“Marriage needs to have a future,” Ryan T. Anderson, author of the new book, “Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom,” says. The book is timed for publication to respond to the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision this past June.
Anderson, the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation, has argued for marriage as being between a man and woman in recent years. He sat down with The Tidings to talk about the role of a Catholic in the current climate.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Is there really a future for marriage as you see it?
Ryan T. Anderson: Marriage needs to have a future. And it’ll be up to people like you and me and our readers to make it have a bright future. I wrote “Truth Overruled” precisely to help ordinary Americans better understand the importance of marriage so that they could better defend it in the public square, teach the truth about it to their children, and — most importantly — live out the truth in their daily lives.
Anyone with any passing familiarity with the breakdown of marriage in America — most recently documented by Charles Murray on the right and Robert Putnam on the left — knows that marriage matters, and that the breakdown of marriage has most impacted the least well off. It is vitally important that we get marriage right: for spouses, for kids and for our entire society.
Why should your view of marriage be considered? It would seem like it is becoming a relic of history more than a lived experience or even what is considered civilized.
That’s the problem. As I point out repeatedly in “Truth Overruled,” the legal redefinition of marriage could only take place after 50 years of a cultural redefinition — with all of the broken hearts and broken homes that it has left in its wake.
There is nothing “homosexual” or “gay” or “lesbian” about the new vision of marriage that Justice Kennedy enshrined in law. Many heterosexuals bought into it over the past 50 years. This is the vision of marriage that came out of the sexual revolution.
Long before there was a debate about same-sex anything, far too many heterosexuals bought into a liberal ideology about sexuality that makes a mess of marriage: cohabitation, no-fault divorce, extramarital sex, non-marital childbearing, pornography and the hookup culture all contributed to the breakdown of the marriage culture.
The push for the legal redefinition of marriage didn’t cause any of these problems. It is, rather, their logical conclusion. The problem is that it’s the logical conclusion of a bad train of logic.
If the sexual habits of the past 50 years have been good for society, good for women, good for children, then by all means let’s enshrine that vision of marriage in law. But if the past 50 years haven’t been so good for society, for women, for children — indeed, if they’ve been, for many people, a disaster — then why would we lock in a view of marriage that will make it more difficult to recover a more humane vision of human sexuality and family life?
How is the existence of same-sex marriage a threat to husbands and wives?
This isn’t the best way of putting the question. The real issue here is how does the legal redefinition of marriage impact the future of marriage. How does changing our legal — and thus further changing our cultural — understanding of marriage impact society as a whole? I argue in “Truth Overruled” that as our society teaches a falsehood about marriage, it will be harder for people to live out the truth of marriage.
Marital norms make no sense, as a matter of principle, if what makes a marriage is merely intense emotional attachment, an idea captured in the bumper-sticker slogan “Love makes a family.” There is no reason that consent[ual] adult love has to be permanent or limited to two persons, much less [be] sexually exclusive.
And so, as people internalize this new vision of marriage, marriage will be less and less a stabilizing force. The history of the past 50 years of cultural redefinition demonstrates exactly this. The legal redefinition will simply lock it in, increase the damage, and make recovery even more difficult.
If fewer people live out the norms of marriage, then fewer people will reap the benefits of the institution of marriage — not only spouses, but also children. Preserving the man-woman definition of marriage is the only way to preserve the benefits of marriage and avoid the enormous societal risks accompanying a genderless marriage regime.
How can the law teach that fathers are essential, for instance, when it has officially made them optional?
Why is bringing up interracial marriage a “false analogy”? Why does it resonate so if that’s the case?
The analogy to racism is used to shut down discussion. It’s used to silence people.
Same-sex marriage hasn’t come to the United States because the majority of people have changed their minds on the issue, it’s come because people have been bullied into silence, and the label of racism has been one of the means of doing so.
While it’s an effective analogy to shut down debate, it’s an intellectually bankrupt analogy. After all, race has absolutely nothing to do with marriage, no serious thinker ever suggested it did, and no plausible argument has ever been produced as to how race could have anything to do with marriage.
By contrast, sexual complementarity goes to the heart of what marriage is, more or less every serious thinker has said as much, and even if someone disagrees with this viewpoint they can’t seriously deny the strength of the argument.
Great thinkers throughout human history — and from every political community until about the year 2000 — thought it reasonable and right to view marriage as a gendered institution, a union of male and female. Indeed, this aspect of marriage has been nearly universal — even while many other aspects about marriage have been subjects of contention.
