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Until death do us part

| Friday, December 4, 2015

The Center for Ethics and Culture hosted its 16th annual Fall Conference in McKenna Hall the weekend before Thanksgiving. This year’s conference theme was freedom: a perennially pertinent theme. But perhaps it is more important now than ever to understand the meaning of authentic freedom. Consider just one arena in which freedom has recently been given a “progressive” — and dubious — meaning: marriage.

This summer the Supreme Court held that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right because it is an imperative of “freedom.” Justice Kennedy wrote in the Court’s majority opinion that “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person,” and later that the “nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.”

But how does the legal right to enter a “marriage” contribute to the freedom of same-sex attracted persons? Especially in light of the fact that, no matter what the law calls things, no two men or two women can in truth get married.

The vision of marriage now enshrined in law sees marriage essentially as a deep and loving emotional bond, not necessarily connected with the rearing and upbringing of children, and valuable only so long as the participants are emotionally fulfilled. This revisionist view of marriage has taken hold of just one aspect of the truth about marriage — that it is chiefly an emotional union of persons — and exalted this aspect of marriage at the expense of all other aspects. And so the Court and those who cheer its decision have enlarged, so to speak, the freedom to marry by shrinking what marriage is.

How exactly does doing that contribute to freedom?

Most people still agree marriage should be permanent, exclusive and monogamous. But the new vision of marriage enshrined by the Supreme Court this summer cannot provide a principled basis for these norms.

If marriage is simply an emotional bond differing from other forms of companionship in degree of intensity and not in kind, why should marriage be limited to two people? Similarly, on this view, why should marriage be permanent? Why not get up and go when the spark fades? What about marriage calls for a permanent commitment “until death do we part?” Again, why, on this view, does marriage call for sexual exclusivity? There is no principled reason — some will choose to live by these norms based on their preferences, but there is nothing about marriage in this understanding that inherently calls for fidelity to them.

It seems that by redefining marriage — and thus making it harder for anyone to live out the norms of marriage most of us still think are important — the institution of same-sex marriage has eroded our freedom, making it more difficult than ever to live out a true marriage. Here, though, it is important to mention there is nothing particularly “homosexual” about the revisionist view of marriage. Long before anyone was contemplating same-sex “marriage,” many heterosexual couples were buying into the revisionist view, adhering to an ideology about sex and the family that has harmed marriage to this day. The institution of no-fault divorce harmed the marriage culture, as did increasing cultural approval of cohabitation, extramarital sex, pornography, the hookup culture and nonmarital childbearing. Same-sex “marriage” did not cause these problems, but is rather the logical conclusion of the understanding of marriage that these practices embody, foster and encourage.

How does this revisionist view of marriage serve the freedom of persons experiencing same-sex attraction? It seems that by erasing the difference between marriage and other forms of companionship, such that your non-marital relationships are seen as simply less, this view has harmed friendship. How much more difficult will it be for persons of the same sex (especially those who seek to live chastely) to find fulfillment in friendships with persons of the same sex now that marriage has been redefined?

Or consider children. How are children made more free by an institution that, with the blessing of the law, actively deprives them of their right to a mother and a father? How does this contribute to children’s freedom, especially when they are not given a choice — or a voice?

The thing about marriage is it is not about freedom, at least, not freedom as we often understand it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a letter written from his prison cell to a young married couple, wrote, “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” Similarly, G.K. Chesterton writes, “In everything on this earth that is worth doing, there is a stage when no one would do it, except for necessity or honor. It is then that the Institution upholds a man and helps him on to the firmer ground ahead.”

The reason people have always desired marriage and sought to live by its norms is that living out a true marriage is a good thing for human beings to do. The norms of marriage — the rules of the game — make marriage possible and valuable. The institution upholds us — but can it uphold us any longer? By redefining the institution and making nonsense of the norms that structure it, have we, under the guise of expanding freedom, undermined our freedom to live out the real thing?

Goethe wrote, “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” Has the revisionist view enshrined a false view of marriage — and the freedom it requires and entails? Has Justice Kennedy extended a false promise of fulfillment and a false freedom to same-sex persons? I fear he has, and I fear we all will suffer the consequences of this false freedom.

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About Timothy Bradley

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  • what no really


  • João Pedro Santos

    Timothy, feel free to cry your homophobic tears. Feel free to be in the wrong side of History. Even if you don’t change your mind, most people who now think like you will. 🙂

    • Charlie Ducey

      João, it is disheartening to see that when someone writes a column with which you disagree, your only response is a few unexplained canards about “homophobia” and the “right side of history.” If you truly think you stand in the right side of history, it would behoove you to provide a reason for why you think so. Tim explained his view to you. Rather than insulting him, it would be only charitable to engage him with your own ideas–if repeating mantras about homophobia and “the right side of history” are indeed your own ideas.

      Muitas bênçãos,

      C. Ducey

      • João Pedro Santos

        I didn’t insult Timothy, I criticized his ideas. And homophobia is a real thing thanks to bigotred views such as yours and the OP’s views. By describing this article as homophobic, I wasn’t insulting anybody, I was stating a fact. If you feel so insulted by being called homophobic, maybe you are in fact homophobic and you should change that. Otherwise you wouldn’t feel insulted. On the other hand, this article insults a lot of ND students and faculty. And the OP insulted a lot of people without even knowing them. On the other hand, I only criticized the homophobia in the OP’s ideas. And I’ll keep doing it whenever homophobes are allowed to write in the Observer. Their hateful views need to be exposed and LGBT people need to know that there are a lot of students and faculty supporting them and that such bigots are just a minority.

