In The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Rod Dreher memorializes his sister, who grew up in a small Louisiana town, married her high-school sweetheart, hunted deer, praised God, taught sixth grade, cooked for her friends, raised three daughters, and died of lung cancer at age 42. It was a quiet life, over too soon. But, as Dreher came to realize, immensely significant.
He was the one who despised his parochial upbringing and left at the earliest possible moment. Real life had to be elsewhere. But after his sister’s death, he understood that he had fled not only narrow-mindedness, poverty, and boredom, but also community, rootedness, and brotherly kindness. “What I once saw through the melodramatic eyes of a teenager as prison bars were in fact the pillars that held my family up when it had no strength left to stand.” Shortly after the funeral, he and his wife decided to move their own family back to St. Francisville, La., where they found real life after all.
Cynics like to remind us that small towns are not Mayberry, that fathers are not Jim Anderson (of Father Knows Best), that most marriages don’t end happily ever after. We already know that; heaven does not exist on earth. But if the foundations of community, parenthood, and marriage are from heaven, they should not be held in contempt. Prison bars—or pillars? That’s what the turmoil over homosexual unions is really about.
In every discussion of same-sex marriage (SSM), some form of this question always comes up: Okay, you defenders of the status quo—just what harm will it do to your personal domestic arrangements if a man married another man, or a woman a woman? By reducing marriage to a personal domestic arrangement, the harm is already done. Just as radical feminism elevated itself by denigrating men, SSM advances by putting down “traditional” marriage (which never needed an adjective before), even while claiming to be equal to it.
Case in point: “The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss,” published in The Atlantic and subheaded, “What Can Gay and Lesbian Couples Teach Straight Ones about Living in Harmony?” Or the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families (ACHESS), which purports to prove that “Children of same-sex parents are happier and have healthier familial relationships than their peers with parents in straight relationships.” The unsubtle message in both is that SSM is an improvement, in some ways at least, on the old model. The Atlantic article explores how same-sex couples can teach the straights how to dial back unrealistic expectations, like fidelity until death, and thereby “haul matrimony more fully into the 21st century.” As for the Australian study, a close look at its methodology raises doubts about its results, but few will look that closely.
“Then they despised the pleasant land, having no faith in [God’s] promise” (Psalm 106:24). He’s the one who made male and female, different yet complementary; who made us mysterious to each other, and as familiar as toothbrushes side by side; who made us to frustrate and trouble, and to meld and mold in a creative tension that produces the next generation and sanctifies our own. And the union of opposites hints at something even greater.
On her anniversary, one of my Facebook friends posted a wedding picture. It was taken over the groom’s shoulder, his face only partially visible as he lifts his hand to touch hers, framed in white, gazing up at him with complete trust. There’s a breath of Eden in that gaze, a distant recollection in that touch: This is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh. But at the same time, a vision of the New Jerusalem, where Jesus will reach across our otherness to claim his bride. Whatever the foolish decisions of men, let us hold his promise fast.