What’s Next for Marriage?
After the Supreme Court



Here is marriage, considered in context. A young man and woman remain chaste, and they have the virtue of “purity” (an old-fashioned word, but it is real). As a result, they have joy, and an ideal of the complete gift of self is readily understandable to them. They fall in love but do not “date” so much as “court” with reverence, each viewing the other as an almost divine gift.

They don’t have the baggage that comes with sleeping around. They don’t cohabitate. They don’t think that oral sex is a sign of love, or even that it’s sex.

The death to self and complete binding of each to the other which they gleefully accept on their wedding day makes it also easy for them to accept their complete and total binding to a child for life, who incarnates their love into a single being. That is to say, they are “open to life.” They so cherish their bond that they have no private good except what comes through their union, and they place the safeguarding of that bond so high that it is a priority, for them, equivalent to faith, honor, religion, worship, and life itself.

I know that half of you reading this suspect I’m a lunatic even for writing in this way. I also know, as I am well read, that what I describe is in Shakespeare and other classical authors and, in Christendom, it used to be something like the ordinary experience of (how can I put it?) people who were well brought up. (Think: Song of Songs.)

Paying no attention to the Supreme Court, we must say that what I describe is lived today, is even attainable, by only a handful of persons. Yet, anyone who understands historic Christianity, and is well read, must hold (I think) that it would be desirable for culture once again to make such a way of life generally attainable.

But a culture cannot be created or sustained by a single person; it can barely be kept alive by a family; and it certainly cannot be created or transmitted without sound education. So, the immediate path forward for marriage, regardless of the Supreme Court, is the creation and fostering of institutions where modesty and purity are practiced with full confidence and self-knowledge.

The Supreme Court’s decisions are noteworthy only for confirming, in irreversible law (because on a constitutional basis) what was already the practice, trend, and effect of an alternative culture that had its immediate origin in the 1950s and ’60s.

Michael Pakaluk is professor and chairman of the department of philosophy at Ave Maria University.

The two decisions yesterday turned out as the general consensus on both sides thought they would. Curiously, you could see Team Reiner lowering their expectations of what the Court would do just after oral arguments.

The big news from the decisions is this: The Court struck a strong blow to the “marriage equality” rhetoric. The justices were not persuaded by the “fundamental civil right” and “we are just asking for full citizenship” talking points from the marriage-redefinition folks. That is profoundly significant. It is precisely the argument that the two lawyers arguing the case consistently and routinely made. This Court, the ultimate voice in our nation for guaranteeing the basic civil rights of all our citizens, didn’t buy it, supported in its opinion by some key moderate and liberal justices. It is not the obvious, self-evident conclusion that so many cultural elites, including our president, say it is.

The Washington Post vainly opined numerous times recently (here and here, for instance) that the “political fight over gay marriage is over.” That line of thinking got a cold slap on the cheek yesterday.

The decision on Prop 8 also dramatically sobers the “it’s inevitable” trope. Homosexual marriage is inevitable only if the Court chooses to “Roe v. Wade” it. But the Court chose not to. For now, each state will continue to fight this out case by case, and passionately so. Marriage redefinition is indeed inevitable in some states, such as Massachusetts and New York, because it already exists. It’s not inevitable in states like Wyoming, North Dakota, and Georgia. Far from it. Every state that does not have it today is an open question and our democracy will fight it out.

So both the “marriage equality” and the “it’s inevitable” assumptions should be seen for what they are: political rhetoric, not obvious facts. The Supreme Court of the United States revealed that yesterday, and did so across the Court’s ideological differences.

— Glenn T. Stanton is the director of global-family-formation studies at Focus on the Family.

Marriage in America has been on an unsustainable trajectory for quite some time. While yesterday’s ruling certainly did nothing to mitigate our cultural race away from what marriage has always been known to be, it also did less than it might have to further it. These Supreme Court decisions are significant as to the legal understanding of marriage, but the cultural understanding of marriage is even more significant in driving the future of marriage. This future, by all accounts, will depend primarily on our collective imagination.

Simply put, far too many citizens cannot imagine marriage to be anything other than the government’s endorsement of romantic love. Even many opponents of same-sex marriage share this fundamentally wrong definition when thinking about issues like divorce and cohabitation. The redefinition of marriage along exclusively romantic lines happened because of art, not arguments; because of imagination, not debates.

That sort of love is, as even the movies tell us, quite fickle. It won’t hold up under the weighty foundational role marriage must play for a society. Thus the future of marriage depends on our ability to recapture the imagination of our culture with a more robust and stable definition of the purpose and function of marriage.

Still, the fate of marriage doesn’t lie in Hollywood’s making different movies, but in the intermediate institutions that most fundamentally shape our imaginations, especially the home and the church. Between sweeping federal legislation and individuals lie these powerful protections, if pastors and parents will play their part.

I’d suggest that national same-sex marriage is quite likely, but not inevitable. In trying to avoid a sweeping Roe-like decision, the Court left significant space for citizens to work at the state and, even more, local levels. This is good news, and reflects the potential for the best sort of change: from the ground up rather than the top down.

— John Stonestreet is a speaker and a fellow at the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.


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