Christianity,  Politics

Ross Douthat on Gay Marriage and Historical Amnesia

Ross Douthat is getting some push-back on a column he wrote over the weekend about gay marriage. In a blog post today, therefore, he offers a rejoinder. He argues that gay marriage proponents have “historical amnesia” when they claim that marriage’s legal connection to procreation is a new idea invented by conservatives to oppress gay persons. He shows convincingly from the historical record that this is not the case and then concludes with this:

That so many people find this claim credible or even self-evident is a small but potent example of exactly the two phenemona that my column’s conclusion discussed: First, the way that gay marriage inevitably has widening cultural ripple effects, in this case revising not only the law itself but also the stories people tell about where those laws came from and what they’re meant to do; and second, the way that some of these ripple effects are making it almost impossible for liberals to show magnanimity in victory, and accept the continued existence of people and institutions that still take the older view of what marriage is and means. After all, if that supposedly “older” view was just invented by Clinton or Bush-era homophobes when their Bible-thumping stopped working, then what’s to respect or even tolerate? Once you’ve rewritten the past to make your opponents look worse, then you’re well on your way to justifying writing them out of the future entirely.

He is right about this. Gay marriage proponents are weaving a narrative of narrative of bigotry that leaves no room or tolerance for those with a traditional view of marriage. It is precisely here that religious conservatives in particular are concerned about the future of this debate. It’s not just that marriage is being redefined, but also that religious liberty itself will crumble underneath charges of bigotry and hate. If the historical record is rewritten so that traditional marriage supporters are made to look arbitrary and novel, then it won’t be too long before a Christian view of human sexuality is completely marginalized in the culture. That is what Douthat means when he says that traditional marriage supporters are being written out of the future entirely, and he’s right.


    • James Bradshaw

      Ken, MassResistance is the brainchild of Brian Camenker, a conspiracy theorist nutcase who insists that gays are using the FBI and CIA to “crack down” on “pro-family” groups. He believes that gays were behind the Nazi regime and used to the pink triangle to target Catholic priests. This is a fascinating assertion given the Reichskonkordat, a treaty between Rome and Nazi Germany that guaranteed the rights of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany.

      In regards to “forcing” society to accept “sinful” behavior, let me ask you: are there unbiblical reasons for a divorce? I’d think most of them, since I’m unaware of a church that even grants or blesses a divorce. So, when a heterosexual marries for a second (or third or fourth) time – as have pro-family advocates Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and commentator Dennis Prager (now on his third marriage) — are they imposing their values – or lack of them – on the rest of society in some fashion?

      After all, those marriages are legally binding, and as a business owner who offers benefits to “spouses”, you’d have to recognize these gentlemen’s marriages as valid whether you agreed with them or not. Yet, I near no outcry about the sanctity of marriage or the infringement on the rights of real Christians who are still on their first marriages.

      If you’re not going to be consistent in the application of your principles, don’t pretend you have them to begin with.

      • Michael Lynch

        You can call the guy a nutcase, but what about the accounts he lays out in the link?

        You keep bringing up divorce, but there are many Bible-believing churches that are consistent in this area (and many unbelievers that don’t understand the Biblical doctrine of divorce and remarriage). Of course, the church probably should do more about divorce and we may be seeing some of it’s consequences in our time.

        Now, why do you want the government to redefine marriage?

        • James Bradshaw

          @Michael: I don’t have time to investigate every claim he makes. However, if they are true, they would be true whether gay marriage was legal or not, and the instances have more to do with parental consent than anything else. The issue is larger than gay marriage: it’s about what rights parents have in regards to what their children are presented in school (this includes topics such as a evolution, etc).

          “there are many Bible-believing churches that are consistent in this area”

          A few, yes. However, their consistency lies in the fact that they won’t bless second or third marriages. It has nothing to do with civil marriage. I have yet to see one church suggest that remarried heterosexual couples should be stripped of their legal marriage licenses as they have gay couples. I have yet to see one church campaign for the criminalization of unbiblical divorce. I have yet to see one church suggest that marriage licenses be denied to interfaith couples (which many will not bless in their own churches). Sorry, but this is not consistent.

          “why do you want the government to redefine marriage?”

          For the benefit of gay couples who are seeking to protect the relationships that matter to them. Personally, I don’t care if they are called domestic partnerships or civil unions. I, for one, am not hung up on labels, and I don’t think men and women are “interchangeable”. The problem is that religious fundamentalists won’t budge on that either. They seem determined to strip strip all legal protections from not only gay couples but gay *individuals* — in employment, housing and serving in the military.

          By the way … that parade of horribles that was supposed to occur should gays be permitted to serve in the military? Overall, it was a spectacular non-event. Sure, there will always be some who just plain don’t like gays. Otherwise, there has been no mass exodus. Recruiting has not suffered. Even Marine Gen James Amos (who initially opposed lifting the ban) has since endorsed the implementation and said that he was unaware of any problems.

