If you don't think that the times are out of joint, consider this. Many folks of furrowed brow are now debating an issue that, until very recently, would have been considered as being beyond the pale.
I am, of course, referring to the current fevered debate provoked by a proposed amendment to the Minnesota state constitution, specifically an amendment that would constitutionally define marraige as a union of one man and one woman.
Although this amendment, should it be adopted, would have no immediate effect on the legal definition of marriage in Minneosta, it would, it is hoped, preclude any future court decision or legislation that would allow same sex couples to "marry". But not necessarily. Some future court, maybe even the U.S. Supreme Court, could overturn a state constitutional definition of marriage, probably arguing that any such provision unjustly discriminates against homosexual couples who seek to marry.
The claim that civil laws prohibiting same sex marriage discriminate against homosexuals is obviously central to the arguments of those who oppose the proposed marriage amendment, those whose ultimate goal is full legal recognition of homosexual "marriage". But, we must ask, is legal prohibition of such marriages unjustly discriminatory? Does it deny homosexuals "equal protection under the law"? Or, to put it differently, has a supposedly marginalized minority been unjustly deprived of a "right" that, traditionally, has been limited to heterosexual couples only. Or, conversely, have homosexuals recently discovered a basic human right (i.e. the right to marry) that has been blindly ignored or even malevolently supprssed by a heterosexual majority?
A significant minority answers these and similar questions with a loud yes. Others,hopefully a majority, answer with a resounding no. Yet, whether yes or no, whether by a majority or a minority, they are questions that have been forced upon us, questions that we must answer one way or another.
But how can anyone seriously argue against what, at first glance, seems to be a "harmless", even compassionate concession to the homosexual community? After all, haven't we been assured that same sex marriage will not "harm" anyone else's marriage. Live and let live as the libertarians say. Which is to say that the gay marriage movement -- a movement seemingly supported largely by upper middle class whites -- reflects the now widely accepted view that morals/ethics, sexual ethics especially are essentially matters of personal taste. Same sex marriage, since it is both consensual and not immediately, obviously "harmful" then becomes a matter of indiivdual choice, a choice which we must accept in the name of a free floating, automomous individualism.
So how, then, are we to respond to an argument that claims, in effect, that same sex marriage is an individual matter, a matter of no concern to the community at large? Or to the derivative claim that, insofar as they have been denied the right to marry, homosexuals have been victims of oppressive discrimination? The answer, I think, is that, in reality, there has been no discrimination, unjust or otherwise: that advocates of same sex marriage lay claim to a "right" which, to put it bluntly, involves an illegitimate claim, an appeal to a "right" that does not and should not exist. From which it follows that the homosexual claim arguably fails to recognize the interconnectedness of human society, embracing, rather, a distorted absolutist understanding of the "harm" principle.
I know that this take on the matter will trigger an anguished response, perhaps even accusations of bigotry, homophobia or worse. Let me, then, reassure any hostile reader that I am not advocating policies that would diminish anyone's rights to equal access in employment,housing, health care or any other established legal right. I am only objecting to the novel notion that persons of the same sex have a right to marriage, whether civil or otherwise.
That having been said, now to return to the crux of the matter, namely the conviction that same sex marriage is intrinsically wrong, an affront to thenatural moral law. More to the point, it is wrong beecause it is ultimately contrary to the well being, the dignity of the human person. As an aside, I recall comments from supporters of same sex marriage urging us to ignore the "ick" factor, suggesting that they themselves find homosexual behavior to be problematic.
Further, the "no harm" argument notwithstanding, homosexual marriage arguably undermines one of the foundational institutions of our society, namely the traditional family. In this regard, then, we must recall the societal dimensions of marriage. We must, moreover, avoid the trap of believing that same sex marriage is wrong only because some religious group arbitrarily seeks to impose its dogmas on society as a whole. We must, rather, recognize that religious objections to same sex marriage are derived from universal, objective natural law principles, not the other way around.
There is, however, more to the same sex marriage debate than the implicit rejection of the classical natural moral law. There is, curiously, what can best be described as a postmodernist tendency to view the biological dimension of our nature with distaste.This view (which is admittedly hard to explain in a post such as this)seeks to free us not only from the constraints of the natural moral law but from the strictures of our mammalian biology as well. The natural world, the human body included, is seen as an undesirable encumbrance, even something ugly, nauseous (as in Sartre's "Nausea"). Natural functions are disparaged. Pregnancy becomes a disease. Marriage is no longer necessarily the biological (and spiritual) union of a man and woman: it is, rather, an abstract, utilitarian, contractual matter, a "deal" cut by any two consenting adults. Or, as one academic commentation has put it: "....the problem in contemporary culture is that a large proportion of society is increasingly blind to the structure of human nature and to the ethical character of human sexuality...the only remaining ethical norm is one of procedural liberalism...everything is consensual...".
Another facet of postmodern thought is intellectual and moral relativism. Thus, the oft repeated but logically absurd statement that "everything is relative". Or the notion that truth is something arbitrarily defined, little more than a worldview foisted on us by those who have the power to impose it. Such views, obviously, spill over into the same sex marriage debate. One side argues that certain human institutions -- heterosexual monogamous marriage in particular -- are rooted in an enduring reality and, as such, cannot be redefined by a majority or by an act of individual or collective will. In contrast, postmodernists tend to think that marriage is a human construct, an institution that we can deconstruct or redefine as we wish.
Which raises another hotly disputed question: can we stop at two? Same sex marriage advocates never tire of telling us that they will, indeed, stop at two and that, moreover, homosexual marriage will not "lead" to the acceptance, much less the legalization, of polygamous or polymorphous marriages. Yet, we are repeatedly told that "love" justifies same sex marriage: that we should not discriminate between heterosexual and homosexual "love". But if an undifferentated, unqualified notion of "love" -- combined with the aforementioned postmodernist understanding of the world -- is the sole defining criterion for marriage, why only two? Polygamists, too, can "love." In this respect same sex marriage does not "lead" to other forms of marriage: polymorphous marraiges are already being justified. All that remains is for some group to lay claim to a "right" that, in effect, is already in the process of being legitimized.
In sum, then, demands for same sex marriage are a reflection of a society which is divided by two very different notions of morality. One was summed up nicely in 1992 when the U.S. Supreme Court opined that "....at the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning...of the mystery of human life....". The other was summed up by Lord Acton when he wrote that "...liberty is not the power of doing what we like,but the right to do what we ought...".