Why We are Losing the Gay “Marriage” Debate (and How We Can Start Winning)

Gay activists tell us that “gay marriage is inevitable.”  It’s a taunt devised to pick off the more faint-hearted clingers-on of traditional marriage by exploiting the human instinct to be on the winning side. And all too often, it works.

Traditional marriage advocates rightly protest that this isn’t an argument. Nothing, they say, is ‘inevitable’ that depends on the free choice of human beings. But this is an evasion. Look at the polls. Witness the slow but steady capitulation of state after state, country after country, to the new marriage regime. Gay “marriage” may not be inevitable. But can we honestly deny that the momentum is firmly on its side?

The mistake comes in thinking that because gay “marriage” is a relatively new innovation, this momentum is merely a temporary shift of the political winds. According to this way of thinking, all that is needed is enough cash, a large-enough team of motivated and intelligent lawyers, strategists and jingoists, and a calm appeal to common sense and we will sail smoothly back in the direction of cultural sanity with a balmy zephyr blowing at our backs.

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But while gay “marriage” may have all the appearance of a fad, this is only an illusion. It is not a fad. It is not new. It is, in fact, the logical conclusion of the whole trajectory of social and sexual mores of the past century. The momentum enjoyed by the gay marriage movement is not that of a mere shift of the ever-fickle political winds. If it is to be compared to any sort of meteorological event, it should be compared to a hurricane: a storm that has been gathering energy for many days out at sea before ever making landfall.

A typical definition of “traditional marriage” (or what would, in a healthier society, simply be called “marriage”) goes something like this: “Marriage is the life-long, exclusive union of one man and one woman oriented towards the begetting and rearing of children.” This is the ideal that the traditional marriage movement proclaims. And it is a beautiful ideal, and well worth defending.

But an honest look at the cultural landscape raises the question of just how much is left to defend. The statistics suggest that social conservatives may be brandishing their scimitars not in defense of a robust institution suddenly threatened by a new and hostile cultural force, but rather the smoking ruins of an institution long ago surrendered and abandoned as lost. The Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, and what a friend of mine calls the subsequent “hell of the Divorce Tsunami” of the 1970s, have already swept this Thing That We Used to Call Marriage out to sea, leaving us clinging to the bobbing flotsam and jetsam.

By this point the statistics are so familiar that they have ceased to be shocking. And yet the numbers ought to shock us. Right now, some sixty percent of couples cohabit before marriage; nearly half of all marriages end in divorce; a record number of Americans aren’t bothering to get married in the first place, and those that do get married are getting married ever later; 41 percent of all children are born out of wedlock; 35 percent of children live in single-parent homes; only 61 percent of children under 18 live with their biological parents; and the birth rate has now dipped below the replacement level, as couples are having fewer and fewer, or sometimes no children at all.

So much for marriage being “life-long,” “exclusive” and child-oriented! Well then, what do we have left? Only the final third of our definition of traditional marriage: that marriage should be between one man and one woman. From the perspective of the gay rights movement, getting rid of this final scrap of our definition is not so much a cultural revolution, as it is a mop-up job. The revolution already happened. Now it’s simply a question of tying up the loose ends.

And they are not wrong.

The question, then, is not so much whether we are willing to do the hard work to stem the tide of gay “marriage” (which, of course, we must do), but rather whether we are willing to put our shoulder to the much harder task of rolling back the social revolution that ever permitted gay “marriage” to be calmly discussed as a viable option by reasonable people in the first place.

What makes it increasingly likely that gay “marriage” will become a reality is that the answer, in many cases, is quite frankly, “No.”

“New Marriage” vs. “Traditional Marriage”
It turns out that even many self-proclaimed “traditional marriage advocates” are not really interested in defending Traditional Marriage, so much as they are interested in keeping gays out of what, for the sake of the argument, we might call “New Marriage” (Though whether it really qualifies as “marriage” at all is a question I leave to the lawyers and theologians).

Whatever similarities the two might share are predominantly cosmetic, while the differences are myriad and profound. However, we might sum up the differences like this: that while Traditional Marriage is an outward-looking and objective institution, New Marriage is inward-looking and subjective. While Traditional Marriage is based upon a permanent vow and is oriented primarily towards the founding of a family, and through the family the good of society, New Marriage is based upon a temporary contract between two people who are in love; if it is oriented towards anything, it is primarily towards companionship and the self-actualization (or what you will) of the couple.

Or, to put it another way, Traditional Marriage is founded upon certain, solid, objective facts: the fact of the biological and psychological complementarity of the sexes; the fact of a solemn public vow made before God which is deemed to be actually binding for life, and not a mere ceremony; the fact that sexual union between members of the opposite sex leads naturally to children; the fact that children do best with both a mother and a father; and the fact that healthy, stable families are the necessary foundation of a healthy, stable society. New Marriage, on the other hand, is founded primarily on a subjective state: the feeling of being in love.

(Some may protest that New Marriage, with its emphasis on love, seems the more attractive of the two. But this fails to appreciate that Traditional Marriage, by being built upon a rock-solid foundation that can withstand the violent shocks of the temporary reversals of feeling or fortune or health that are an inevitable part of life, is in fact the far more effective of the two at nurturing and protecting love and companionship in the long term.)

