Matthew J. Franck

Same-sex marriage and social change: exceeding the speed of thought

Matthew J. Franck
By Matthew Franck

January 11, 2013 (thePublicDiscourse.com) - It is remarkable that the idea of same-sex marriage has gained ground so rapidly. Those most quick to accept the idea have been elite liberals, with ordinary Americans lagging behind but becoming more accepting of the idea. In the thick of the struggle over the law and politics of marriage, we can easily forget how novel is the idea of two men or two women marrying each other.

This fact came home to me when I participated in a forum on the subject at Princeton University last spring. Present in the room were two lions of the liberal academy, each past the “threescore years and ten” of which the Psalmist speaks, each a distinguished scholar with many publications to his credit, each known for his devotion to liberal causes. Both gentlemen expressed the opinion that the cause of same-sex marriage was obviously just, that opponents of the cause were obviously reactionary and benighted, and that this was plainly the new civil rights struggle of our time.

Yet it struck me that if denying same-sex couples the “right to marry” was such an obvious and gross injustice as to merit such energetic claims today, why had it never occurred to either of these august scholars decades ago, at the beginning or the middle of their careers? In the books of proud advocacy each had published, say, twenty or thirty years ago, there was not the slightest hint that American public life was disfigured by this particular injustice.

Redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships simply didn’t occur to them, because it didn’t occur to anyone. Yet that day they espoused that view with the fervor of men who had always thought so, and for whom it was unthinkable to believe otherwise. If they reflected on this change in their own thinking, would they conclude that their reasoning powers had been deficient years ago, or their moral sympathies inadequate?

It is, of course, possible for people to evolve in their thinking, and to come to views that weren’t on their radar in earlier days. But this seems to be a special case, not accounted for by the emergence of a genuinely new issue, nor by new knowledge, nor by a change of heart or of mind about something basic. The scholars of whom I speak, for instance, have been liberal in their attitudes toward homosexuality for many decades. One could well believe that mistreatment of homosexuals was wrong, without believing it was even possible for two persons of the same sex to marry.

If we compare the issue of same-sex marriage to an issue with which it is often equated, that of interracial marriage, we find that it stands out as unusual yet again. Like slavery itself, the now-discredited ban on interracial marriage was never without critics who complained of its injustice. Only racists thought such a ban was just, and Americans were not universally racist.

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By contrast, no advocates of justice in human history, prior to the modern sexual revolution in the West, ever thought of same-sex marriage, whatever their views on society’s treatment of homosexual persons. This historical reality brings us to Michael J. Klarman’s new book, From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage. Klarman, a Harvard law professor whose very large book on the struggle for African-American civil rights won the prestigious Bancroft prize in history, has written a much shorter book this time around because all the history he relates is so very recent. Every significant element of the story has occurred in just the last twenty years. And the overwhelming impression one gets, in the pages of From the Closet to the Altar, is of social change taking place at dizzying speed, with very little thought about where we are going.

Strictly a legal-political history in its first eight chapters, Klarman’s book is a thorough and instructive tour of the last few decades, but only on a very narrow subject. The author’s tight focus on the marriage issue makes the book unsuitable as a history of American sexual attitudes and mores, of homosexuality generally, or of other “gay rights” issues; all these subjects tangentially appear only in connection with the marriage question. The spotlight is on activists, lawyers, judges, politicians, and public officials as they battle over whether marriage will be redefined to include same-sex relationships; in the background are voters and the general public as the terrain of the contest among elites.

But here is perhaps the useful reminder provided by Klarman’s book. Not only did no one ever believe, before the last few decades, that justice required us to redefine marriage as the solution to some problem. Among gays and lesbians themselves, it remained highly contentious, until still more recently, whether marriage was even something they wanted. They universally desired better treatment from the larger society, but it was by no means universal among them to desire marriage as the mark of that better treatment. And it was not just a question of whether they wanted to press for marriage now or later, as a tactical matter; it was an open question whether they wanted it at all. In the memory of any of us of middle age who have known gays and lesbians all our lives, we quite vividly recall the commonly expressed view among them, not long ago, that marriage was “for straights,” or “for breeders,” in the patois of the gay subculture.

Of this we should pause and take stock for a moment. The consensus among gays and lesbians today (with very few dissenters) is that they do indeed desire the right of civil marriage. But why do they want it? The question is seldom asked. They so plainly desire it so very much that it seems rude to ask.

