Defenders of conjugal marriage need a fresh approach to their project.rings

As much as we’d like to plow forward with a “truth will win out” mentality, we have to confront the reality that many Millennials who believe in conjugal marriage aren’t just tired of reading articles about it (though they certainly are, finding them repetitive, trite, redundant, stale and trite); nor of trying to publicly defend it (an endeavor with ever increasing social costs, to say nothing else).

They’re tired of believing in something so costly, and are starting to wonder if it really would be that bad to just quietly join what seems clearly to be the winning team.

Joseph Bottum’s recent piece raises the question: What would be most prudent at this point in the national debate?

Focusing more exclusively on the religious liberty component of what is rapidly becoming a zero-sum marriage landscape?

Or should we focus on the needs of children and how same sex marriage will be the legal and political vehicle that delivers a harsh blow to the connection between parents and their children, as Bill Duncan recently articulated so well?

Having the Church retreat publicly from the issue, worrying only about sacramental matrimony?

Conveniently overturning millennia and centuries of theology to accommodate the new consensus on sexual ethics—that is, a resounding amorality?

Is part of the problem the absurd amount of attention it’s garnering, to the detriment of correlative facets complicit in the collapse of marriage culture, such as the cultural dismissal of the virtue and value of celibacy? Should we just ignore marriage, from the blogging perspective? Stop writing about it?

These are questions worth asking at this point in the defense of marriage.

In my own view, we need to understand that recovering a sound marriage culture will be neither the task nor achievement of a single generation. Rebuilding a marriage culture will take time, and patience, and seeds sown without prospect of harvest in the near future.

It is sometimes argued by defenders of conjugal marriage that same sex marriage is only conceivable because, as a culture and especially (unfortunately) as people of faith, we’ve lived according to the logic whereby same sex marriage is really a valid (but unsound) conclusion. Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse recently pointed this out here at Ethika Politika.

This point is true, but incomplete. It’s not just that same sex marriage seems “okay” given the framework out of which our permissive cultural sexual habits arise. Same sex marriage seems necessary to many (most?) young “marriage equality” supporters; that is, to deny same sex couples public recognition or to attach immorality to homosexual actions is seen as being cruel, unconscionable, unjust.

So it’s not just that this practice—same sex marriage—is accepted now according to loose sexual mores whereas it would not be permitted by a people living according to a classical sexual ethic.

It’s that this practice is a positive good that demands realization in the minds of a generation on whom the whole rich fabric of metaphysics has been lost. It could not be otherwise in their minds given this loss of metaphysics.

The push for same sex marriage is less the result of the moral apathy of the young as it is the bad fruit of an intellectual and moral collapse that really has nothing directly to do with marriage and the family per se.

Same sex marriage is wrong on so many different levels. But at its core, it is expressive of a more fundamental and broader departure from the broad and systematic metaphysical tapestries woven by history's religious institutions and philosophical traditions with respect to the cosmos and creation, God and man, faith and reason. Arguments about marriage specifically are only local problems within this larger schema of order, and are far removed on its chain of priority.

Unfortunately, in recovering what has been lost, one can’t work in reverse order. In making natural law marriage arguments to people who just don’t believe in metaphysics, we are asking them to see a tree in a forest that they don't know exists.

So, what is the best way to go about recovering a sound sense of marriage?

None of the current efforts are unproductive, I think, nor are they unnecessary.

Some of these efforts already constitute the “Trojan Horse” approach we need to take now. Direct intellectual assaults on same sex marriage will almost certainly fail to convince a plurality of Americans. If we can indirectly infiltrate the worldview of same sex marriage advocates by subtly yet powerfully going after other facets of the collapsed sexual culture that are, for whatever reason, less offensive to those same sex marriage advocates, we can make like the ancient Greeks and conquer a foe from the inside out. All it takes to see the marriage tree, and the forest, is a bird’s eye view.

Let’s go after the underpinning of the arguments, not its conclusions; let’s undermine the logic of the same sex marriage movement by going after the same inconsistencies to which same sex marriage supporters point, rightfully so, in response to arguments about procreative structure or sexual integrity or a child-oriented social institution.

Until more conjugal marriage advocates, from every stripe, are ready to attack—rather than practice—contraception; until we’re ready to reexamine the logic of celibacy and its beauty, rather than seeing 25 years or so as too long to wait to receive a gift rather than appropriate it; same sex marriage will absolutely not go away. Honestly it's a bit shocking to me that more hasn't been written about the essential, abetting role contraceptives have played in this narrative. Why is this still a largely taboo topic?

Those who aren't consistent witnesses to conjugal marriage are, rightfully again, targets for the other side's claims of hypocrisy.

Apathy has never been the cause. It’s just a symptom. The reason same sex marriage is here is because we’ve played with fire for too long, and now it’s burning us.

The most prudent thing to do now to defend marriage is change our—defenders’ of conjugal marriage—sexual habits.

That’s quite a sacrifice, but if we want to undermine the logic of same sex marriage, it’s the only thing that will do it.