Tom Gilson

Gay “Marriage,” Civil Rights, Power, and Principle

Even a democracy can undermine freedom and foster the unethical rule of power. America’s founders saw this, and placed in our Constitution a Bill of Rights to preserve civil rights and protect us all from the tyranny of the majority. Gay “marriage” is often regarded as a civil rights issue deserving that constitutional protection. And indeed it is. George Weigel has perceptively showed us, though, that it is not the kind of civil rights matter that its proponents claim it to be. They tell us gay rights run parallel to racial civil rights, but as Weigel notes,

the analogy simply doesn’t work. Legally enforced segregation involved the same kind of coercive state power that the proponents of gay marriage now wish to deploy on behalf of their cause. Something natural and obvious – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” – was being denied by the state in its efforts to maintain segregated public facilities and to deny full citizenship rights to African Americans. Once the American people came to see that these arrangements, however hallowed by custom (and prejudice), were, in fact, unnatural and not obvious, the law was changed.

What the gay lobby proposes in the matter of marriage is precisely the opposite of this. Marriage, as both religious and secular thinkers have acknowledged for millennia, is a social institution that is older than the state and that precedes the state. The task of a just state is to recognize and support this older, prior social institution; it is not to attempt its redefinition. To do the latter involves indulging the totalitarian temptation that lurks within all modern states: the temptation to remanufacture reality. The American civil-rights movement was a call to recognize moral reality; the call for gay marriage is a call to reinvent reality to fit an agenda of personal willfulness. The gay-marriage movement is thus not the heir of the civil-rights movement; it is the heir of Bull Connor and others who tried to impose their false idea of moral reality on others by coercive state power.

Several streams have fed into our current confused state. Until about twenty to twenty-five years ago, what was “natural and obvious” concerning marriage was that it was for a man and a woman. Now a significant number of Westerners think it “natural and obvious” that the meaning of marriage can be stretched beyond that. This principle has now been codified into law in New York and five other states.

Of course no one thinks it will go any further than allowing couples of the same sex to “marry;” no one would ever support stretching marriage to include polygamy or polyamory: for isn’t it obvious that marriage is for two adults? Well, yes, and once it was obvious that it was for two adults of opposite sex. What’s most obvious is that what is “obvious” can change over time. We cannot count on what is obvious today to predict what will happen tomorrow. Marriage has lost its moorings, and now it will drift where it will.

Those who do not know history, it is said, are doomed to repeat it. In this case they are doomed to invent a brand-new future; but this future continues a long-established trajectory. The Western world has been trying for centuries to establish mastery over nature in every way. We have won many battles, but not without cost: our victories have been Pyrrhic, as C.S. Lewis both saw and foresaw. We have overcome nature’s power in part, but in so doing we have pronounced ourselves part of nature, like the animals.

This giving up of ourselves to mere nature was never essential to the progress of science. It results not from any growth in our knowledge or skills, but from an intentional rejection of spiritual reality. Naturalistic philosophy lets us imagine that our dominance over nature will someday be complete. If on the other hand there is a God, then we have no such hope for total mastery.

In making ourselves part of nature, though, we forgot that nature is where appetite, instinct, and power prevail, and where reason and ethics have no place or meaning. The implications for marriage are profound. Whereas true marriage is mostly (not entirely, but mostly) about giving to and building a future generation, gay “marriage” is mostly (not entirely, but mostly) about appetite justified by instinct:  “I was born this way so I have to do it!” Psalm 8 tells us that God made us a little lower than the angels. The logic animating homosexual advocacy is that we are no higher than the animals.

Along those same beastly lines, the foisting of gay “marriage” upon us by courts or legislatures is mostly a matter of power. Weigel said concerning this,

resistance to the agenda of the gay-marriage lobby is a necessary act of resistance against the dictatorship of relativism, in which coercive state power is used to impose on all of society a relativistic ethic of personal willfulness.

He is right, and this has been a matter of great concern to me for quite some time. Where the ethic of truth is lost to public policy, public policy moves to being based on an ethic of power. When that happens, much more of what seems obvious today is at risk of being obsolete tomorrow. Now that we are living under a “relativistic ethic of personal willfulness,” what bounds can we set around said willfulness? I search and I can find none, other than someone else’s willfulness, someone who by force of power will establish his, her, or their ethics as dominant over the rest of us.

Thus Weigel is exactly right to see the same-sex “marriage” movement as a civil rights issue. More precisely it is a symptom of a larger shift in our culture, away from an ethics based in truth, and toward policy based in power. This is what the founders knew they had to prevent. This is why the created for us a Bill of Rights. This is what has protected our liberties for more than 225 years.

Herein lies the ominous irony of homosexual activism. It calls itself a movement of personal freedom and liberty. It borrows the language of civil rights. It employs the structures of a free society to achieve its ends. But it rests on a philosophical foundation that undermines all of these.

And herein also lies a caution to all of us who oppose this gay insurgency. Our rights are rooted in our being human, endowed by our Creator with a nature higher than the merely natural. There is no need to follow others’ descent to appetite, instinct, and power.

Therefore, while it is necessary to oppose power with power, we must never forget we have more at stake than just winning for our side. We’re fighting for the principle that there is a higher principle than mere fighting. Let us let that guide our methods in all that we do. We who believe in prayer, let us pray. We who believe in love, let us not return the other side’s language of hate, no matter how venomously they spew it at us. We who believe in truth, let us not resort to bumper-sticker slogans. Let us employ the power we have, but let us do so in a principled way.

