The Supreme Court of the United States will soon address the fundamental issue of same-sex marriage and will probably rule that marriage between two persons of the same sex is a Constitutional Right. Whether this decision will be in the long term to the benefit or to the detriment of our country is a question that nobody can answer. For over 2,500 years, Western civilizations have considered heterosexual marriage to be the norm, and this tradition was not simply the result of Christian influence. In both the Athenian democracy and the Roman Republic, same-sex marriages were not accepted. Perhaps in our technological wisdom, we understand human nature and the world around us better that Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and many others did. Perhaps they were wrong, and we are right. I am not, however, satisfied that we have considered the matter seriously enough.
In my book “Citizens of the Broken Compass”, there appears an article entitled: “The Case for and against Same-Sex Marriage”, and as I explain in this article, it is not my intention to persuade you, my reader, to take one position or the other on this issue. Rather, my aim is to convince you that the issue has not yet been thoroughly discussed. In my opinion, the changing attitudes in American society about same-sex marriage have resulted primarily from two factors, neither of which has anything to do with morality, sociology or political philosophy. On two fronts, corporate America decided to promote the gay/lesbian movement, which has led us to the point of sanctioning same-sex marriage.
The first and most obvious front was the film industry. Certainly by 1996, it was apparent that Hollywood had made the decision to support the gay/lesbian movement; in the outstanding movie “The Birdcage”, Robin Williams was able to move middle class attitudes beyond the disturbing events of the “Stonewall Riots” of 1969. Since then, the movie industry has encouraged us step by step to be more accepting of same-sex relationships and has brought us as a nation to the point that the Supreme Court is ready to act on same-sex marriage. I am not disputing the fact that artistic expression has an important role to play in shaping public opinion, but it cannot and should not replace serious discussion among citizens of our country. Although artistic expression in the form of films has a tremendous impact on the emotions, it fails to make critical rational distinctions that are necessary in order for us to make responsible decisions about issues affecting our future. Same-sex marriage is a very complex issue and requires discussion on various levels: the legal, the moral and the religious.
The second front was not nearly as visible to the public. It involved corporate funding to universities across the country in order to establish departments of “gender” studies. On this matter, I can speak from personal experience at an Ivy League university in New England; the departments for gender and gay/lesbian studies have systematically promoted the cause of gays, lesbian, bisexuals and transgenders as an ideology. The fact that the issue has been framed ideologically means, in simple terms, that the proponents do not feel obligated to present historically or scientifically convincing data, and likewise, they do not feel obligated to discuss the matter at length with those of opposing views. What one encounters here is very similar to the attitudes of the Neo-Marxists in the former communist sector of Germany (DDR) or in the former Soviet Union. Marxism was the party line; it didn’t need to be grounded and it couldn’t be refuted. The situation at many universities today is comparable. The legitimacy of same-sex relationships and the right of same-sex marriage is the party line; it need not be justified and cannot be refuted. The motivation behind the corporate funding of these departments is not totally clear, but the most obvious explanation would be market share. By reaching out to the gay/lesbian community through the funding of departments, corporations have increased their market share.
The Supreme Court will indeed decide the legal issue, perhaps prematurely, but the moral/cultural and the religious issue cannot be decided in court. We, the citizens of the United States, have the responsibility to form an opinion about the morality of same-sex marriage and about its place in our culture. And if we are members of a religious community, we have the responsibility of determining its place within our own religious tradition. These two perspectives, the moral/cultural and the religious, must be distinguished, and in my opinion, the moral issue is broader than the religious one. In our culturally diverse, religiously pluralistic society, moral issues cannot be based solely on the views of one particular religion; it is imperative that we respect the views not only of Christians, but also of Jews, Muslims and Buddhists as well as of humanists and atheists.
In the interest of the common good, I may eventually decide that same-sex marriage should be accepted into our moral code as a nation, but at the same time, I may well decide that it is incompatible with my religious tradition and therefore unacceptable within this smaller community.
Regardless of the outcome, we have the responsibility to enter into serious dialogue on the matter.