Gay Marriage & the Triumph of the Therapeutic

If marriage is centrally an emotional union, rather than one inherently ordered to family life, it becomes much harder to show why the state should concern itself with marriage any more than with friendship.  Why involve the state in what amounts to the legal regulation of tenderness?

~Girgis, Anderson & George, What is Marriage~

 In the pressurized dialogue at the Supreme Court last week, Justice Anthony Kennedy responded to  Lawyer Mary Bonauto saying: “this definition [of marriage] has been with us for millennia.  And it’s very difficult for the court to say ‘Oh well, we know better”.  My fear however (along with many others), is that this is precisely what our nation’s highest court is about to say.

 To clarify one last time (because if I don’t someone will accuse me of the opposite) every Christian is called, actually commanded to love people with same-sex attraction (duh!); and those who have this attraction are loved by God every bit as much as anyone else.  Loving someone however, and giving them what they want aren’t always the same thing.   I have written previously about why the Church is opposed to gay marriage – an argument rooted in our nature as human beings, and the type of relationship marriage is.  The top quote is essentially what the Church is saying, that marriage is a very different type of “love” than others, it is essentially a sexual love, and while two people of the same gender can and indeed should “love” one another, our bodies clearly tell us that the type of love which is sexual is one possible only in a male-female relationship; all other “sex” is merely a distortion of what is built into human anatomy.   Apparently however, nature/biology/reality are not meaningful categories for determining law anymore – all that’s really left is the category of “rights”.   Rights however have become a thinly veiled way of saying “I want to do this, and if you can’t explicitly prove in a tangible way that it seriously injures others – then I can do whatever I want.”

 Our bodies tell us that marriage is not defined merely by an emotional subjective experience (as important as that is), but that it is the one relationship designed to bring new life into the world, and God (or if you’re an atheist – Mother Nature) has designed our bodies so that physical procreation is only possible through a male-female union.  There are many types of love, but only one of them can bring new life, and that is significant.  What or whoever stands behind nature made our world a place where same sex procreation is impossible, and reality is the basis of all law, if we abandon that idea we really are left in a world where might makes right.  The opposition to same-sex marriage is not based on fear or hatred, but on the way reality works, and rather apart from any human convention.

 The background behind same-sex unions is complex and varied, but I really think we need to identify two of its main lies.   Lie # 1:  Life is about sex.    This is a much broader falsehood that helped get us where we are; everything in our culture today seems to be about sex: movies, television, beer, cars, even my favorite coffee shop in Crested Butte sells bumper stickers with the silhouette of a naked woman reading and the caption “reading is sexy” (which if reading is sexy, consider me Miles Davis).   Guess what LIFE IS NOT ABOUT SEX!!!!  Sex is a good, even holy thing in the Catholic tradition, but a life without it is hardly less meaningful or dignified.

 Ok, moving on, lie #2: sex has nothing to do with babies.  This is a big one, but I want you to think about this – in our time, when we think about sex, we rarely think about babies.  When Taylor Swift is breathing heavily and singing about her “tight little skirt” I doubt most of the men who hear her song are thinking: “yep – that’s attractive, and yes, I would also love a little bundle of joy in the context of a lifelong committed relationship.”  We are the first time in history to live on the other side of the pill; yes contraception is ancient, but it was nothing like the modern pill, which manipulates a woman’s body in to behaving contrary to the way it was designed, and does so quite effectively.   We have lived for over 50 years now where sex is divorced from babies on a scale unparalleled in history – do you see the connection?  If we are now in a place where sex is divorced from babies, it becomes much harder to object to homo-sexuality; if we have made it so that the sexual organs of humans are no longer necessarily about human life, than what is all that different between a heterosexual couple on the pill, and sex between two people of the same gender?  I personally believe that the advent of the pill in our time is why the gay-marriage question has happened precisely now – and for the first time in all of recorded history.

 There is of course much more to the argument, and I want to recommend to you a book by Robert Reilly called Making Gay Okay.  His book traces the history of how we got where we are today on this issue.  For the more ambitious, the real intellectual argument is best given by the book I quoted to start this post: What is Marriage, by Girgis, Anderson and George.  Their argument is articulate, charitable and balanced, but also a tougher read.  For our purposes here let us finish with one last point.

 In a landmark work The Triumph of the Therapeutic, Phillip Rieff offers this profound insight: “Religious man was born to be saved; psychological man is born to be pleased.  The difference was established long ago, when ‘I believe,’ the cry of the ascetic, lost precedence to ‘one feels,’ the caveat of the therapeutic.”  The great tradition of western civilization (not only in Christianity) has always believed that there are desires within each of us that need to be tamed and indeed mastered if one is to find happiness.  This is of course the idea of virtue as essential to human flourishing, that if we give into our desires consistently, we will end in misery.   Rieff is again eloquent on this matter:

“difficult as the modern cultural condition may be, I doubt that Western men can be persuaded again to the Greek opinion that the secret of happiness is to have as few needs as possible.”    

 We tend to think as moderns that the secret to happiness is pleasure, but Christian faith, along with western civilization in general tend to say the secret to happiness is goodness; and goodness means submitting to reality, becoming good by bringing myself to be in accord with the world.   In a time when desires are synonymous with rights, and where we no longer believe in a real human nature, one wonders if we can ever turn around on the dark road we have been running down.   

Finally, here's Ryan Anderson giving the argument in a condensed way, the first in a testimony before the Indiana House Judiciary Committee, the second video is in a less formal talk given with his two co-authors of What is Marriage.