Well, why have men and women throughout the ages wanted to marry—to unite with each other in a private relation that is publicly recognized, honored, and commonly sanctified? The answer may be found in another recent book, by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George, titled What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. Sexual attraction and romantic love may prompt a couple’s desire to be together, but they marry in order to make something new that honors and ennobles that attraction and love: the nucleus of a family, in a comprehensive relation of husband and wife that points toward the future, with an openness toward making that future through procreation.

We know that marriage can take place without procreation, and most assuredly procreation can take place without marriage. But as a public institution founded on private relations, marriage would not exist were it not for the offspring that regularly result from marital acts. And so, ask the question again: why do (typically young) men and women get married? What purpose are they pursuing? In the paradigm case, the answer is: to start a family in the way all families are made possible in nature, by sexual intercourse and childbearing.

Same-sex couples can and do raise children, but in no case can a child be the offspring of both partners. The family-with-children headed by a same-sex couple, then, is by definition an exceptional case, and cannot ever be the paradigm case of a marriage-based family. In this it resembles opposite-sex couples with stepchildren or adopted children, but only superficially. The difference that still remains is that these opposite-sex couples can provide their children with both a mother and a father, which same-sex couples cannot do. Whether that is a difference that makes a difference is a fitting question, not one to be banished as invidiously discriminating before it is asked.

Where the “conjugal view” of marriage is concerned (as What Is Marriage? calls it), as opposed to the “revisionist view,” something both natural and necessary is pursued. Uniting sexually complementary persons so that new life is brought into the world, and children are provided with mothers and fathers (and this by adoption or stepparenting or the like where “nature” fails), is what marriage has always been about at its core. And it is in order to foster this union and its fruits that marriage is recognized and protected by the laws.

In the revisionist view, marriage comes to be about something else. Throughout Klarman’s book one encounters this fact, though the author, whose prejudices are entirely in favor of this change, makes no effort to present it. For same-sex marriage advocates, marriage is about material benefits (of financial advantage, inheritance rights, control of medical care, etc.), or it is about social status and recognition (the attainment of equality under the law for a relationship hitherto left out of its ambit), or it is about a liberationist ideological project (the normalization and acceptance of homosexuality by the “heteronormative” larger society), or it is about some “transgressive” project (to transform our understanding of marriage because its traditional norms are thought to be unjust, or part of a larger fabric of injustice).

How strange this all looks from the standpoint of the tradition these advocates presumably seek to join. Men and women too might marry for some of these reasons (e.g., for material advantage or status), but they are not why marriage exists, and we are inclined to think ill of couples whose reasons for marriage do not go to the core of its purpose and nature. A change to the definition of marriage that eliminates, among its essential features, the purpose for which it came into being in the first place, is quite a step to undertake.

Throughout From the Closet, we find leading figures in the fight for same-sex marriage trying to divert the attention of voters, legislators, and judges away from the very unorthodox nature of the claim they are making on marriage as an institution. Again and again they are portrayed as pressing on accepted precepts of equality—the condemnation of “discrimination,” the application of “rigorous scrutiny” by judges to claims on behalf of tradition, and so on—as though the thing they so ardently desire were simply an extension of marital norms on which all agree.

Yet this is an astounding case of misdirection. The truth is that they wish to redefine a foundation stone of human society in such a way that it will no longer bear the weight we put on it. As others have observed, redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships completes the separation of marriage from its true nature, already begun by modern divorce law and other social changes, by making it about adult desires rather than the formation of families and the welfare of children.

Klarman turns, in the final three chapters of his book, to the correlation of forces that, in his view, will “inevitably” result in the establishment of same-sex marriage in the whole United States, probably as a result of a Supreme Court ruling in the near future. Here the most striking thing, coming from the pen of a law professor and constitutional historian, is how little interest he takes in the legal arguments and their persuasive connection to constitutional principles. Klarman seems to regard the Supreme Court justices as life-tenured Solons, lawgivers for the nation who act on their own moral convictions, and a rough sense of public opinion, rather than on legal principles discernibly present in the supreme law of the land to which the people have consented.

It is best not to be too confident of the success of a movement that has existed for so short a time, is so unsure of its arguments, and is so heavily reliant on a cynical view of constitutional government. With two cases on the Supreme Court’s docket, we will find out very soon how well moral and legal incoherence hold up, in the court of law and the court of public opinion.

Matthew J. Franck is Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute. This article reprinted with permission from The Public Discourse.

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received millions in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

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If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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