August 19, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com)—Among advocates of homosexual "marriage," one of the more popular statements from Judge Walker's ruling overturning Proposition 8 is that the state is obligated to "treat its citizens equally, not to 'mandate its own moral code." In an interview with LifeSiteNews.com, however, writer and philosopher Dr. Edward Feser points out that Walker's ruling also imposes its own moral code—merely one contrary to Christian belief. He also calls on conservatives to begin defending the whole spectrum of traditional sexual morality in the public sphere.
LSN: Judge Vaughn Walker argues that banning homosexual "marriage" causes the state to impose the religious views of the many on the few, while permitting homosexual "marriage" preserves the state as a morally neutral agent. Because he thinks the state ought to be a morally neutral agent, he concludes that homosexual marriage ought to be allowed. Is this argument valid? Why or why not?
Dr. Feser: The problem with Walker's argument is that it presupposes that same-sex unions can in principle really count as "marriages" in the first place, and that the only remaining question is whether these "marriages" ought to be legally recognized. But that just begs the question against the opponents of so-called "same-sex marriage," at least those whose opposition is grounded in natural law theory.
According to natural law theory, marriage is a natural institution. That means it has a nature, an essence, just like Euclidean triangles, dogs, cats, lead, gold, and other natural substances have. Therefore it isn't something we can change just by changing a legal definition, any more than the legislature or a judge could decide that cats by nature ought to have five legs or that the Pythagorean theorem ought no longer to apply to right triangles. Moreover, according to natural law theory, given the nature or essence of marriage, it is inherently heterosexual.
Now, Walker obviously disagrees with this understanding of marriage and thinks that it should not influence what the law has to say about it. He thinks that a different understanding of marriage should determine what the law says, and that different understanding is what guided him in his decision. But precisely for that reason, his decision is by no means neutral between competing moral viewpoints. It effectively writes a rejection of natural law theory into the constitution. That is bad enough, but to pretend this position is "neutral" adds insult to the injury.
LSN: If government can never be neutral with respect to different comprehensive moral viewpoints, then what sort of moral system and moral view does legalized homosexual marriage impose on Christians?
Dr. Feser: I don't know that it necessarily imposes any particular positive view. There is nothing in the decision that entails that everyone has to accept consequentialism, or relativism, or Kantianism, or some other moral theory. But what it definitely does impose is, as I say, a rejection of natural law theory, and of any other view on which marriage is inherently heterosexual. Again, Walker is saying, in effect, that a rejection of the natural law understanding of marriage is written into the constitution itself.
LSN: What does the impossibility of neutrality mean for conservatives who wish to declare a "truce" on cultural issues and unify around fiscal issues?
Dr. Feser: That sort of attitude is breathtakingly naive. There can in principle be no truce, only victory for one moral viewpoint or another, and to call for a truce is effectively to concede defeat. But then, I doubt most of these "pro-truce" conservatives really care about these issues anyway. The "truce" talk is, I think, a polite way of telling social conservatives to shut up and stop embarrassing them around their liberal friends.
LSN: What are a few good examples of other laws that are ostensibly meant to secure human rights in a neutral fashion, but in fact impose a specific viewpoint?
Dr. Feser: Well, the most obvious example would be laws permitting abortion. Liberals like to say "If you don't like abortion, don't have one." That's like saying "If you don't like stealing, don't be a thief" or "If you don't like rape, don't be a rapist." No one would say that that sort of attitude is neutral between thieves and non-thieves, or between rapists and non-rapists. And yet liberals believe, or pretend to believe, that their attitude to abortion is neutral. If you can get yourself to believe that, getting yourself to believe that Walker's decision was neutral is a cinch.
LSN: What's the biggest threat you see coming from the liberal viewpoint in the future?
Dr. Feser: The whole apparatus of anti-discrimination law, "hate speech" codes and the like is going to be used to try to silence critics of homosexual behavior and "same-sex marriage." Count on it. It will be harder to accomplish this here in the U.S. because of the First Amendment and because of the rhetorical power the idea of free speech has in the American political tradition. But liberals will find a way. People who can, with a straight face, pretend to see a right to abortion and a right to "same-sex marriage" in the constitution are capable of anything.
LSN: How should Christians attempt to fight back against the imposition of the liberal worldview?
Dr. Feser: If Christians and conservatives are not prepared to defend traditional sexual morality in general, then they are going to lose the battle over "same-sex marriage." And that means that they are going to have to be prepared to criticize homosexual behavior itself, as well as sex outside of marriage, divorce, pornography, and all the rest. The other side is motivated by a moralistic fervor, and they frame the debate in terms of rights, justice, compassion, and so forth. That sort of rhetoric cannot effectively be countered except with equal and opposite moral force.
Too few Christians and conservatives have been willing to do that, or they do it only in the most mealy-mouthed, half-apologetic way. Part of the problem is, of course, that such arguments are simply unpopular and politically dangerous. Part of the problem is that so many Christians and conservatives themselves do not live their own lives in accordance with traditional sexual morality. And part of the problem is that so many contemporary Christians have very little knowledge of the riches of their own tradition and simply don't know what the arguments for traditional sexual morality even are. If you won't or can't argue for traditional sexual morality, and don't live by it yourself, liberals are, naturally, going to say that you have no rational basis for opposing "same-sex marriage." And they have a point.
So, Christians need to rediscover their intellectual heritage. I would argue that what that entails, above all, is that they need to rediscover the great Scholastic tradition in general and in particular the thought of Thomas Aquinas, the greatest of the Scholastics and the greatest exponent of natural law theory. Absolutely nothing in the history of thought compares for depth and rigor with the work of these men. But, even in Catholic circles, we have for several decades now abandoned them, and we are paying the price.
Dr. Edward Feser is the author of Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide, of The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, and of other books and articles on politics and culture, on moral philosophy, on the philosophy of mind, and on the philosophy of religion. His work has appeared publications such as The American Conservative, National Review, and the New Oxford Review.