Robert George Discusses Same-Sex Marriage and Its Social Consequences

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(Photo: Screengrab/ERLC)Robert P. George, Princeton University professor, giving remarks at the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's 2015 Leadership Summit, titled "The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation," held in Nashville, Tennessee, on Thursday, March 26, 2015.

Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School, Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, fellow at the Witherspoon Institute and the Hoover Institution, and co-author of the Manhattan Declaration, offered a sobering summation of the consequences of redefining marriage from the traditional definition of the legitimate union of man and woman to an affectional relationship between any two people at Hillsdale College's Washington facility on Tuesday, June 23.

Professor George noted that only very recently advocates of marriage redefinition were maintaining it would leave persons and institutions which adhered to the traditional definition of marriage unaffected. No one's marriage would be affected by redefinition, it would have no impact on the public understanding of marriage, and would in fact strengthen the institution by broadening the base of people included in it. Religious and other traditionalist organizations would not be compelled by law to accept the new definition in their functioning, they would not have to pay spousal benefits to marriages they thought improper, no one would be fired or otherwise penalized for their opposition to homosexual marriage. There would be no extension of the logic of accepting non-traditional relationships into social and legal acceptance of polyamorous relationships (involving more than two people). All of these possibilities were rejected as "scare tactics" and fallacious "slippery slope" reasoning.

However, George said, the logic of marriage redefinition to include same-sex couples is that traditional marriage exclusively between a man and a woman lacks a rational basis. Only prejudice and hate can explain the exclusion of same-sex couples, and so no reasonable person of good will can insist on it. This puts traditional morality on the same level as racism, in which an unreasonable criterion is used to disadvantage and harass people. The conclusion that marriage is irrational began to be drawn in the 1960s, George said, when advocates of the early sexual revolution declared that people were better off without traditional morality; unhappy spouses should not be bound to their mates, children were better off if they were not in unhappy marriages, etc.

Yet the ominous predictions of the consequences of same-sex marriage have indeed come to pass. Same sex marriage advocates declare that "same-sex marriage announces that the shape of marriage has changed." Polyamorous unions, which involve more than two people are now being advanced by avante guarde thinkers and even academic writers considered to be mainstream as an alternative to the "dyadic," or two person marriage.

The new nature of marriage is sometimes called "minimal marriage," referring to the low commitment required of the marriage partners. Well known homosexual advocates now frankly advocate promiscuity as a goal of their movement. Andrew Sullivan extols the "spirituality of anonymous sex," while Dan Savage encourages marriage partners to adopt a "more flexible attitude" toward extramarital sexual activity. Those who continue to hold to exclusive marriage between one man and one woman are treated as racists.

The end result, Professor George said, is that true equality among citizens and religious freedom is undermined. The concept of dignity, used by the Supreme Court in its decisions advancing homosexual practice and homosexual marriage, will be used to overcome claims of religious liberty and conscience. Conscience protection will be claimed to cause "dignitarian harm." He maintained that there cannot now be, nor ever could there be, any "grand bargain" between sexual traditionalists and sexual revolutionaries, with new sexual relationships approved by society and the conscience rights of traditionalists respected. There may indeed be temporary concessions in conscience protections, but granting them is merely tactical, and they will be taken away when it is thought politically possible.

Sexual issues, and homosexuality in particular, are the presenting issue in the conflict between Christianity and secular liberalism, George maintained. While the liberal legal theorist John Rawls is extolled by contemporary liberals as providing the way forward for contemporary secular society, George held that Rawls advocated a mere "political" liberalism, "romantically" hoping to forestall a "comprehensive" liberalism that not only cuts government loose from any transcendent basis but attempts to give meaning and value to all of life on a non-transcendent, or secular, basis. He claimed that while there are, and will be, political liberals who advocate for liberty of conscience for traditionalists, they will lose their battle with the comprehensive liberals. In the case for homosexual marriage, it will be claimed the "full equality" means social acceptance, not just legal equality, and this cannot happen if traditionalists are free to decline to contribute to or support activities they believe immoral. More generally, it would seem that political liberals will lose because they do not offer a moral basis for society, whereas comprehensive liberals do propose one.

Because comprehensive liberalism must cover all of life, not only is Christian morality unacceptable in the public square in the provision of goods and services, employment, and housing, but the Christian subculture of religious schools, medical, and charitable institutions must be destroyed as well.

The Christian conscience can only be seen as "discriminatory," and the right of conscience as a right to discriminate. Religious educational institutions will be denied licensing and accreditation, just as in the wider world the benefits conferred by the government in the form of licensing and funding will be denied to conscientiously objecting individuals and organizations. Indeed, in secular universities liberal faculty no longer think it necessary to explain away the absence of conservatives; is increasingly held to be an unacceptable viewpoint. Even though racial separation was essentially a cultural, not religious practice, the same disadvantages placed on racists will now be placed on conscientious objectors to the sexual revolution. The ultimate goal in this struggle, however, is the totalitarian one, to deter thoughts not in keeping with the values prescribed by the state (as, indeed, Obama recently referred to religious freedom laws as "unthinkable").

George maintained that there is no alternative for traditional Christians to continued engagement in the public square, "even if the horizon is 50 or 100 years." While the social radicals maintain that their victory is inevitable, George said that "nothing is inevitable in this domain." He noted that the same demoralizing claims were made after the Roe vs. Wade decision legalized abortion in the early 1970s. Yet the pro-life movement has grown in the years since, persuading larger segments of the public, and young people in particular, of the truth of claims in favor of the right of unborn children to live. Much earlier, eugenics was a favored doctrine of the American elite, and heartily endorsed by the mainline Protestant denominations. Only Roman Catholics, and some very conservative Protestants, opposed it. Yet the horrors of World War II undid eugenics, and even today attempts to revive the doctrine endeavor to disown the name of eugenics.

In terms of practical action, George said that social conservatives must not make the predictions of the inevitability of the social acceptance of same-sex marriage a self-fulfilling prophecy. He asked those who are believers to pray ceaselessly.

Everyone committed to traditional morality should work diligently to elect pro-life legislators and executives, and to keep the Republican Party committed to social conservatism. He noted that the GOP was founded as a party committed to moral principle, specifically, to opposing slavery and polygamy. While he said that the immediate future is not good, Christians should remember that their ultimate duty is to God, and to serve Him in the cause of righteousness in the world. However the struggle over same-sex relationships develops, His coming in glory is assured, and believers should keep their eyes on that.

Rick Plasterer is a staff writer for IRD concerned particularly with domestic religious liberty. He attended Eastern Mennonite College (now University) receiving a B.A. degree in history and sociology, and an M.S. in library science from Drexel University.