(Thank you to Holopupenko for the Weigel link. Also posted at First Things: Evangel)

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12 thoughts on “Gay “Marriage,” Civil Rights, Power, and Principle

  1. Good article, but how can you say that Weigel sees the gay movement as a civil rights cause? Weigel’s whole argument is that the gays are deceptively and erroneously claiming their crusade as civil rights when it is far from it.
    Check out my blog on this: “Gays win arm twisting immoral victory in New York”:
    Best regards,
    Jerry Clifford, the Word Guru

  2. Psalm 8 tells us that God made us a little lower than the angels. The logic animating homosexual advocacy is that we are no higher than the animals.

    Good point. It’s a worldview problem, which is rooted in a sin problem, which we all have. People are buying the lie (sin) that naturalists propogate. The confusing irony is that when someone agrees with them and treats them like an animal, they object and demand their humanity back!

    Al Mohler explains the reason we should have for resisting this movement.

    Our greatest fear is not that homosexuality will be normalized and accepted, but that homosexuals will not come to know of their own need for Christ and the forgiveness of their sins.

    This is not a concern that is easily expressed in sound bites. But it is what we truly believe.

  3. Thank you for the comment, Jerry. It’s nice to have you here.

    I didn’t exactly say that he sees it as a civil rights cause. I wrote, “Thus Weigel is exactly right to see the same-sex ‘marriage’ movement as a civil rights issue.” I think that’s what he was saying: that there is a civil rights issue attached to this movement. It’s not the civil rights issue that gays claim it to be, it is a different one, one having to do with state overreach.

  4. Gender is everywhere in education, and those who rail against the intentional inclusion of LGBT information are really militating for continuing the campaign of exclusive heterosexual indoctrination to which our children are subjected.

    Why even discussion on civil right?

  5. Why even discussion on civil rights? For the reasons Weigel and I wrote, obviously.

    I can’t think of any reason to accept the unstated, unsupported assertions you brought to the rest of your comment…

  6. I can’t think of any reason to accept the unstated, unsupported assertions you brought to the rest of your comment…

    Why accept it? Why not analyze it?

    We have here this claim: That if you oppose ‘intentional including of LGBT information’, then you are ‘really militating (who’s militating?) for continuing the campaign (there was a campaign?) of heterosexual indoctrination (you can indoctrinate heterosexuality? does that mean you can indoctrinate homosexuality?)’.

    Really, marvel at the way words are being used here, and the way thoughts are being twisted around. This is the sort of thinking that turns Beauty and the Beast into a heteronormative guerilla assault on children and womyn. And the sort of thinking that turns some same-sex attraction into an identity, the identity into a culture, and the culture into something that begins to look like a proto-religion.

    Sometimes reasoning with a person just isn’t available, and the best response is to analyze. In fact, I’d suggest that analyzing the gay ‘rights’ movement is the best way to turn it back.

  7. Crude,

    “Why not analyze it?” Well, for one thing I was working on my mobile at the time 🙂 . It was hard to write more. Thank you for doing what needed to be done!

  8. There actually has been a campaign, but it wasn’t initiated by Christians or heterosexuals. It has been a campaign of sustained assault upon known and agreed understandings of morality, marriage, family, and gender.

    (If you call Proposition 8—or similar initiatives elsewhere—a campaign against gays, then you might also call the Royal Air Force’s defense of London a campaign against the Luftwaffe.)

  9. Thank you for doing what needed to be done!

    I just vaguely gestured in the direction of analysis. But I also think it’s important to separate the group from the individual – in this case, in multiple ways.

    Christians need to come up with a way to talk frankly about gay culture and gay rights movements while at the same time making it clear that simply having some same-sex attraction does not suffice to make a person part of either the movement or the culture, even if they recognize that attraction. And that, I think, is one of the biggest problems with this issue. Then again, it’s also one of the biggest opportunities – because if Christians and Christian leaders can find a way to communicate this, they’ve have a better opportunity to be heard.

    So I’ll throw out this question: Does the gay rights movement, or aspects of gay culture, do anything that actually causes harm to men and women with same-sex attraction? Is turning an attraction into an identity, harm? Is turning an attraction into an us v them mentality which makes an average history book into ‘heterosexual indoctrination’ if there are no chapters dedicated to ‘gay history’, harm?

  10. More news from the activism front.

    Online Push Under Way for Bert and Ernie to Get Married on ‘Sesame Street’


    From the petition:

    We are not asking that Sesame Street do anything crude or disrespectful. Only that they allow Bert & Ernie to marry or even add a transgender character to the show. It can be done in a tasteful way. Let us teach tolerance of those that are different.

    I have a better idea. How about we leave the different people alone – in this case heterosexual Bert and Ernie – and tolerate them as they are. Let us teach tolerance of those that are different than homosexual people.

  11. I find this sort of thing to be a puzzle.

    Why aren’t there Christian pressure groups demanding that there be more christians, treated with respect, in TV shows or even cartoons? I suppose the worry is ‘They’ll add a Christian and then just utterly mock them, or make them a liberal christian’. But then, why aren’t gay groups afraid that their demands for gay and transgender characters will result in mockery?

  12. Maybe I am taking this too seriously, but this Bert and Ernie thing is very telling to me. The characters are muppets. They are not sexual and none is defined by their sexuality. I am not an expert on current Electric Company casts, but I don’t recall any of the puppets having sex or even being married. This is a non-issue and that the fact that they want Bert and Ernie defined by some sexual preference tells us much about the identity politics.

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