A constitutional right to same-sex marriage … what’s next?


Indeed!  What is next?  This is the question raised on all sides—left, right and center.  How do we get on in a culture so deeply divided by the debate over same-sex marriage?  The Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges makes same-sex marriage the law of the land—but the issue is not settled and the controversy continues.


What’s next?


Seeking thoughtful responses to this question, the editors of First Things asked a varied group of individuals to participate in a symposium on the Court’s ruling.  Here are four introductory quotes, but a close reading of the entire symposium is highly recommended (linked below).


·         Ryan T. Anderson is William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and author of the forthcoming book Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom.


… Redefining marriage to make it a genderless institution fundamentally changes marriage: It makes the relationship more about the desires of adults than about the needs—or rights—of children. It teaches the lie that mothers and fathers are interchangeable.


Because the Court has inappropriately redefined marriage everywhere, there is urgent need for policy to ensure that the government never penalizes anyone for standing up for marriage. As discussed in my new book, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, we must work to protect the freedom of speech, association, and religion of those who continue to abide by the truth of marriage as union of man and woman. …


·         Patrick Deneen is the David A. Potenziani Memorial Associate Professor of Constitutional Studies at the University of Notre Dame.


What has been most striking all along is not the division, the passion, at times the vitriol. What has been most remarkable is the insistence by same-sex marriage proponents that all dissent be silenced—whether through threats of economic destruction, legal bludgeoning, and now, increasingly by appeal to the raw power of the State. The firing of Brendan Eich was a bellwether for what has now become a commonplace: the fanatical insistence that all opposition be squelched, and more—that even belief in an alternative view of marriage be eradicated. In the days since the decision, one newspaper editor has declared that his paper will no longer publish any op-eds that diverge from the “settled” law of the land … while another analyst has suggested that the dissenting Justices have engaged in “treason.”


While many have pointed to the 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade as an obvious historical analogue for the Obergefell decision, to my mind, the insistence that all must conform to the new, official definition of marriage that no civilization has ever endorsed until yesterday seems to be more aptly compared to life under Communism. The likening of “denial” of same-sex marriage to racial bigotry has proven to be a wildly successful tactic—but it is premised on a lie, the lie that the conjugal view of marriage has as little basis in reason or nature as denial of basic rights to people based upon the color of their skin. The analogy’s success has relied upon the loud and insistent demand that we not notice, nor regard as relevant or germane, the fact that men and women are different, and most importantly, that their sexual union is oriented toward reproduction.


The “monopoly of violence” possessed by the State is now a main weapon in perpetuating this lie, and will be used mercilessly and without cessation against those who persist on pointing out that it seeks to perpetuate a lie. But violence will serve as a last resort, merely backstopping the education system, the economic players, and even family members who will work to correct wayward thinkers (the divisions in families will make what is to come like a Cold Civil War). Like communism’s comprehensive efforts to root out dissent and “re-educate” people to regard all property as common and our care for all people of the world equal and without distinction, the very depth and extent of the lie requires that the lie be insistently repeated and dissent be comprehensively squelched.


“Lies can only persist by violence,” wrote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The bolder and falser the lie, the more insistent the calls to conformity, and the elimination of dissent. As during the years when the Gulag was the alternative (though the “Gulag” today is financial bankruptcy and professional suicide), the easy path was to go along, accept the order in spite of its absurdity, get ahead according to the rules established by those who ruled. But Solzhenitsyn said no—even to the point of arrest and exile. “Therein we find, neglected by us, the simplest, the most accessible key to our liberation: a personal nonparticipation in lies! Even if all is covered by lies, even if all is under their rule, let us resist in the smallest way: Let their rule hold not through me!” 


·         Rod Dreher is a senior editor at the American Conservative.


Conditions are about to get much worse for us. We must reflect soberly on this fact, and act wisely, but decisively. Just over a decade ago, Robert Louis Wilken, writing in First Things, said that the greatest danger facing the Church is forgetfulness. That is, in our post-Christian culture, we are rapidly losing memory of what it means to be a faithful Christian. “Nothing is more needful today than the survival of Christian culture, because in recent generations this culture has become dangerously thin,” he wrote. “At this moment in the Church’s history in this country (and in the West more generally) it is less urgent to convince the alternative culture in which we live of the truth of Christ than it is for the Church to tell itself its own story and to nurture its own life.”


We lost the culture long before we lost the Supreme Court. Research by Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith shows that most young American Christians have exchanged the orthodox faith, in all its iterations, for a pseudo-religion he calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The culture war is no longer between the church and the world, but is now well established within the church. This, I think, is why Wilken’s counsel is far more vital today, after Obergefell. The pressure to apostasize under persecution from the state and within civil society (we are all Brendan Eich now) will be overwhelming. True, we cannot retreat from evangelizing the world, but we Christians need a radically new approach suited to these post-Christian times. If we are to endure as the Church, and to be what the world needs us to be, we have to pioneer new ways of living out our faith in community, in a chaotic and hostile culture. Alasdair MacIntyre famously said that we need a “new—and doubtless very different—St. Benedict.” The most important task for the Church today is to figure out, with hope but also with a sense of realism, how to be St. Benedicts.


What else is there?


·         Carl R. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.


The SCOTUS ruling is disappointing but hardly surprising. While we like to believe legal judgments are based upon application of law, we know that the context for interpretation and application is set to large extent by the larger social and political context. It has been some time since the organs of popular culture have done anything other than press for the normalization of same-sex marriage. When one adds the growing implausibility of religion as a basis for making arguments in the public square, the verdict was never really in doubt.


To see what happens next will be interesting. The establishment of the constitutional right to abortion did not stop the debate nor did it encroach significantly upon the lives of those who wish to avoid the subject. It is possible that might be the case here, that the noise will die down and life will continue as normal for most of us.


I find that possibility unlikely. Identity politicians are pursuing a highly organized and aggressive approach to the issue, using everything from social media to law courts. The cultural struggle is already acute, regardless of SCOTUS’s ruling, and freedom of religion has been under pressure for some time. To maintain traditional norms of marriage and sexuality is now established as being akin to racism and opposition to Civil Rights. The reference to the Bob Jones University case in oral arguments before SCOTUS was ominous.


Therefore, the immediate big questions concern institutions of higher education and not-for-profits. Will schools and colleges who refuse to accept gay marriage be allowed to maintain their accreditation, their federal funding, and their tax exemptions? And in the medium to long term will churches, synagogues etc. be allowed to keep their tax-exempt status?


The cost of this decision to society has yet to be determined. The cost to the church could be most significant in terms of religious freedom. If religious freedom is to have any future, we will need to be as organized and determined in its defense as those who have successfully consigned traditional marriage to the garbage bin of history. If our leaders waver, accommodate, or remain silent at this point, the task will be incalculably harder. As always, we who have been speaking out stand to be undone not so much by the noise of our enemies as by the silence of our friends.



The First Things symposium, “After Obergefell,” was published on June 27, the day the United States Supreme Court announced their decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.  The entire collection of comments is well worth reading.




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