I am not surprised at the U.S. Supreme Court decision on DOMA and homosexual rights. Popular support for same-sex marriage is at 53 percent, up from 30 percent in 2004. Writing for the majority and emboldened by these polls, Justice Anthony Kennedy went beyond returning the question to the states. He gratuitously vilified advocates of traditional marriage, asserting that the only basis for opposing same-sex marriage is a “bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group,” i.e., malice. He was feeling the moral high ground.
But this is the culmination of a centuries-old moral and political trajectory. America was founded on a synthesis of Christianity and 17th century Enlightenment philosophy. The Enlightenment thought of John Locke and friends is individualist and politically minimalist. In this view, we are fundamentally autonomous individuals, and our only moral obligation is not to violate one another’s life, liberty, or property unless one’s own security requires it. We are not God’s image-bearers, called to embody God’s entire moral law as Christ did.
The moral heritage of historic Christianity has long restrained the radical individualism of this political theory, albeit with varying degrees of success and of fidelity to the Scriptures. But by fits and starts, we have fallen away from not only Christian faith and church involvement, but also the cultural dividend that has helped sustain us as faith and religion waned. “Compassion,” a politically appealing word, would have no moral weight among us were it not for the now thinning cultural atmosphere of Christian civilization. The word gets no mention in Aristotle’s Ethics, and there would be no Red Crescent if there had been no Red Cross.
We are left increasingly with just autonomous, egalitarian individualism. (Our statism grows out of our individualism as de Tocqueville explains in Democracy in America.) Thus advocates of same-sex marriage frame the issue as “marriage equality.” They are no threat to life, liberty, or property, so there can be no valid moral objections. President Barack Obama, who opposed it in 2008, recently made the same morally indifferent egalitarian appeal for same-sex marriage: “We are all created equal, and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” Love is love.
Society is reduced to an association of mere human-being-units who desire and choose. We see it in the brutal selfishness of ever-widening abortion rights, the feminist interchangeability of men and women even in frontline military combat, and the reduction of marriage to a kind of institutionalized sexual indulgence with no inherent connection to children as the natural fruit of the relationship and the protected beneficiaries of the institution itself.
This cultural plunge into marriage chaos is not primarily the fault of “those people” stealing our country. Fault lies with the church’s 250-year failure, on balance, to guard biblical doctrine and disciple covenant children faithfully. Same-sex marriage is a symptom, not the disease.