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Friday, January 23, 2015
How to Answer the 'Inevitability' of Same-Sex Marriage

How to Answer the 'Inevitability' of Same-Sex Marriage

Andrew T. Walker is the director of policy studies for the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. | (Heritage Foundation)

I was recently interviewed by a Hillsdale College journalism student on the debate in Michigan over whether its state Republican Party will "inevitably" adopt same-sex marriage. Given that this is a question often trotted out to end the debate, here's how I answered the question, which I hope you'll find helpful when discussing with friends and colleagues.

Commenting as an outsider on Michigan's political dynamics, it looks like trends there are quite similar to trends happening across the country when it comes to the GOP's youth revolt on traditional marriage.

First, as to the language of the "inevitability" of the GOP's adoption of same-sex marriage, I think it's a mistake for conservatives to employ language or ideas that have typically been sacred real estate for liberals. Conservatives should not concede to the "inevitability" of any argument, much less an argument built on metaphysical fictions like same-sex marriage. "Inevitability" implies that blind, impersonal forces propel history forward, which simply isn't true. Movements and ideas are predicated on the participation of people joined to them. People aren't impersonal; they're moral actors with a conscience that can be convinced that faddish ideologies aren't consistent or aren't socially prudent. Activists always consider their ideas "inevitable," that is, until they're brushed back by principled argument. The popularity of such movements to legalize same-sex marriage are built around peer pressure—that you don't want to be a repressive troglodyte or compared to the KKK. Conservatives ought to be more principled and shrewd than to accept the categories of debate that devolve into name-calling and rhetorical flourishes.

Following Roe v. Wade, it was "inevitable" that the GOP would endorse abortion rights. But what happened? "Inevitability" was brushed back by the hard work of citizens across this country who joined together to build a culture of life through non-profit organizations, church ministries to pregnant woman, and policy organizations dedicated to seeing pro-life issue advanced incrementally through law. So today, what's happening? Millennials are more pro-life than previous generations. If we bought into the "inevitability" argument back then, we wouldn't have made the progress that we see today. On marriage, similar work must be done, and already is, though it is only in its infancy.

Lastly, the rising generation of conservatives, like all citizens, never had to do the hard work of answering the question of "what is marriage?" Marriage in previous times was simply the unexamined assumption of our time. But that's no more. Today, people have to do the homework of learning why marriage is vital and unchanging, despite what the political winds say. A phrase like "marriage equality" is simple, emotive, and makes for juicy sound bytes, but when examined against the truth of marriage, it falls apart. Myself and other advocates for marriage have not yet seen satisfactory answers to the objections raised against same-sex marriage. But who needs to answer difficult objections when Hollywood can brainlessly promote issues without any real repercussions?

No doubt, in the short term, it looks bleak that the GOP can withstand the cultural pressures to redefine marriage. So what. In the long run, marriage is resilient; it always will be. The anthropological truth is that men and woman are different. The biological fact is that only men and woman can reproduce. The social reality is that children need moms and dads. The political need is that governments require rising, well-adjusted citizens that become responsible parents, workers, and taxpayers. Marriage is the best place for all these truths to take shape. No electoral consensus can change what's true of our existence. Sooner or later, the collateral damage of the Sexual Revolution will convince people to re-think their indifference to social policy and social institutions. When they do, what they'll find is a band of happy warriors dedicated to improving society through improving family life—through the "little platoons" of society, the natural family. As Michiganders and others throughout the country debate same-sex marriage, let me ask one parting question: Is it wise to fundamentally redefine an ancient institution to gain the political favors of an institution that's been around for just twenty years? No, it is not.

Andrew T. Walker is the Director Policy Studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral concerns and public policy entity of the nation's largest Protestant denomination. You can find him on twitter: @andrewtwalk

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