The progressive wish to replace marriage

In the larger debate over gay marriage, progressives have typically resisted the conservative argument that gay marriage “redefines” marriage. That is why they dismiss natural law arguments about the meaning and nature of marriage. They regard such arguments as irrelevant to the question.

But Brian Epstein argues in The New York Times that progressives need to get over that and admit what they are really doing. I quote at length:

The common progressive reaction is simple: reject the phrase “redefining marriage.” It is biased, according to this reaction, to take marriage to be defined as traditional marriage. If the Supreme Court sanctions same-sex marriage, it will be expanding the class of people to whom an existing institution applies. When women received the right to vote, that did not redefine “voting”: it was just expanding the same institution to include more people. When a state raises the drinking age, that does not redefine “drinking.” Similarly for marriage.

But it’s all a setup. In this debate, the progressives lose, because their reaction is a mistake. Marriage is not like voting or drinking. In some circles, it plays better to tell ourselves that we are doing nothing more than taking an existing institution and making it more fair. Deep down, though, we know that this is not accurate. The old institution of marriage does not treat people equally and with respect. That is why we as a society are replacing it with a new and more equal institution. This is a good thing, whatever Moore says. Progressives should be honest about this fact, and embrace it.

Take note what Epstein just said here. It is not merely a redefinition of marriage. It’s a replacement of marriage with a whole new thing. This is not mere social change. It’s social revolution that will have consequences far beyond what most people imagine now. I wonder if or when anyone will notice.

In the meantime, at least one progressive is being honest. They mean to get rid of marriage as we have known it and replace it with something altogether different.


  • Sandra Stewart

    Just which biblical definition of marriage are you referring to?
    Man+Woman nuclear.
    Man+brothers widow leverate
    rapist+his victim
    Man +women+women’s property
    Male solder+ prisoner of war
    Male+ female+female+female polygamy
    Male slave+female slave
    I know gay and lesbian couples who have been together and had a better relationship than evangelical hetro couples. My remembrance is that the Catholic church was performing same sex marriages up until the 15th or 16th century.
    Of all the threats to this country I see inequality, hungry children, corporate greed as important, this not at all.

  • Chris Ryan

    Brian Epstein doesn’t speak for all progressives, nor even most. He doesn’t even speak for many. The vast majority of progressives simply want to expand marriage. Marriage for Evangelicals like us will remain a Christian institution. For the non-Evangelical, however, there will also be a civil version. As well there should be. Had we ignored our political overlords with all their gay-bashing back in ’04 we could’ve had an excellent compromise: Instead of having full on gay marriage as is now inevitable, we could’ve maintained marriage for heterosexuals and introduced civil unions for gays. But we listen to GOP politicians, this is why we can’t have nice things.

  • James Stanton

    “In the meantime, at least one progressive is being honest. They mean to get rid of marriage as we have known it and replace it with something altogether different.”

    This has already been accomplished and I think the US Supreme Court will add its affirmation. The secular and civil definition of marriage has effectively been repealed and replaced, root and branch.

  • James Bradshaw

    So if a heterosexual man marries a woman of a different faith after knowing her for three hours in a chapel ceremony presided over by an Elvis impersonator, have they cheapened marriage for heterosexuals everywhere, if not redefined it entirely?

    If not, why not?

    • ian Shaw

      As much as evangelicals/conservatives tout Reagan, he gave marriage a pretty damning blow when he signed no-fault divorce into law as governor of California that then became a nationwide precedent. Talk about casting first stones and killing your own.

      • Brian Sanders

        Ian: I did not know it was Reagan who signed the first “no fault” divorce law, but I agree that it was a damning blow to marriage.

        • Ian Shaw

          Yep it was Reagan. Obviously he had a divorce and 2 marriages. We all make mistakes and sin, so I can’t comment on his reasons for his divorce, but for as many evangelicals that champion the guy around on a pedestal, he basically brought no-fault divorce across the country

      • James Stanton

        I think Reagan’s damning blow to marriage probably happened when his first marriage ended in divorce and then he remarried.

