Nine Lessons from the Obergefell Decision

The cultural left is intoxicated with the heady fumes of the June 26 Obergefell decision. There are veritable war whoops coming out of the secular newspapers, and the pundits are huffily declaring that the debate is over and that their side has won. George Takei has even seen fit to call Justice Clarence Thomas a “clown in blackface.” This is hardly the behavior of moral victors.

Hence the gloating, which is a universal sign of doubt as to the goodness of one’s cause. Significantly, even the New York Times featured an article on June 26 quoting gay guru John Waters, who admitted that being gay was “no longer enough“: just hours after Obergefell, the left was already looking for the next cultural Carthage. As always, sin is the seawater that only increases one’s thirst.

Despite the apparent defeats of the past week, though, the religious faithful should see the Obergefell ruling as a manifold blessing. I see at least nine things in Obergefell for which we should go down on our knees in thanks—one ray of hope for each of the nine members of an increasingly hopeless Supreme Court.

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

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Pogroms and Promise
First, the pogrom Christians fear will probably come, but this does not in any way change the fact that God, and not Anthony Kennedy, created marriage. What the left has failed to win by conversion, it has settled to seize by force. This is an admission of moral impotence. Conversion of heart—repentance, sorrow, and the resolution to amend one’s life—has always been harder than conquest. The homosexual activists, though, are unwilling and unable to do this. So they have opted for the whip and the gaol, instead. But for all of the glory that conquest brings, it is nevertheless still far more difficult to be Peter than to be Alexander. It is harder to say, “I have sinned,” than to bring the entire globe under one’s iron domination. The homosexual activists have chosen the latter. They have thus mistaken theology for politics.

The political road is broad, but never rises to meet the heights of the human heart. In confining themselves, now, to their political victory, the left has ceded the theological avenue to the faithful. Post Obergefell, we are much less impeded in our evangelism. We needn’t address the political issue at all anymore. We are belly-up puppies before looming Leviathan, and yet, lo!, we still hold to a truth that cannot be changed by human decree. The Holy Spirit specializes in using belly-up puppies to make profound theological points. Never much for half-measures, the left will run with their court victory and thereby confirm the bankruptcy of their own moral cause.

Second, the true losers in Obergefell are the same as in Windsor: those experiencing same-sex attraction. The blessing is that, post Obergefell, there is no more political frenzy to cover over sadness of soul. Those in homosexual relationships will have to face the hard facts of their lifestyle. Many have already suffered under the normative lie that homosexuality can bring happiness, and many more will suffer now that this lie has been quite literally wedded to state power. Those now given the imprimatur of the federal government on the dead-end slavery of sin—and the children who are condemned to witness this slow-motion destruction of human dignity firsthand—are the true sacrificial victims in this war. If we were not praying for them before, let us start doing so today.

Love and Repentance
Third, let us give thanks for having been reminded that we are called, not to be vindicated, but to love one another. Let us give the homosexual lobby credit for understanding this in at least a twisted and equivocal way. Love is the prize at the center of this ugly scrum. But to say this is to beg the question: What is love? The opportunity to answer this question is the hard blessing gleaming like a diamond in the rubbish heap of our culture, our politics, and our jurisprudence.

Hence, the fourth blessing: not only are we called to love, but we are now given the chance to demonstrate it in a very real way. The homosexual activists consistently ground their concept of love in two places: the body itself, and the way the body feels. The glittery bacchanalia that started in the Age of Aquarius and has now culminated in Obergefell thus has a very narrow conception of love. For the sensualists, love is an adjunct to the personality. Love gives our sexual identities purchase and heft. It dispels loneliness, assuages fear, and makes us feel better about ourselves. But does love do anything besides fill the vessel of the ego? One need but look at the Cross to know. Love is kenotic. It dies to itself. It lays down its life for the sake of the wayward other. It counts no cost, reckons no reward, holds no grudge. It pours itself out in unmerited bounty for all alike. Love dwindles to nothingness so that others might have eternal life. It is not the self, but the very negation of the self.

Seen this way, the Obergefell conception of love can never rise into the upper reaches of our beings. Obergefell love sinks like carbon dioxide in a room, huddling around the homely flesh and fleeting emotions that are the twenty-first century’s poor substitutes for the full promise of the human person. The homosexual activists find this sort of love so unfulfilling that they are forcing three hundred million people to pay homage to it in order to distract from its failure to bring enduring happiness. But regardless of how many hundreds of millions applaud the abstract idea, homosexuality is doomed to be love’s opposite: the tragic amputation of sexual desire from the deep wells of the soul—the mere mutual slaking of animal lust. This love will never satisfy, and we must not abandon our brothers and sisters to the hell they now festoon with the rainbow of God’s covenant. In their orgiastic celebrations, the homosexual activists are crying out for real, transformative love.