Viewing marriage as a gendered institution has been shared by the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions; by ancient Greek and Roman thinkers untouched by the influence of these religions; and by Enlightenment philosophers. It is affirmed by canon law as well as common and civil law.
Bans on interracial marriage, by contrast, have no such historical pedigree. They were part of an insidious system of racial subordination and exploitation that denied the equality and dignity of all human beings and forcibly segregated citizens based on race.
When these interracial marriage bans first arose in the American colonies, they were inconsistent not only with the common law of England but with the customs of every previous culture throughout human history.
As for the Bible, while it doesn’t present marriage as having anything to do with race, it insists that marriage has everything to do with sexual complementarity. From the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation, the Bible is replete with spousal imagery and the language of husband and wife.
One activist Supreme Court ruling cannot overthrow the truth about marriage that is expressed in faith and reason and universal human experience.
Do we really have to “redouble our efforts in the public square” about marriage as between a man and a woman?
The culture doesn’t seem to want to hear it. We’re being called bigots and having to go to court.
That’s exactly why we need to redouble our efforts. We must work to help our neighbors at least understand why we believe what we believe about marriage. Only if they can understand what motivates us will they respect our freedom to act on such motivation.
That’s what happened in the abortion debate. Ever since Roe v. Wade, our law has granted a right to abortion. And yet, for the most part, pro-life citizens are not treated as though they are “anti-woman” or “anti-health.” Those are just slurs from abortion activists.
After Roe, there was a political push to make all citizens pay for abortion and to force all healthcare workers and facilities — pro-life doctors and nurses and Catholic hospitals — to perform abortions. The argument was that abortion was a constitutionally protected right, and thus for the poor to exercise this right they needed taxpayer subsidies.
And, further, abortion was a standard medical procedure, so all medical professionals and facilities should perform abortion, and all healthcare plans pay for abortion.
The abortion activists lost that debate. The pro-life movement won.
Through legal protections such as the Hyde Amendment and the Church Amendment, taxpayer funds were prohibited from being used to pay for abortion, and pro-life citizens were protected from being forced to perform abortion.
Until the HHS coverage mandates imposed under Obamacare, at least, there was wide agreement that pro-life citizens shouldn’t be forced by the government to be complicit in what they see as the evil of abortion.
I saw this dynamic as an undergraduate at Princeton. Even many of those who disagree with the pro-life cause can understand what motivates our concern.
As a result, they tend to respect pro-lifers and recognize that the pro-life position has a legitimate place in the debate over public policy. And — this is crucial — it’s because of that respect that pro-choice leaders generally respect the religious liberty and conscience rights of their pro-life fellow citizens.
We must now bear witness to the truth of marriage with more resolve and skill than ever before. We must now find ways to rebuild a marriage culture. The first step will be protecting our right to live in accordance with the truth.
What does John Paul II have to do with it?
Before he became a bishop, a cardinal and eventually Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojty≈Ça was an academic philosopher. He thought deeply about the crisis of culture then enveloping the West and determined its cause: a faulty understanding of the human person.
The tribulations that marked the 20th century and continue into the 21st — totalitarianism, genocide, abortion, and the sexual ideology that has battered the family and redefined marriage — have sprung from a faulty humanism. I don’t mean to equate each of these human tragedies with the others, but they all spring from faulty anthropology, a misunderstanding of the nature of man.
If we are seeing in our own time challenges to the truths that we are created male and female, and that male and female are created for each other in marriage, it is because we have lost sight of the true nature of man. We must respond to false humanisms with a true humanism committed to the unique and irreplaceable value of each person.
This false humanism in John Paul II’s time was on powerful display in the political order where totalitarianism grew. Today, blindness to the truth about the human person has led to a crisis of family and sexuality.
But then as now, we see clearly the Church’s latest intellectual and cultural challenge: not the nature of God or redemption, but of man and morality. Our task is to explain what human persons most fundamentally are and how we are to relate to one another within families and polities.
In the realm of sex and marriage, we have seen the unfettered desire of the strong — adults, the affluent — pursued at the expense of the vulnerable — children, the poor. To avoid the tyranny of sexual desire, which in the name of freedom and dignity breaks hearts and homes and spawns loneliness, we must commit to witnessing to the truth of human nature.
