Magazine | October 5, 2015, Issue

Not Inevitable

Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, by Ryan T. Anderson (Regnery, 256 pp., $16.99)

It’s entirely possible that the legal battle over same-sex marriage was lost for lack of Ryan Andersons. There simply weren’t enough people like him — people capable of making a compelling, plain-English, cultural, political, and legal case for marriage as the union of one man and one woman — to turn the tide against a same-sex-marriage onslaught that combined one part argument with three parts insult to cajole and bully America into redefining its most ancient cultural institution.

Coming so soon after the Supreme Court’s embarrassing opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges — in which it created a constitutional right to same-sex marriage — Truth Overruled is a tonic. It provides a much-needed reminder that the battle over marriage isn’t over. Indeed, in many ways, it’s hardly begun.

First, some context. Obergefell, writes Anderson, was simply the latest iteration of a decades-long redefinition of marriage, from a “comprehensive, exclusive, permanent union that is intrinsically ordered to producing new life” to the “emotional union” of consenting adults. In the consent-based framework, “what sets marriage apart from other relationships is the priority of the relationship. It’s your most important relationship.” In other words, to quote gay writer and thinker Andrew Sullivan, marriage is “primarily a way in which two adults affirm their emotional commitment to one another.”

The first cultural iteration of this belief was of course no-fault divorce, the transformation of marriage from a covenant generally breakable only in the event of one of the three “A”s — abuse, adultery, or abandonment — into a single-party consent arrangement less binding than a consumer-product warranty. The consequences of this first change were devastating, mainly to children but also to spouses who dealt with the pain and heartbreak of ever more common divorce.

With the social consequences of no-fault divorce all around us, Anderson takes on the notion that gay marriage will simply exist alongside traditional marriage, operating essentially as a same-sex mirror of its opposite-sex counterpart, with minimal cultural impact on heterosexual marriage. Anderson makes clear that, just as no-fault divorce had serious consequences for American life and culture, so will same-sex marriage. Indeed, for many gay-marriage advocates, that is a key motivation for the entire enterprise.

Most critically, gay marriage seems set to challenge one of the indispensable aspects of both comprehensive and consent-based mores of heterosexual marriage: sexual exclusivity. Even in the era of no-fault divorce, adultery — while common — is still seen as a moral failure. Marital monogamy is still the ideal. Yet, as Anderson explains, sexual exclusivity not only isn’t necessarily practiced in gay marriages, it’s often not even seen as an ideal. Prominent gay-marriage advocates speak of “monogamish” relationships, in which sexual adventurism is acceptable so long as there is transparency and — there’s that word again — consent. The result is likely to be yet another evolution in the concept of marriage, with “open relationships” ever more common — and with the focus once again on adult desire rather than the well-being of children.

And of course no discussion of same-sex marriage would be complete without cataloguing its impact on religious liberty. The way legal doctrine is rapidly evolving, it’s increasingly clear that an American society that embraces gay marriage is a society that will reject longstanding legal and cultural protections for religious freedom. This rejection is inherently destabilizing. Since religion deals with the deepest imperatives of the faithful — not merely what they ought to do, but what they must do — a failure to respect religious freedom leads inevitably to conflicts between church and state, further political divisiveness, and perhaps large-scale civil disobedience.

The stories are already legion, with Christian small-business owners brought to the brink of financial ruin if they refuse to help celebrate gay weddings, threats to tax exemptions and accreditation of Christian schools, Christian adoption agencies forced to close, and even pastors under scrutiny for preaching Biblical orthodoxy on marriage, gender, and sexuality. So far, the same-sex-marriage movement is intent not just on redefining marriage but on reforming society and marginalizing dissenting voices.

But Truth Overruled is no mere recitation of social woes. It equips readers to deal with common but nonsensical assertions, such as the insistence that opposing same-sex marriage is the equivalent of opposing interracial marriage, or that same-sex marriage was “banned” before the Obergefell decision. As Anderson notes, bans on interracial marriage were aberrational even at the time, a departure from thousands of years of race-blind marital practice. Proponents of interracial-marriage bans were changing the traditional definition of marriage. And regarding the alleged “ban” on same-sex marriage, couples in all 50 states had the right to live together, conduct marriage ceremonies (even in willing churches), and “choose from a multitude of employers that offered them the same benefits available to married couples”; they just didn’t have the right to state recognition and support. So Obergefell wasn’t so much about a right to marry as it was about a right to state recognition.

Most critically, however, Truth Overruled is indispensable because it makes the case that the traditional, comprehensive concept of marriage continues to be worth defending and preserving because it is right, because it is essential to human flourishing. As Anderson says, “Marriage is based on the anthropological truth that men and women are complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the social reality that children deserve a mother and father.” Indeed, “there is no such thing as ‘parenting.’ There is mothering, and there is fathering, and children do best with both.”

Anderson calls for a marriage movement, a comprehensive cultural response to a comprehensive cultural challenge. The decision to redefine marriage as a “genderless partnership” was “possible only in a society that [had] done serious damage to the institution.” Anderson is correct. “What took decades to deconstruct will take a long time to rebuild.” There is still room for a “marriage culture” in the United States. Indeed, it is a necessity.

Any marriage movement has to start with our own families. Adopting a religious analogy, Anderson says, “The lives of the saints are more inspiring than the arguments of philosophers and social scientists.” But it’s not enough to simply “live the truth about marriage.” Just as the Left fought for its view of marriage in every meaningful American social structure — from corporate America, to the media, to political institutions, to the church — so should defenders of marriage fight for theirs.

There is still hope. Anderson draws inspiration from the pro-life movement, as well he should. A generation ago, the Left assumed that the pro-life movement would wither and die. The abortion-rights movement had captured the hearts of the young, it had captured the heights of culture, and it was bullying dissenters into silence. Yet now the pro-life movement is stronger than it has been since Roe, with the Millennial generation more pro-life than their parents and record numbers of pro-life bills passing state legislatures.

Defenders of marriage should be sobered by the challenges, of course; but there is no such thing as historical inevitability. Rather, writes Anderson, our nation is shaped by “millions of human choices.” Thus, “the question is not what will happen, but what we should do.” One thing you should do is read Truth Overruled. Read it and be educated and inspired. There’s a long struggle ahead.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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