Fifth, Obergefell is a chance for repenting of the greatest sexual failure of our generation: not homosexuality, but fornication. For every lost soul searching fruitlessly for love in a gay bar, how many hundreds more are de facto polygamists or polyandrists, shuttling from one wrecked relationship to the next, and increasingly numb to the lies that he or she is telling with body, words, and heart? If there is any moral high ground in the debate over sexual ethics, I for one am utterly unworthy of approaching it. I will stand, instead, beside the gutter from which God’s Grace rescued me, the better to remember, at the very least, who is holy in all of this, and who is made holy thereby. In a very real way, those with same-sex attraction have been fighting, at least in part, for the right to be as flamboyantly promiscuous as all the rest of us. Let us see who among us will dare to cast the first stone.

New Life from Dead Liberalism
Sixth, the majority opinion in Obergefell was a stunning admission of the intellectual poverty of late-stage liberalism. Proceeding by breezy judicial fiat was the only recourse open to the United States Supreme Court, for in seeking to legitimate the paradox of homosexual marriage they could make no honest appeal to reason, truth, Scripture, tradition, common sense, biology, or the natural law. They simply had to harden their hearts and wave their magic wands. Obergefell makes shockingly apparent the impossibility of forming any sort of community based on what is, at the very best, finely-tuned mutual antagonism. Justice Anthony Kennedy therefore has the distinction of having written, not the most insidious or disingenuous opinion in the history of the court (Roger Taney, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Harry Blackmun, and Henry Billings Brown must all outdo Kennedy in this regard), but the silliest. The linty non-sense of the Obergefell decision is a tremendous boon for a United States now coming to the extremities of an unsustainable philosophy. By dint of sheer hokeyness, the Obergefell majority opinion should be enough to wake whole battalions from their intellectual torpor.

Seventh, though, let us remember that even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Obergefell may have gotten human sexuality, human dignity, and the United States Constitution completely wrong, but in advancing a virtually limitless application of substantive due process, Obergefell has cleared the way for another, potentially very powerful round of pro-life court cases in the future. Indeed, by its very abuse of the Fourteenth Amendment, Obergefell has inadvertently crowded out much opposition to personhood and the Roe attenuation of the humanity of the child in the womb. If there is, indeed, to be equal protection before the law for everyone—not just in a narrow, procedural way but in a truly substantive way that recognizes the “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”—then Obergefell has shown that leaving the unborn out of our scheme of rights is the greatest injustice of our time. Obergefell would not be perfect justification, but if the end result is that babies no longer squirm before the in-plunging scalpel, then Obergefell might be a very unexpected pro-life gift.

The Damien Option and the Limits of Politics
Eighth, let us take this chance to take stock of religion’s past alliance with politics and economics. At least the Democrats have been honest of late about their desire to fundamentally transform our country. The Republicans, on the other hand, have been raking in money from direct mailing campaigns promising to fight for the “values” donors hold dear. In responding to those breathless requests for cash, we now see that we have been funding elaborate surrender-planning sessions. The Republicans’ cynicism makes the Democrats’ infanticidal Jacobinism seem almost preferable by comparison. And the very notion that we could solve our chronic spiritual and cultural malaise through donations in the first place is probably indicative of a too-cozy relationship among Christianity, consumer capitalism, and market-based morality. If I send money to a candidate, but do not even know the name of my neighbor, what do I expect will change in my neighborhood, let alone in my country? If I boycott a corporation, but do not take the time to listen to someone struggling with same-sex attraction—or even to be kind to someone with a nasty hatred for the Church—what do I expect will come of my sanctimonious sanctions?

Politics and economics are both empty vessels, but the human heart is created for fellowship, holiness, truth, and love. In a country that has mistaken ochlocracy for virtue, let us be leavens, and not mere lemmings. Where the left has deployed mass movements, university sophistry, and national campaigns, let me, instead, find out who lives next door and be kind to them. Not for the sake of an election or a cause, but because my neighbor has a value infinitely beyond any of that. Let us call it the Damien Option. St. Benedict preserved the Faith for posterity, but there is always a need, too, to live the Faith for the sake of those crying out in our own time. Let us leave the surrender to the Republicans and work with the ubiquitous brokenness to which no one has any natural immunity.

Ninth, Obergefell is a perfect opportunity for Christians to return to the Church Fathers to see how to love and tell the truth in the face of sin, insanity, and persecution. In reading of St. Irenaeus’ battle against the Gnostics, St. Athanasius’ fearless denunciation of Arianism, St. Augustine’s penetrating disentanglement of the half-truths of the Manicheans, and St. Cyril of Alexandria’s long struggle with Nestorianism, Christians will probably find that God is surrounding them with lions in order to draw them together and force them to look up. Confessional divisions are very real, but so are fines, harassment, and jail time. Most of Christian history has been martyrdom, the terrible remedy for ecclesial division. It is a hard bargain, and, as St. Thomas More teaches, we are to avoid it if at all possible. But let us hold to the Ancient Faith together. Heresies come and go—and the gender heresy is much less formidable than Arianism, Pelagianism, or Gnosticism were in even their weakest forms—but the Church endures forever.

Duc in altum!

(Photo credit: Shutterstock)


  • Jason Morgan

    Jason Morgan is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Reitaku University in Chiba, Japan. He earned his doctorate in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016. His reviews, essays, and translations have appeared in Modern Age, Metamorphoses, Japan Forward, Logos, Human Life Review, University Bookman and elsewhere.

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