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The End Of The Marriage Tradition

In his TAC review of Maggie Gallagher’s and John Corvino’s book debating the same-sex marriage question, Andre Archie concludes:

Debating Same-Sex Marriage is an important book that lays bare the philosophical arguments for and against the legalization of same-sex marriage. Although I am partial to Gallagher’s arguments, Corvino’s position is well argued and more in tune with the times. Perhaps the traditionalist’s view of marriage as a heterosexual institution should consider the position recently advocated by David Blankenhorn, a former opponent of same-sex marriage who has come to believe that marriage as a social practice will be strengthened by including homosexual couples in such a conservative institution. Whether or not Blankenhorn is correct, whichever side wins the debate over same-sex marriage, the losing side will be permanently marginalized.

The phrase “more in tune with the times” does a lot of work here, and I wish Archie had expanded on that insight. It’s why I believe we trads have lost this argument. In fact, I don’t think there is an argument to be had outside of elite circles. People feel what they feel. I’m pretty sure I don’t know many people against same-sex marriage who will change their minds on the basis of an argument. Likewise, I am completely certain that I don’t know a single person in favor of SSM who would be open to changing his or her mind on the basis of a rational argument. In fact, for many, to be opposed to same-sex marriage is evidence on its face that one is irrational, according to the new orthodoxy — just as a generation ago, to believe in same-sex marriage was taken by the mainstream as a sign that one is irrational.

The point is this: The great strength of the pro-SSM crowd has been in their ability to reveal to ordinary people that SSM is consonant with what they already believe about marriage. 

This is what “more in tune with the times” means. A couple of weeks ago, M.Z. Hemingway took issue with something I’d written downplaying the importance of argument in the same-sex marriage argument. I asserted that if one had to make a case for having children, and for privileging traditional marriage, the battle for those things is largely lost. Mollie disagreed, quoting Martin Luther then saying:

Luther might have even believed, to some extent, that “if you have to make a ‘case’ for marriage, or for having children, the battle is largely lost.” But he still made it and did good work (at the very least for helping me understand how to serve my husband and view childcare as a holy blessing).

So when we get all discouraged about the decline of civilization as it relates to whatever our issue of greatest concern is, I think we should also try to keep some perspective.

These battles for things that matter — be they religious liberty or property rights or the right to defend our families or to defend our weakest neighbors in the womb — have seen better days and they have seen worse days. But the worst thing is to just descend into the land of “What, at this point, does it really matter?” Right?

I think I agree with this, but I do need to clarify. I would never agree that making a case for anything one believes in is futile. It’s just that I think that reason and argument are much less persuasive than many people think, given that our emotivist culture values feeling more than rationality. Most people nowadays decide what they want to believe, then find the arguments that will justify it.

I once had a civil argument with a woman, in which I laid out my position in the usual way: “Premiss + premiss + premiss = conclusion.” She responded: “Well, that’s your opinion; you have yours, and I have mine.” I pointed out that no, I wasn’t asserting an opinion, I was making an argument based on facts and logic. Either my facts are wrong, or my logic is. She looked at me like I had lost my mind. The key thing was that she genuinely didn’t see any reason to challenge my facts or my logic. She believed what she wanted to believe, and in her way of thinking, I believed what I wanted to believe, so what was the big deal?

That’s something of an extreme example, but I think that’s how most of us roll these days. It’s laziness, mostly. I’m guilty of it too, more often than I wish were the case. But aside from laziness, I think that with some things, if you have to explain why it’s good or right, you’ve already lost. In his book From Billy Graham To Sarah Palin: Evangelicals And The Betrayal Of American Conservatism, the Reformed writer D.G. Hart writes:

If conservatives are supposed to preserve the best of a society’s and culture’s ways while building on received traditions to accommodate the inevitable problems that come from human failure (or, in Christian theology, the Fall), then theories about how to conserve tradition are oxymoronic. Traditional societies by their very nature conserve their ways without the help of philosophers or statesmen telling them how to do it. Conservatism is inherently opposed to ideology; thinking about how to be traditional, as opposed simply to living with received customs, is an indication that tradition has ended.

It would seem to follow, then, that the moment traditional marriage became seen as a choice we made as a society, as opposed to something that just is, then the battle was over.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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