In general most people nowadays subscribe to New Marriage, often without consciously realizing it, or ever being aware there ever was any other kind. In many cases they even believe that they support Traditional Marriage, while failing to realize that at best they are clinging to the hollow husk of Traditional Marriage, the innards of which have long since been replaced with the newer version. Such as these are perfectly content—or at least willing to forge a truce—with many of the innovations of the past five decades: cohabitation, contraception, no-fault divorce, pornography, artificial reproductive technologies…in other words, the whole project of the sexual revolution of “liberating” procreation from the act of sex, and the act of sex from marriage, with perhaps one exception: that gays not be permitted to join in the fun. Sadly, this includes even a majority of Christian denominations.

This confusion has the insidious effect of, in the first place, leaving the traditional marriage movement wide open to accusations of hypocrisy—a weakness that gay activists have not been slow to exploit.

For instance, in just about any debate about gay “marriage” it is only a matter of time before the question of divorce is broached. For some reason, this is invariably perceived as a coup for gay “marriage” that leaves traditional marriage supporters either stuttering incoherently or plunged into a perplexed silence. Few are those who are willing to rise to the objection and to state the obvious—that no-fault divorce has been an unmitigated social disaster that must be repealed—either because they themselves are divorced, or they wish to have the safety net of easy divorce should they ever need it, or because someone they know or love is divorced, and they do not wish to sound judgmental. Similar awkward silences often ensue whenever the subjects of fornication, cohabitation, infidelity and contraception arise.

The second effect of this confusion (which is related to the first), is that it renders wide swathes of our culture increasingly docile to the arguments of the gay activists. After all, huge numbers of heterosexuals are sleeping with whomever they want, are divorcing and remarrying willy nilly, are avoiding children like the plague, or are bringing children into a single parent home or placing them in the unconscionable position of either choosing which parent they like best or being condemned to the permanent impermanence of being shuffled about from one parent to the next for the duration of their childhood. Nobody seems to be particularly bothered by all this, and so, many are beginning to wonder (quite rightly) why we should begrudge gays the right to do the same thing, and to honor it with the same name.

After all, no one seriously questions that two homosexuals can fall in love (the primary criteria for New Marriage). And while it is true that homosexual relationships are statistically unstable and often less than monogamous, well, are heterosexuals really doing all that much better? And besides, while it is true that gay sex (if we may call it that) is by nature sterile, is there much difference between contracepted or sterilized heterosexual sex? And, of course, while gays cannot have children naturally, they can avail themselves of Brave New World technologies like IVF or artificial insemination and surrogate motherhood, access to which heterosexuals have long enjoyed and to which we have long ago ceased raising any serious moral objections. So what if such children will lack a mother or a father? We already allow single men and single women to conceive children using these technologies, so why not gays? Would it not be hypocritical not to allow them to?

In the end, it’s an unanswerable question. If—and I say, if—we accept the premises of New Marriage, then there really isn’t any reason to keep gays out. In fact, it would arguably be sheer prejudice not to.

Consistency is the Only Hope of Victory
All of which leads relentlessly to this challenging, but necessary conclusion:

That if there is to be any hope that we will not merely be laughed at (as happened last month at the U.S. Supreme Court) when we point out the common sense truth that gay “marriage” cannot really be marriage because marriage and procreation go hand in hand, and gays cannot procreate, it will only be because we are joyfully welcoming children into our own marriages; or because we have not deliberately rendered our own marriages sterile through mutilation or contraception; or because we ourselves have rejected the use of technologies that violently wrench the process of procreation from its only rightful place within the beautiful act of marital intercourse and transplanted it into to a laboratory.

And if there is to be any hope of not merely appearing ridiculous when we say that true marriage is infinitely better than gay “marriage” for children because it gives them both their biological mother and father and is more stable, it will only be because we ourselves have done the hard work of building stable, faithful marriages; or because we ourselves have not voluntarily deprived our own children of either their mother or father.

And if we are not to be scoffed at when we say that sex is “sacred” and only properly expressed within the confines of a marriage between a man and a woman, it will be because we ourselves are living emblems of the joy of living chastely; because we ourselves have rejected promiscuity, pornography, and infidelity; and because our pastors preach and our churches teach that sex is sacred and have refused to compromise with the culture of divorce and promiscuity.

In other words, if there is going to be any hope of saving traditional marriage, then we will have to discontinue this charade, in which all of us are implicated to one degree or another, of accepting or indulging in our favorite portions of the Sexual Revolution, but then complaining bitterly when the revolution leads precisely to where it promised to lead.

We simply cannot convincingly stand guard over the citadel while at the same time plundering its spoils. No. If we are ever to see the restoration of a culture of true marriage, then we are going to have to start being consistent. And that starts with you, and me, today.

Editor’s note: This essay first appeared April 7, 2013 on LifeSiteNews.com and is reprinted with permission of the author.


  • John Jalsevac

    John Jalsevac lives in Lakefield, Ontario with his wife and three children, where he brews beer, makes cheese, sings songs and writes stories in his free time, and works as the managing editor of LifeSiteNews.com the rest of the time.

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