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FGF Op-Ed
THE REACTIONARY UTOPIAN
January 12, 2017

Joe Sobran

Love and Marriage

by Joe Sobran
fitzgerald griffin foundation


[Classic from The Wanderer, December 19, 1996] — We are hearing an unusual amount of nonsense about same-sex marriage these days, thanks to that Hawaiian judge. The best way to get to the heart of the problem may be to examine a typical sample of the nonsense.

The popular idea of marriage is that it’s based on romantic love. From this, of course, it follows that when romantic love gutters out, it’s time to end the marriage. The marriage vow isn’t really a vow; it’s an ecstatic prediction that your passion will never wane.

 

David Mixner, a gay activist and former Clinton aide, writes in the Dec. 16th 1996 issue of Time magazine: “My partner, Patrick Marston, was asked recently why he wanted to marry me. Patrick looked surprised at the question and replied simply, ‘Because I love David very much and want to spend the rest of my life with him.’” It is hard to imagine that such an honest and loving statement could be the subject of a bitter national debate.

Last week’s Hawaii court ruling has increased the tempo of our morals police, who are determined to impose their values on our lives. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of political demagogues willing to build their careers on fear of change.

“The court ruling has been a cause for jubilation for those who believe in justice. The issue of marriage goes far beyond the commitment of two people of the same sex. It goes to the civil rights of gay and lesbian Americans. The effort to ban same-sex marriage would deny us the basic right accorded to our neighbors and friends. The issue involves immigration, taxation, family leave, health care, adoption, Medicare, and numerous other benefits and rights. I don’t know one American who would willingly surrender any of these rights.”

“Rights.” Well, where do we begin to refute this farrago of confusion? I, for one, would willingly surrender my “right” to Medicare, which is no right at all. Gay and lesbian Americans have the same right to marry as anyone else. But “marrying” means marrying someone of the opposite sex (and of the age of consent, and of the human race, among other conditions). Homosexuals don’t have the right to marry someone of the same sex, but then, neither do heterosexual people.

Marriage, as an anthropological fact, takes many forms. But in all of them, as far as I know, it centers on people of opposite sexes, because they are presumed capable of reproduction. The idea is never to give heterosexuals special “rights” denied to others, but to impose on them special responsibilities it isn’t necessary to impose on people who can’t have children. Even societies that put a low premium on individual rights have some form of marriage. And even societies that tolerate homosexuality and pederasty reserve marriage for people of opposite sexes.

 

Only procreative combinations necessitate permanent unions, for the sake of children, the security of women, the continuance of dynasties, property distribution, inheritance, and so forth.

The institution, in other words, is based on social necessity. Approval or disapproval of homosexuality and other deviancies is secondary, or simply irrelevant. Only procreative combinations necessitate permanent unions, for the sake of children, the security of women, the continuance of dynasties, property distribution, inheritance, and so forth. Maybe you can find a tribe somewhere that has some form of homosexual marriage, or for that matter homosexual polygamy. But for most societies it wouldn’t make much sense.

Many people choose not to exercise their right to marry, either because they are disinclined or because they are incapable of performing its duties. In fact, marriage, in many or most societies, is more a duty than a right. Mixner says he is “sad that people are so frightened of Patrick’s and my love” and implies that those people are inhibited by “fear of change,” thereby trivializing opposition to same-sex marriage by stereotyping the motives of those who reject it. Fearful or not, those “people” basically feel that same-sex marriage is an absurdity. I suspect that they laugh at it more than they tremble at it.

Andrew Sullivan, a gay activist and advocate of same-sex marriage who also calls himself Catholic and conservative, put it this way in a televised debate with William Bennett: “Love in marriage is about one person to another person completely forever in fidelity.” The “real issue,” he added, “is the equality and dignity and humanity of so many Americans.”

Andrew Sullivan's conception of “marriage” redefines it to require neither the opposite sex nor fidelity! Yet he feels victimized because most people are reluctant to adapt the institution in such a way as to change it beyond recognition.

 

Sullivan is a very intelligent man, but he can’t find an intelligent argument for same-sex marriage — just a rush of buzzwords. It’s sad to see a Harvard Ph.D. (who wrote his dissertation on the great conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott) blurting this valley-girl liberalism. English by birth, and unusually articulate even for an educated Englishman, he has become Americanized in the worst way.

In his recent book on the subject, Sullivan says that homosexual marriages might make room for occasional sexual liaisons with others; so his conception of “marriage” redefines it to require neither the opposite sex nor fidelity! Yet he feels victimized because most people are reluctant to adapt the institution in such a way as to change it beyond recognition.

The popular idea of marriage is that it’s based on romantic love. From this, of course, it follows that when romantic love gutters out, it’s time to end the marriage. The marriage vow isn’t really a vow; it’s an ecstatic prediction that your passion will never wane. And if it does wane, you not only can’t be held to your vow; you have grounds for divorce. By this reasoning, it’s merely incidental which sex the person to whom you make the vow belongs to.

This exaltation of romantic love is a recent Western heresy. Samuel Johnson observed long ago that it’s generally a weak man who marries for love. After all, there are many ways of falling in love, and not all of them conduce to stable marriage.

Modern Western society has been trying to improve on the Catholic model of marriage for several centuries now, and the reforms have been based on increasingly unrealistic sentimentalism. But instead of admitting that the reforms have all failed and repealing them, modern society keeps piling ever more destructive reforms on the earlier ones. All of them try to strengthen the institution by watering it down. It doesn’t seem to work. The whole point of the institution is to make men responsible to their wives and children; no reform that loses sight of that purpose can succeed. As Chesterton says, “It is futile to discuss reform without reference to form.”

 

The demand for same-sex marriage, despite what its proponents insist, is very much a demand that the law express approval of homosexual pleasure.

The argument about same-sex marriage shows how completely we have forgotten form — the nature and essence of the institution we contemplate further tampering with. It’s not even a question of whether homosexuality is a perversion. One could be morally indifferent to it without seeing any need to recognize homosexual unions as marriages.

Let’s just acknowledge that modern society has gone crazy. At bottom, it equates “rights” with happiness, and happiness with sexual pleasure. The demand for same-sex marriage, despite what its proponents insist, is very much a demand that the law express approval of homosexual pleasure. I hope we’re not yet that crazy,

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Copyright © 2017 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved.
“Love and Marriage” by Joe Sobran was published originally by The Wanderer newspaper on December 19, 1996.

You can read this and 116 other Sobran columns in the collection of his essays titled, Subtracting Christianity: Essays on American Culture and Society (FGF Books, 2015).

Subtracting Christianity and Hustler: The Clinton Legacy, a collection of 82 essays written by Joe Sobran’s collection during Bill Clinton's years in the White House, would make great presents for your pastor, friends, family and colleagues.

Joe Sobran (1946-2010) was a syndicated columnist for over 35 years.

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