I am not going to write an extended refutation of Jason Lee Steorts’s National Review article defending legal same-sex marriage. His arguments have been dealt with extensively elsewhere (see here or here for instance). But several quick comments are in order:
1. The National Review is a leading journal of conservative opinion. It should not be lost on us that many conservatives are eager to shed the albatross of traditional marriage. They view it as a political loser. Younger conservatives can hardly comprehend any reason to oppose gay marriage. At this point, the Republican party is divided on the issue with traditional social conservatives being the only ones holding the line. Those social conservatives have always been viewed as a key part of the Republican coalition. For the time being, they still are. But how long will that last? That a leading journal of conservative opinion would publish an article like this tells us something about the future of political conservatism in America.
2. Steorts presents his article as a conservative case for gay marriage because marriage norms help to curb promiscuity and the social ills that flow from it. Steorts argues that marriage will give gay couples “standards of conduct that we traditionally associate with marriage, namely exclusivity and fidelity subsequent to a vow of permanent commitment.” What the article fails reckon with is that those cherished norms—monogamy and fidelity—cannot be abstracted from defining what marriage is. And that is the point that this article fails to answer—the definition of marriage.
If society eliminates the heterosexual norm from marriage, what would keep it from eliminating the monogamy and fidelity norms as well? Gay activists have admitted that they are not merely trying to obtain “equal” marriage but to destroy marriage by redefinition. Michelanggelo Signorile, for example, has argued that gay marriage might help to remove the monogamy norm from our concept of marriage. He writes:
Rather than being transformed by the institution of marriage, gay men—some of whom have raised the concept of the ‘open relationship’ to an art form— could simply transform the institution itself, making it more sexually open, even influencing their heterosexual counterparts. And who’s to say that broadening the terms of the marriage contract wouldn’t strengthen the two individuals’ commitment to it?
-Michelangelo Signorile, “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do,” Out Magazine (May1996), 113.
This National Review piece fails to recognize that if we do not conserve the heterosexual norm of marriage, there is no reason to believe that the other norms will stand. Thus this article is not conserving marriage. It is contributing to its annihilation.
3. This article is clear about who stands in the way of gay marriage being widely accepted—Christians. Even though Steorts calls them “traditionalists,” it is clear that Christians are the main targets of his argument. He says that Christians are telling a “noble lie” about marriage. He says that Christian opposition to same-sex marriage is an “unlovely pharisaism” that should be rejected “however ancient or canonical its provenance.” Those last couple phrases are jarring to read in a leading conservative publication because they are nothing less than an explicit call for Americans to reject Christian tradition and teaching. If anyone out there still thinks there is a permanent and inevitable alliance between Christians and the GOP, this article should disabuse them of such thinking. If political conservatives pursue this kind of culture war against Christians, whatever alliance there might have been will disappear.
4. Finally, this article shows the limited appeal that natural law arguments have with secular people. Steorts rejects natural law arguments outright, saying that natural law partakes of the is/ought fallacy—that we can observe what is and know therefore what ought to be. In a very revealing paragraph, he writes:
The whole argument appears to have been crafted especially to avoid grounding in revelation or metaphysics an ethics that has traditionally been grounded in revelation or metaphysics. It thereby offers traditionalists who already accept the ethics on the basis of religious or metaphysical belief a way of talking about that ethics without mentioning those more robust beliefs. It also serves as a lowest common denominator in terms of which traditionalists of varying stripes can agree to express themselves. All of this is immensely useful as marketing. But it comes at the price of reducing to the status of a not-very-persuasive suggestion the ethics that it serves to market.
We need to see what is going on here at the theological level. Steorts is kicking against the goads of divine revelation. He understands that the natural law is based on a theological principle that God has revealed the verities of nature. He rejects that revelation in both its specific and general forms. He will not tolerate natural law because he will not tolerate revelation. And that is the issue.
Yes, this is a debate about public policy. But we cannot escape the larger worldview concerns that drive this discussion. Steorts is siding with secularists in saying that Christian views have no part in this conversation. Why? The ultimate explanation is a very old one (Rom. 1:21).