Well. I really can't believe I am saying this. The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to tell us what marriage means. Not speculate; not explain. Tell: as in, "Wipe that smile off your face and listen to what I'm telling you."
We are at a remarkable moment in human affairs: one we would hardly have predicted 50 years ago at the start of our cultural upheavals. Historic understandings that drew, for the most part, support and sympathy no longer have footing, which is fine with the kind of folk—they are in leadership roles all around us, including judgeships and presidential candidacies—who think we're in the business of inventing a whole new way of life, atoning in the process for ancient sins.
And what would be considered an ancient sin? Preferring one ideal or mode of conduct over another one. Talking a lot about Truth. Those would be some of the more salient sins.
The court, as it merely entertains arguments for declaring same-sex marriage a civil right, gives countenance to the notion that many concepts evolve, change with the times, put on new garments and flap their wings.
Everybody capable of distinguishing an oxcart from a Lamborghini, a conch shell from an iPhone, understands that nothing stays the same, that—as Heraclitus, the dolorous old Greek, put it—you never step twice in the same stream. May we posit that law also changes?
The question underlying the same-sex marriage controversy—which the high court will resolve in its own fashion—is, do certain large realities lie outside the province of courts and lawyers, hard to approach satisfactorily in legal briefs, far less determine fairly and intelligently?
Human society knows not the likes of same-sex marriage. It knows male-female marriage only. We seem here to be in the presence of deep truths about humanity and its nature. If humanity understands marriage in one way only, what grounds does this provide for broadening the legal—and commensurately the cultural—modes of approaching the matter?
Oh, excuse me; it's because various people demand reconsideration of the question, on the grounds that they think, they believe, the ancient estate of matrimony to be ripe for overhaul—the Christian as well as the pre-Christian forms and approaches.
Yes, excuse us. Let us get out of the way; all who doubt the claims of desire that the justices, like the whole nation, have been listening to.
That marriage is, in Christian terms, a sacrament—"instituted of God," in the language of the Book of Common Prayer—cuts no ice with the many today who view marriage less as an institution aligned with divine purposes than a format for human rejoicings. In a fast-secularizing age, it's us first—you see, don't you?
Well, maybe not. What about the historicity of male-female marriage in all cultures, Christian or otherwise? A mere detail. It's a case of what people want. What people want, once the clamor becomes loud enough, as with same-sex marriage, the courts seem bound to supply.
Before this happens, we might want to think through some of the likelier consequences of authorizing judges to decide the deep questions of human existence.
The first consequence is social division and unhappiness. If fully half the American population supports same-sex unions, what about the other half? The court's going to say, OK, everybody, figure out a way of making it work? What a prescription for social turmoil and complications unspeakable!
The second consequence concerns, shall we say, Reality. If the world never before has seen an alternative to male-female marriage, is it barely possible that God, or Nature, or both, have implanted in the infinitely vast majority of humans the right understanding of how humans should live?
Just asking. The journalists, the judges, the opinion-makers doubtless have this thing figured out. They desire the incorporation of same-sex unions in our understanding of family relationships and the multiplication of the human race. They may get what they desire, courtesy of a legal system often less concerned with outcomes than with grand gestures and historic declarations.
William Murchison's latest book is The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson. (ISI Books). To find out more about William Murchison, and to see features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.Creators.com.
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William Murchison is a corresponding editor of Chronicles and the author of The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson (ISI) and Mortal Follies: Episcopalians and the Crisis of Mainline Christianity. William Murchison, syndicated columnist and longtime commentator on religious, cultural, and political affairs, has contributed to many national publications, including the Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, and First Things.