Requiem For An Ideal

California’s Proposition 8 added a provision to the state constitution, declaring “only marriage between a man and a woman is recognized in California.”  Its supporters fought a hard campaign in 2008, and passed it with seven million votes.  Now federal judge Vaughn Walker has knocked it down, citing due process and equal protection concerns:

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

We’re on the last few steps of the path leading to the end of our traditional understanding of marriage.  Soon Anthony Kennedy will stamp it null and void, imposing a new understanding of “marriage” as any long-term monogamous relationship between two consenting adults of any sex.  Imposing is exactly the right word.  The full power of the State will be turned to ensuring the new definition is universally accepted.  Centuries of culture, deeply held religious beliefs, and the objections of a majority will provide no protection.  Not long ago, it was suggested we should get government out of the marriage business.  Now, as the Anchoress notes, the government will own it completely, and it’s religion that needs to think about closing up shop:

My first thought: the churches–any of them who wish to remain able to practice their faith in relative freedom–will have to seriously consider getting out of the business of acting as “duly recognized” agents of the state in legalizing marriages. The alternative will be inevitable lawsuits charging “discrimination” for disallowing church weddings, a diminution of our constitutional right to free worship, and a further emptying of church coffers as settlements and fines are levied.

These are stark terms to express the victory of gay marriage proponents, but I suppose they must grimly nod in agreement.  This is how it had to be, since marriage is a fundamental human right, guaranteed by the Constitution.  Sincere proponents of gay marriage, desperately seeking betrothal to beloved same-sex partners, no doubt regret the anger and confusion of traditionalists.  They weren’t looking to hurt anyone’s feelings, or insult their profound religious beliefs.  Oddly enough, that’s how most defenders of traditional marriage feel about same-sex partnerships.  As Kathleen McKinley notes in her plea for the compromise of civil unions, the two sides were always close enough in spirit.  They will now be pressed together by force, rather than united in understanding.

Plenty of hallowed old traditions have been modified, or swept away, during the last few hundred years.  Some of them were pretty awful.  Tradition is not an absolute defense.  Because something has endured for a long time, it doesn’t necessarily endure forever.  Old trees fall to make way for new roads.

It is an old tree we’re cutting down, though.  It has deep roots, grown through countless generations.  Its strong branches have supported mighty civilizations.  Marriage was not invented at a Rotary Club meeting in the 1950s.  Why shouldn’t its age be introduced as evidence in its defense?  Why do so many people cling to such an antique concept, when reproductive science has reduced the need for men and women to partner for procreation… a battalion of experts testifies that same-sex couples can do an equally good job of child-rearing… and the comfortable modern lifestyle has eliminated the importance of marriage as a survival strategy?  Why did seven million people push so hard to pass Proposition 8, when accepting the re-definition of marriage would be so easy?

What, exactly, are the traditionalists defending?  Marriage has already become a tattered quilt of no-fault divorce and pre-nuptial agreements.  A majority may express support for it, but a minority takes it seriously.  It’s a faded old photograph of families wearing forced smiles, posed before fairy-tale backdrops hiding sordid realities, framed in the tarnished silver of a romanticized ideal.  We should be glad to hand the old thing over to gay couples, and hope some of them care about it enough to polish it up a bit.

It is a terribly important ideal.  The silver beneath that tarnish is priceless.

No amount of progressive willpower can erase the biological history of the human race.  No level of comfort provided through technology can eliminate the special need men and women have for one another.  No advance in artificial insemination will wipe out the need for a vast number of natural births.  Cultural survival requires a substantial number of couples to undertake the entirely unreasonable task of raising large families.  They achieve this by forcing reason to submit to love.  They speak outrageous words like “forever” from the depths of their souls.

Individuality, so important to responsible citizenship, is nourished by the support of an extended, multi-generational family.  Men do great things in the name of their fathers, grandfathers, wives, and children.  Women work miracles for their children and husbands.  Together, these men and women present their grandchildren with the priceless gift of the past.

It doesn’t all fit within the boundaries of a spreadsheet.  Some of it defies logic.  To require calculated evidence in defense of marriage is to demand timeless honor be rendered in minutes and seconds.  You might as well ask a wounded Marine why he volunteered for another tour of duty, and require his response to be written on an index card.

Marriage is not sanctified through its association with religion.  It is important to all religions because it is sacred.  Why else would passionate religious believers find joy in the marriage of committed atheists?  Why would any atheist see power in marriage, beyond the force of a simple legal contract?

Should we offer subsidies for traditional marriage, but deny them to same-sex couples?  We have too many damned subsidies and penalties, wrapped around our ankles as we sink into bankruptcy.  Judge Walker wrote that “California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians,” but it is keenly interested in discriminating against lots of other groups.  The entire concept of the leviathan State rests on targeted discrimination.  I’m all in favor of eliminating it.  No one should be paid, fined, or prevented from entering legal contracts because of their sexuality.

Does that mean we should we change the definition of marriage, so it no longer refers to a special union between men and women?  Perhaps it’s impossible to convince a mechanical, legalistic State that it has no right to do so… or that such a change is truly not in its best interests, for reasons better rendered in stanzas than sub-paragraphs.  Many of us failed to live up to the ideal of marriage, but our children deserve their chance to try… and they should understand why it’s important to take that chance.

Many of us have lived up to the ideal, cast in beloved old rings and cherished in vibrant memories of the day they took each other as man and wife.  They don’t want to “discriminate” against committed same-sex partners.  They have no appetite for penalizing them, and every reason to salute their fidelity.  They only wanted to retain the word “marriage,” and the radiant idea described by those humble syllables.  The same people who assure us marriage is a dusty old bit of poorly tended nostalgia also understand its true power.  That’s why they believe it must be expanded… and therefore diminished.

Meanwhile, society must hope men and women continue to discover the unique bond between them, and form the special union upon which the future is built, even though official reverence for that union has been forbidden by law.  Arrogant judges will insist the promise of eternal devotion between man and wife is no different than heartfelt compacts between any two people.  May the men and women of the future join hands, with the spirits of a thousand generations in attendance, and cheerfully ignore them.

Cross-posted at

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