A new survey by Pew Research shows that more American adults now favor than oppose same-sex marriage, by a margin of 49% to 43%. In 2003 the same survey showed the opposite: 58% opposed vs. 33% in favor. Pew attributes the shift primarily to the coming of age of the Millennial generation — those born after 1980 — 70% of whom support same-sex marriage. But Americans across the board have been changing their opinions on this issue. Pew has found that more than one-quarter of those who now favor same-sex marriage admitted that they had previously held the opposite view.
Republican Senator Rob Portman made headlines when he recently announced his support for same-sex marriage, a change that came about, he says, as a result of learning that he has a homosexual son. When Pew asked those who had reversed themselves why they had changed their minds about same-sex marriage, one-third explained that it was because they know someone who is gay.
These shifting public opinions have been coaxed along by Hollywood and the popular media, both of which have done their utmost to depict homosexuality as a healthy, natural, legitimate lifestyle choice. The messaging has been effective, and as the flood of stories depicting homosexuality positively have worked their way into the cultural psyche, as closeted homosexual shame has been replaced by gay pride, and as lifestyle advocates have re-framed their same-sex marriage arguments using terms like “civil rights” and “equality,” ordinary Americans have yielded to the PR onslaught.
Americans are a generous, compassionate and fair-minded people. We love to see the underdog triumph. We hate injustice and unfair play; our founding document declares that “all men are created equal,” and though we have often failed to live up to that vision, it remains our conviction that we must create such a society.
To many Americans, and especially to homosexuals, it seems a violation of that declaration to deny them a privilege that is freely enjoyed by heterosexuals, namely marriage. Increasingly, many Americans, the young especially, are responding to the constant demand for marriage equality by saying, why not?
Even Pastor Rob Bell, former head of the mega-congregation know as Mars Hill Bible Church, was quoted a few days ago in favor of same-sex marriage:
I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think that the church needs to adjust… this is the world that we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are. — Rob Bell in a comment as part of a forum at Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco
Where Bell and many others have gone off the rails is by focusing on modern notions about love and fairness and equality, without first looking hard at what marriage is really all about and what purpose it is meant to serve in society.
A relationship between any two people, whether they are hetero- or homosexual, having as its purpose the mutual expression of love and affection can take many forms and does not require any legal framework whatsoever for its support and encouragement. To any extent two individuals desire, they may formalize their relationship with binding legal agreements that include the combining and sharing of their wealth and assets. Or, as so many who cohabit well know, couples without such agreements are free to leave everything as loose and whimsical as their hearts desire. Love and the expression of love does not need the social institution of marriage to thrive.
But marriage is not principally about love, though love is unquestionably crucial to its success. The institution of marriage is society’s way of demonstrating its commitment to future generations by creating a safehouse for procreation and child rearing.
This is why marriage includes public vows of commitment, in which the couple and those who witness the ceremony pledge to support and safeguard this relationship for life. This is also why marriage has historically been established and sanctioned by the church, where a commitment is made before God to faithfulness and sexual fruitfulness, just as the first couple, Adam and Eve, were joined together by God to love and support each other, and to enjoy sexual intimacy aimed at producing children to populate God’s earth.
The fact that not all marriages produce children only underlines and highlights the fact that children are the normal and expected result of every marriage. That same-sex “marriage” is a non-sequitur can be shown quite simply: if everyone married someone of the same sex, life on earth would quickly die out. Same-sex marriage is a corruption of a long-held societal norm and a distortion of the fundamental design and intent of the marital commitment.
Americans have generous hearts. The shift in opinion in light of the gay rights media blitz of the past decades is proof of the generous, but entirely emotional (read: irrational), response to the heartfelt pleas of those who have chosen to embrace their homosexual desires in very public ways. This widespread change of heart is built on a reflexive but misplaced sense of compassion among heterosexuals for a very vocal homosexual minority. It represents a complete failure to consider the damage that will result from changing marriage into something it was never meant to be.
Liberalized divorce laws have already done terrible harm to children and the stable, nurturing environment that the two-parent family was intended to provide. Study after study confirms that children of single-parent families do worse on a wide range of metrics than their peers in two-parent, heterosexual families.
Our societal understanding of marriage has already been damaged by high levels of divorce and children born to unmarried, cohabiting couples. If we further erode the cultural understanding of marriage’s procreative roots by including a non-procreative set of relationships under the same umbrella, marriage will ultimately cease to mean anything at all. Same-sex marriage will be one more cultural message to young men and women that we are not really serious about creating and parenting the next generation.
One more thing needs to be stated plainly. It is a complete misunderstanding of Christianity to treat homosexual men and women with anything but love. Many things have been prohibited by God — we call those things sin — and homosexual acts are among them. So are heterosexual acts when not practiced in the context of marriage. God calls all of us to avoid sinful actions and thoughts, but we are also called to love sinful people, because we, too, are sinners saved by the grace of God in Christ.
Same-sex marriage is gaining ground because too many are responding emotionally instead of thinking critically. But it’s a sad fact that liberalized divorce laws and the disturbing trend for men to abandon their sons and daughters show that we are increasingly driven by narcissistic self-love rather than the more difficult, adult willingness to put our children ahead of our selfish desires.
Same-sex marriage is only the latest threat to the health of this vitally important social institution. It will further weaken marriage at a time when we desperately need to do all that we can to strengthen it, for the sake of our children, for the sake of our future.