Like the President and Hillary, My Views on Marriage Have Evolved

Originally at:

by David French

I’ve evolved. In the not-so-distant past, I held a view that has since proven to be oppressive, a view of the law and culture that I now see as stifling the rights of others and damaging the fabric of our families and our democracy. I supported same-sex marriage. The year was 2004, and I was a partner in a large commercial law firm. Despite working mainly in commercial, contract litigation, I’d cultivated a constitutional practice and represented a number of Christian ministries. So, when the Massachusetts supreme judicial court legalized gay marriage, a number of fellow Christians asked for my thoughts. And in a January 2004 op-ed in our local newspaper, I shared them. While I can’t find the full piece online anymore, this excerpt should give you the flavor:

Unfortunately, the conservative argument against gay marriage often reeks of hypocrisy. Our society stopped viewing marriage as a sacred (God-ordained) institution long ago. Since the invention of no-fault divorce laws, divorce rates have skyrocketed. Now, almost half of all marriages end in divorce.

I continued:

For those who believe gay marriage is morally wrong for Biblical or other religious reasons, this decision changes nothing. Churches can still speak out against sexual immorality and can still choose not to perform gay weddings. The gay couple down the street in no way makes our own straight marriage more difficult or challenging, nor can any decision of any court of law change the definition of marriage in the eyes of God.

My thesis was rather simple: Since the advent of no-fault divorce, the secular definition of “marriage” had become nothing more than a voluntary arrangement less binding than a refrigerator warranty. Adding same-sex couples to that already thoroughly secular institution would be, at most, an incremental, largely irrelevant cultural and legal change.

I could not have been more wrong. Indeed, this sentence — “For those who believe gay marriage is morally wrong for Biblical or other religious reasons, this decision changes nothing” — may have been among the most inaccurate predictions in the history of punditry. As recent history decisively demonstrates, if you believe gay marriage is morally wrong, virtually everything is changing.

As I noted in a piece last week, there is a concerted legal and cultural effort to not just carve out a legal space for same-sex couples but to essentially banish orthodox Christianity from public life — to treat it with the same respect that mainstream culture treats abhorrent ideologies like white supremacy. Christians must lose their jobs, lose their businesses, and close their schools, unless they bend the knee to the sexual revolution. Bonds of friendship and loyalty are meaningless if the cultural conservative holds the wrong view on same-sex marriage, and Christian clubs are vile discriminators if they simply want to be led by Christian leaders. In the “blue” sectors of America, particularly the academy, some Christians feel that they have to live under deep cover to protect their careers.

It’s important to understand that this wave of coercive intolerance is not mere aberrational excess but the natural and inevitable byproduct of grafting same-sex relationships into an institution that is a key building-block to civilization itself. Even in the face of strong sexual-revolution headwinds, our law and culture continue to not only protect marriage and incentivize marriage, it is still seen by hundreds of millions of Americans as the ideal family relationship. In other words, by grafting same-sex relationships into marriage, activists want their relationships to enjoy all the legal and cultural protections marriage has built up through millennia of human experience. To oppose “marriage” is to oppose civilization.

But marriage did not become an “ideal” or civilizational building-block by simply being the most intense and committed form of adult relationship. In fact, at its core, marriage is not about adults — or adult happiness — at all. It has been at the heart of every enduring world culture not because these cultures share the same faith, or share the same ideals about romantic love and adult happiness, but because life has long taught us cultures thrive when children are raised in stable, two-parent, mother-father homes. Indeed, spouses from many cultures would laugh at the notion that “happiness” or “romance” has anything to do with the nature and familial bond of their marriage.

I agree with the notion that gay couples should be able to make health-care decisions for each other, write each other into wills, solemnize their relationships if they wish, and otherwise enjoy many of the same bundle of rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples, but it is easy and simple enough to write those protections into law without changing the very definition and nature of marriage.

Cultures that have sought to alter marriage from its fundamental norms do not have a happy history. Polygamy has hardly proven conducive to enduring cultural strength, and when segments of the young American nation changed thousands of years of marriage traditions by injecting white supremacy into what was once a color-blind institution, it commandeered marriage into the unsustainable and ultimately ruinous practice of race-based chattel slavery and race-based economic, cultural, and legal discrimination.

But now we’re racing off on our own cultural experiment, one that began two generations ago when Baby Boomers decided they needed to shed their spouses at will, and continues now with the equally radical step of redefining who a “spouse” can be and re-ordering marriage to center completely and totally on adult emotional contentment. And we’re racing on despite the clear record that families who maintain the traditional bonds do far better — in aggregate — emotionally, socially, and economically than families who shun tradition to carve out their own definitions of “ideal.”

In 2004, I was wrong and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were right. The definition of marriage should not change. In fact, Ms. Clinton was so right, that I’ll close by quoting her:

I believe that marriage is not just a bond but a sacred bond between a man and a woman. [It’s a] fundamental bedrock principle that exists between a man and a woman, going back into the mists of history as one of the founding, foundational institutions of history and humanity and civilization, and that its primary, principal role during those millennia has been the raising and socializing of children for the society into which they are to become adults.

Exactly right, Hillary. As I said once before when discussing my own intellectual journey, the tides of history and opinion are not irreversible. It’s not inevitable that everyone will follow the Obama/Clinton path to transform the very nature of this “foundational institution.” People can, in fact, move back towards time-tested tradition. I’m living proof.

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