"LET THE PEOPLE VOTE!" PROCLAIMED DOZENS OF placards outside the Massachusetts legislature last week. "Let the People Decide!" But if that's the best argument backers of historically traditional marriage can come up with, we might as well roll up our posters and go home.
Inside the capitol building in downtown Boston, lawmakers were stumbling toward a stalemate as they debated amending the state constitution to outlaw homosexual marriage. An activist court-this time the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts-had launched this disorderly muddle a few weeks earlier, ordering the legislature to end all discrimination against homosexuals on the issue of marriage. The court gave the legislature a May 17 deadline for doing so. So the point of the placards was to tell the uppity judges to buzz off and let the people of Massachusetts have their way. After all, polls in the state-even polls conducted by liberal newspapers like the The Boston Globe-suggested public opinion is against homosexual marriage by as much as a 2-1 margin.
But to argue against homosexual marriage on the basis of poll results is to rest our case on slippery footing indeed. Are we ready, if the polls in some other state show an opposite result, to live with those consequences? Or are we ready, if the poll takers a few months from now re-word their sometimes clever questions and get an opposite result even in Massachusetts, to live with those results?
Make no mistake about it: The polls will change. And they will not change in our direction.
I have, in this space, several times expressed vigorous support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage exclusively as an institution between one man and one woman. I still think such a measure is both important and urgent. But I have to tell you also that I think it is already too late.
It is too late because even most Americans who want to restrict "marriage" to heterosexual couples do so for the wrong reasons. If you don't hear them basing their argument on poll results, you'll hear them instead pointing to the "experience of five or six millennia of human experience." Well and good, since both are true. But both arguments were also used half a century ago to defend blatant racism-and both arguments were so badly discredited in that context that we should be embarrassed to use them now.
Traditionalists also play the "children" card, asking appropriately whether society is ready on a regular basis to have two men raise a child without a mother, or two women a child without a father figure. It's a valid argument-but it falls short and gains no traction for an obvious reason: We are a society already saturated with single parents regularly depriving their children of another parent of the opposite sex. Such a phenomenon no longer shocks us.
Meanwhile, defenders of homosexual marriage drench the media with pleas about their own "rights" and the "rights" of "their" children-opportunistically aware that they're doing so in a generational context where "rights" constitute the final argument in almost any discussion.
There is, in the end, only one sound defense of heterosexual marriage. The only ultimate argument is that restricting marriage to one man and one woman is part of God's creation order, the pattern He planned for the good and the glory of the human race. Apart from that admittedly quaint rationale, every other raison d'?tre collapses in contradiction and embarrassment.
We may not like to admit it, but when you leave God's design out of the argument, there's really no overwhelming reason any longer to limit marriage to a man and a woman. Apart from His sovereign word, experimentation, reconfiguration, and realignment of virtually every kind are in order. Why not?
It is as if God were saying to us all: "I know you'd rather leave Me out of this discussion. I know you traditionalists and conservatives would like to be able to settle this based on secular arguments. I know it embarrasses you to have to come back and make reference to Me and My standards in such a secular setting."
"So," God seems to be saying, "go for it. See how far you can take it. See how persuasive you can be. Try it. See how many typical Americans you can convince based only on logic, history, tradition, and poll numbers."
To win the marriage argument, you need either to have secular arguments that work, or a population that is ready to listen to God Himself. We've got neither, and that's why I think we've already lost the debate.