. The question is whether the government should bestow upon that contract the name of marriage with all the rights and privileges thereto.