        • Charlie Ducey

          João, your concern about protecting a minority group is understood, but your claim that Tim is a homophobe is not. Homophobia is unjustified fear of homosexuality. What in this article shows signs of that? You make a lot of claims about this article–that it insults a lot of people, that it is homophobic. But you have not *explained* how it does this or gestured at passages that support your claims. Tim is forwarding an argument. If you want to engage with the argument, you have to explain your objections, not just level objections.

          • Tom Z.

            You are trying to restrict a certain right from a group of people simply because of their sexual orientation. You can’t say your religion supports only white people or men from certain benefits and then claim you aren’t racist or sexist. It doesn’t work like that. Because “God says so” shouldn’t be tolerated as reasoning and viewpoints like the above should be called out for what it truly is, bigotry.

          • Charlie Ducey

            Tom, the only minority group being mentioned by João were “bigots,” I suppose. The argument forwarded in this article is not an appeal to authority. So, yeah, “it doesn’t work like that.” I mean, do you want to re-read the article first? As with João, I have to advise you to back up your accusations of bigotry with explanations and examples from the text at hand. That’s just how argumentation works.

          • João Pedro Santos

            “Tom, the only minority group being mentioned by João were “bigots,” I suppose.”
            I’m glad bigots are a minority. And we all should make an effort, through education, so that bigots become an even smaller minority.

          • Charlie Ducey

            Yes, João. But we must remember that bigots aren’t just whoever disagrees with you.

          • João Pedro Santos

            LOL again on that? I never defined bigot as someone who disagrees with me. A bigot is someone who holds prejudice against other people, that won’t change regardless of my opinion. In fact, here’s a dictionary link:

          • Charlie Ducey

            Yes, bigotry is “utter intolerance of differing opinions, beliefs, or creeds.” Tim does not express any intolerance toward “opinions, beliefs, or creeds.” Indeed, he invites discussion. From what I’ve seen, you don’t seem particularly tolerant of Tim’s believes and opinions, which puts you in an odd position indeed.

          • João Pedro Santos

            In fact I didn’t quote a correct link. That definition is actually wrong. The correct definition is this one:
            Again, I’m sorry for providing an incorrect definition.
            And I don’t have to respect Tim’s opinions since those opinions are disrespectful. I can respect him and acknowledge his right to say such absurdities, but I won’t respect his opinions. People have rights, prejudiced opinions don’t. So stop crying because your opinion isn’t respected and instead try to understand why your opinion isn’t respected in the first place.
            I tolerate people, not prejudice. The OP doesn’t seem to tolerate people at all just because of who they are attracted too.
            And I’m not interested in arguing with a homophobe. That’s like arguing with someone who thinks the Earth is flat despite all the evidence against that.

          • João Pedro Santos

            Still, the incorrect definition only covered discrimination based on religion. Though the article has no references to religion, the truth is that when someone wants to tell other people how they should live their sexual lives, that’s trying to impose their religious views, therefore being bigotry according to the incomplete definition.

          • Tom Z.

            “— the institution of same-sex marriage has eroded our freedom, making it more difficult than ever to live out a true marriage. ”

            Charlie, quite being willfully ignorant. Statements like these are insulting and demeaning to homosexualss in the same way that saying a “true marriage” is one between 2 white couples is demeaning to non-white people. Just because it’s not an appeal to authority doesn’t make it not a bigoted and hate filled opinion that should not be tolerated by intellectuals. Be better.

          • Charlie Ducey

            Tom, I certainly don’t feel willfully ignorant, if you must know. And ignorance, indeed, is what should not be tolerated by intellectuals first and foremost. Dismissing dissenting opinions, however unpalatable you may find them to your own emotional convictions, would seem to do an awful lot to advance ignorance by throwing up walls in the name of protecting hurt feelings. Tim is not some racketeering vandal slurring people of non-normative sexual orientations. Bear in mind that he states plainly: “Same-sex “marriage” did not cause these problems, but is rather the
            logical conclusion of the understanding of marriage that these practices
            embody, foster and encourage.” He is simply limning his understanding of marriage through arguments from the nature and purpose of married life. These are far from arbitrary grounds, and whatever one’s view of sexuality, they are worth discussing. What, for instance, do you make of the questions that relate to the title of the whole piece?

            “If marriage is simply an emotional bond differing from other forms of
            companionship in degree of intensity and not in kind, why should
            marriage be limited to two people? Similarly, on this view, why should
            marriage be permanent? Why not get up and go when the spark fades? What
            about marriage calls for a permanent commitment “until death do we

          • Tom Z.

            Marriage is two people committing to each other for life. That’s OUR definition in the 21st century. Saying that homosexuals water down marriage is willfully ignorant and disrespectful. I don’t get what the other questions have to do with the OP calling two homosexuals not a “true marriage”. It seems that he is grouping the allowance of homosexuals to be married as part of the problem of “watering” down marriage. That is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. You can talk about watering down marriage with examples like Britney Spears, Kim Kardashian, No-fault divorce, birth control, etc. as reasons marriage isn’t what it used to be, but when you throw in homosexuals getting married as part of the problem, you are the problem.

  • MJ

    I respect that Mr. Bradley believes this, and that his position is based on the Church’s teachings about marriage. But the Roman Catholic Church does not get to define civil marriage for everyone, which legally is nothing more than a contract. No one is requiring the Church to accept anything less than it’s own definition for it’s sacrament. As it should be.

  • John Robin

    A well-reasoned letter, Timothy. Marriage is different from friendship by nature and not merely by intensity. Marriage is not simply a legally established relationship that can be instituted and terminated at will. Attempting to ignore or subvert the truth about marriage does great harm to individuals and society.

    Of course you will be accused of bigotry and thought crimes for speaking such sanities.