          • buddyglass

            “I have yet to see one church suggest that marriage licenses be denied to interfaith couples…”

            In general I agree with the point you’re trying to make, but the above sentence seems like overreach. While the biblical requirement that believers not be unequally yoked does imply that interfaith marriages (where one spouse is a believer) are unwise (and possibly rise to the level of sin) it is never implied that such marriages aren’t real marriages (as one could argue is implied about remarriages after improper divorce).

            The one who opposes civil recognition of s.s.m. may be operating from this assumption: “I need to do everything I can to prevent the civil government from legally recognizing any union as ‘marriage’ that the Bible doesn’t also recognize as ‘marriage’.” If that’s the case then such a person is consistent when he opposes the civil recognition of s.s.m. but makes no effort to oppose the civil recognition of believer/non-believer marriages.

            I’ll suggest a couple other areas of possible inconsistency though:

            1. First-cousin marriages, which are prohibited by some states, are prohibited nowhere in the Bible. If the goal is for the criteria for civil recognition to match up with the biblical criteria for legitimate marriage then one should oppose the prohibition of first-cousin marriages. Isaiah 5:20 cuts both ways. If it’s “calling evil good” for the civil government to recognize s.s.m. then it’s “calling good evil” for it to refuse to recognize first-cousin marriages.

            2. Polygamy. While the clearly teaches that polygamy is not part of God’s plan it does seem to imply such unions are still “marriages”. Consider the requirement that an elder be the husband of one wife. If polygamous marriages aren’t marriages at all then how could he be anything other than the husband of one wife?

          • Michael Lynch

            I don’t think you have an understanding of Biblical divorce and remarriage and the problem with this and your interfaith argument (why would that marriage be stripped?) is that remarriage between a man and woman (whether biblical or not) and interfaith marriage between a man and woman are not perversions of nature.

            • buddyglass

              To the extent remarriage after divorce is adulterous it is a perversion of the Edenic order since, in that order, man would have no predisposition toward infidelity.

              If we’re appealing to “nature” then let’s get rid of any civil structures that attempt to support life long monogamy to a single partner since, honestly, that behavior is contrary to “nature”.

              • Lauren Bertrand

                Eloquently put, buddyglass. All the further evidence that arguments regarding the acceptability of divorce in the Bible–as a counterpart to homosexuality–require just as much circumlocution as the more liberal Christian arguments favoring SSM. And, perhaps more importantly, exactly the reason that the Bible is largely removed from the discussion in the Supreme Court right now.

      • Ken Temple

        As Michael Lynch pointed out below, you didn’t interact with any of the issues that the MassResistance makes. Don’t know about the charges you make against the founder of that group. I just looked at the reporting of the facts of what is happening in schools, health care facilities, employment, etc. It is very gross that public schools are teaching stories that promote homosexuality and 2 daddies, etc.

        Most divorces are wrong; but there are some that are legitimate – hard-hearted adultery (Matthew 19:1-9); and when an unbeliever leaves (1 Cor. 7:15). The fact that there are exemptions to that puts it in a different category than homosexuality, which is always wrong 100 % of the time. By nature it is always wrong and a perversion.

        Yeah, Newt Gingrich’s adulteries and divorces are probably the main thing that caused him to loose credibility over the years. Didn’t know that about Dennis Prager; thanks for the info. Yes, those 3 examples are sad and they cause the conservative values side to loose credibility.

  • Lynn Burgess

    Bill O’Reilly (of whom I am not a fan) thinks we need an argument against same sex marriage other than the Bible. In one sense, of course, he is wrong but I wonder if we should consider his suggestion. But that leads us to this problem, there are physical arguments against same sex marriage that get us into a murky area of disease and abuse and promiscuity where it is not politically correct to venture, but should we? How many different sexual partners does the typical gay man have in a year even if he is in a “committed relationship,” what is the truth about AIDS and homosexuality, is there a historical record on societies who embrace homosexuality, etc.?

    Ultimately, the answer is leading unregenerate men and women to Christ, for the glory of God, for their own sake, and for the sake of our nation. We don’t have a real good track record on convincing unregenerate people to see the evils of sin. We are fast losing this argument; many of our neighbors believe it is a civil rights issue. What has brought the greatest deterrent to abortion, science and ultrasound, when people can see the child they cannot argue that it is merely fetal tissue. Is there a parallel in the case against same sex marriage?

    In recent weeks as I have considered some of these things I have wondered if the American church is more concerned about our freedom to worship than we are about lost souls. What once seemed clear to me now seems murky. We are called to love our enemy and Bible believing Christians tend to see homosexuality as an enemy of our nation and our freedom to worship… so what then should be our response? I am no longer sure even on a personal level, but it seems to me that we are fighting the ones we are called to love.

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