These debates, seen from the inside as they are under way, may seem intractable, but in the long run this is how our age will develop a richer anthropology and a richer morality. As we are challenged to defend the truths of human nature — male and female created for each other in marriage — we will discover a deeper reflection on human nature and our fulfillment.
What should bakers and florists and photographers do? What should directors of local Catholic charities or Evangelical school teachers do?
There is no one single answer for every circumstance. Each person’s situation will require a unique response, based on his vocation and the challenges he faces. The answers for schools and charities and professionals may vary with a thousand particulars, but the Church will need to teach Christians the moral principles to apply to their own circumstances.
The Church also has to help the rest of society understand the importance of freedom, particularly religious freedom. The national conversation on this important civil liberty hasn’t been going well and Indiana revealed how extreme a position the corporate and media establishments have staked out.
They have the money and the megaphones. We have the truth.
You don’t make religious arguments in the book, but do Christians have specific responsibilities here?
Yes. In “Truth Overruled” I argue on the basis of philosophy, social science and constitutional law. But at the end of the book I argue that the Church — either through action or inaction — will play a major role in the debate over the meaning of marriage.
I suggest four things the Church in particular should do to help rebuild a strong marriage culture.
First, present an appealing and engaging case for biblical sexuality.
The virtues of chastity and lifelong marriage are enriching, but after 50 years, the Church has still not devised a compelling response to the sexual revolution. The legal redefinition of marriage could take place when and where it did only because the majority of Americans lacked a sound understanding of the nature of man and the nature of marriage.
The Church needs to find a way to capture the moral imagination of the next generation. It needs to make the truth about human sexuality and its fulfillment in marriage not only attractive and appealing, but noble and exhilarating. This is a truth worth staking one’s life on.
In the face of the seduction of cohabitation, no-fault divorce, extra-marital sex, non-marital childbearing, pornography and the hookup culture, what can the Church offer as a more fulfilling, more humane, more liberating alternative? Until it finds an answer, the Church will make no headway in the same-sex marriage debate, which is the fulfillment of those revolutionary sexual values.
A proper response to the sexual revolution requires engaging — not ignoring — the best of contemporary thought, especially the best of contemporary secular thought. The Church needs to show that the truth is better than a lie.
And that the truth can defeat all lies. I provide a philosophical defense of the truth in “Truth Overruled.” We need theologians to continue developing theological defenses.
Second, the Church needs to develop ministries for those with same-sex attraction and gender identity conflicts.
People with same-sex attractions or gender-identity conflicts, for whom fidelity to the truth about human sexuality requires special courage, need our loving attention. Pope Francis’ description of the Church as a field hospital after a battle is especially apt here.
Young people experiencing same-sex desire can face isolation and confusion as their peers first awaken to the opposite sex. They suffer humiliation if they say too much, but they bear the heavy burden of a secret if they keep silent.
Parents and teachers must be sensitive to these struggles. We should fight arbitrary or abusive treatment of them. As relatives, coworkers, neighbors and friends, we must remember that social hardship isn’t limited to youth.
Each of us needs to be willing to form deep friendships with men and women who are attracted to their own sex or struggle with their identity, welcoming them into our homes and families, especially when they aren’t able to form marriages of their own.
After all, the conjugal view of marriage — that it is inherently ordered to one-flesh union and hence to family life — defines the limits of marriage, leaving room for meaningful non-marital relationships, especially deep friendships. This is liberating.
Those with same-sex attraction, like everyone else, should have strong and fulfilling relationships. Marriage isn’t the only relationship that matters. The conjugal view of marriage doesn’t denigrate other relationships.
Third, defend religious liberty and help conscientious Christians witness to the truth.
This task is especially imperative since a radical sexual agenda has become a nonnegotiable public policy.
Fourth, live out the truth about marriage and human sexuality.
This fourth task of the Church is the most important and the most challenging. Husbands and wives must be faithful to one another for better and for worse till death do them part. Mothers and fathers must take their obligations to their children seriously.
The unmarried must prepare now for their future marital lives so they can be faithful to the vows they will make. And they need the encouragement of pastors who are not afraid to preach unfashionable truths.
Saints are the best evangelists. The same thing is true when it comes to marriage. As I argue in “Truth Overruled,” the beauty and splendor of a happy family is our most eloquent testimony.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. She is co-author of the forthcoming revised and updated edition of “How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice.” Portions of this interview previously appeared on National Review Online.