    • Gus Nelson

      James: Just because a specific marriage is ill-advised hardly counts as an argument that the institution itself has been “redefined.” That would be like saying that a group of kids playing baseball really badly is re-defining baseball. If however, that same group of kids decided to use a large rubber ball instead of a baseball so they don’t need baseball gloves, then they’re no longer really playing baseball. It may be baseball-like, but it’s become something else.

      • James Bradshaw

        Gus, so are you saying that if gay couples were able to receive all the civil benefits and obligation of marriage but called it something else, you wouldn’t take issue with it?

        Or do you oppose benefits being extended to gay couples under ANY name? If so, which ones?

  • Curt Day

    With all of the problems that both exist in the world and cry out for Christian response, to so fixate on this issue hurts the credibility of Christianity. Let’s get one thing straight, the appeal to natural is a backdoor appeal to Christian privilege to control society. Why? It is because there is no universally accepted definition of natural law. Thus, when we appeal to natural law, we are appealing to our Christian understanding of natural law.

    To illustrate the point here. Some who hear our natural law argument will only more than gladly point to the fact that homosexuality is practiced with beneficial results by well over 1,000 species of animals. What are we to say? The only thing we can say is that our version of natural says that homosexuality is wrong and thus same-sex marriage is wrong. But such is our version. It doesn’t matter that our version is more Biblical and thus more correct than the version adopted by many unbelievers. It is still our version.

    And this point about different versions of natural is important in a society that includes Christians and nonChristians. It is important because to insist on using our version of natural law to determine the laws of society is to say to nonChristians that we will not share society with them as equals. To not even recognize the conflicts and problems that that kind of sharing will bring is to be oblivious to one’s own assumptions of superiority.

          • Curt Day

            You would have to check those species where the animals mate for life. But using logic, if homosexual behavior is practiced in nature and has a useful purpose, then why ban same-sex marriages?

            • Brian LeStourgeon

              Well, for one, a “natural” behavior that is not analogous to marriage does not logically lead to redefining marriage. Even if you did the required research (and the burden of proof would be on the claimant), and found homosexual “couples” in some small subset of species, what would that really tell us within the range of biology, which has as a chief tenet the fight to pass along ones genes? Only that some species have found a way to take some members out of the race. All you would have shown is that, naturally speaking, homosexuals should be marginalized.

              Secondly, there are lots of “natural” behaviors we observe in animals that we do not carry over into humanity. Eating your young, killing your husband after mating, beating a fellow to death for taking your banana, etc. “We see this behavior in animals” is rarely a good reason to alter human life.

              Finally, the very concept of what is “natural” is open to debate. Every one of your 1,500 species has a unique set of genetic and environmental circumstances that sometimes produce what some observers refer to as “homosexuals acts.” A subset of those observers describe the effect of the behaviors as “beneficial”. Not all would agree they were beneficial. Not all would agree that they were “homosexual” in the sense of an unchangeable orientation that LGBT activists rely upon today. Further, all of the 1,500 observations are not of the same type of activity, further muddying the consistency of the claim and complicating the conclusions that can reasonably be drawn. All we can say is “we saw this happen”, but whether or not what we saw was “natural” (implied as “normal or reasonable”) or an aberration based on some species specific defect is a wide open question.

              Science has identified nearly 9 million species. The sorta-kinda debatable conclusions about the minority behaviors of 1,500 of them make a weak basis for any policy decisions, much less something with the foundational societal importance of marriage.

    • Ian Shaw

      So then Reagan had biblical grounds for the divorce by spousal abandonment then? Not saying it makes the situation any better though.

      • James Stanton

        What is this Biblical grounds for divorce? He married a woman who had been twice married previously. I don’t know what led to their divorce but I’m fairly sure we have to jump through some hoops to avoid calling it adultery of some kind on someone’s part. And people think the sexual revolution is a recent thing…

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