In a paragraph that boldly inaugurates a new America, Supreme Court Justice Kennedy captures the most human spirit of same-sex marriage’s legal and social dimensions:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilizations oldest institutions. They ask for dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
And in the New York Times, Frank Bruni powerfully summarizes the meaning of the Supreme Court’s ruling:
[T]he Supreme Court’s decision wasn’t simply about weddings. It was about worth. From the highest of this nation’s perches, in the most authoritative of this nation’s voices, a majority of justices told a minority of Americans that they’re normal and that they belong — fully, joyously and with cake.
Not everyone hails the new day. Against the joyous and sweeping expressions of freedom above, compare this negative reaction from Christian apologetics guru Tom Gilson:
Over recent decades the United States has elevated personal liberty, in the form of various “rights,” above all other goods, possibly even economic goods (though that’s open to dispute). Rights were once understood to have come from our Creator; now they are higher than God, in our national mind. We create our rights now, and our most recent such invention is the right to untrammeled and unhindered sexual experience. That is the liberty our nation cherishes above all.
Yikes. How low and mean to put human rights in quotations, to degrade the very concept as belonging only to a privileged population of a community. How base to cast “untrammeled and unhindered sexual experience” as the essential cause of same-sex marriage. Tom, it doesn’t matter how we understand the source of human rights. If people have rights, and if governments grant rights, then these rights must be granted equally. Full stop.
But wait, there’s more! Hearkening back to the elevated, gracious thoughts of Bruni and Kennedy, consider now the argument of conservative philosopher Edward Feser:
The liberal position is a kind of radical skepticism, a calling into question of something that has always been part of common sense, viz. that marriage is inherently heterosexual. Like belief in the reality of the external world — or in the reality of the past, or the reality of other minds, or the reality of change, or any other part of common sense that philosophical skeptics have challenged — what makes the claim in question hard to justify is not that it is unreasonable, but, on the contrary, that it has always been regarded as a paradigm of reasonableness.
Marriage is, Feser says, inherently heterosexual. Inherently! What’s more, the inherent heterosexuality of marriage is (or was) a paradigm of reasonableness. Yet, the striking aspect of Feser’s words includes both fear and exasperation. Feser fears the otherwise reasonable expansion of marriage—marriage, the paradigmatically human idea. And Feser shows all frustration at his failure to argue marriage into the parochial ideology he prefers.
Both Gilson and Feser understand the moment’s significance, the near-to-final fading of a world they found idyllic. Their time of masters and servants dissipates more every day. The new world ascends, one of equal partnership, collaboration, and cacophony. In many ways, the new world is more difficult and unrulier; ultimately, it is the more rewarding, dignified, and human place. Gilson and Feser see dark days ahead–they really do, go read their posts!–I see brighter ones.
Over ten years ago, I wrote that same-sex marriage was inevitable:
If a consenting adult willingly desires to be married to another consenting adult, then the government’s obligation is to protect the right of these people to be married. We can all understand the strong fears, feelings, and desires of those who covet a traditional definition of “marriage” and do not want it expanded. But trying to reserve the term for only one combination of consenting adults is childish, immoral, mean-spirited, and undemocratic. Using a moral guise, it attacks the very spirit and core principles of American governance.
More than this, even, the fight to restrict the definition of marriage is a profound waste of moral energy that might be directed toward helping the poor, the ill, and the lost. I cannot help but notice that the same folks who cry to have morality legislated in this case – through a constitutional amendment – are often the same folks who don’t want morality legislated when it comes to helping our country’s impoverished.
Inevitably, “marriage” will one day cover both heterosexual and homosexual unions. Only fear and prejudice stand in the way. But those in power in the government, courts and lobbying groups are aging and on the decline. Those of my generation, who are on the political ascent, will make the issue right and put it to rest.
Perhaps then our country will be better equipped to deal with the serious moral issues confronting us.
I hope that same-sex opponents accept the Supreme Court ruling, cheer up, and move on. Other serious issues await their attention and energy.