Just about everywhere one looks, countries, states, provinces, and local jurisdictions are falling like dominoes before the same-sex marriage campaign. Yesterday it was Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa. Today it’s Maine. New York State, Vermont, and New Hampshire are preparing the walk down the aisle tomorrow or the day after. Despite the occasional setback, as in California, the movement appears to be spreading. In Canada, the province of Ontario initiated proceedings in 2001 and the rest of the country followed suit, Bill C-38 receiving royal assent in 2005. The Netherlands opened the dikes in Europe and soon Belgium, Spain, and Norway were flooded. South Africa has taken reconciliation beyond the mandate of its original commission.
The UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in September 1995 adopted as its mission the obligation “to break down persistent gender stereotypes.” It has met with great success, extending its reach to take in both sexes. As Alexandra Colen, a member of the Belgian House of Representatives, ruefully commented, “The Beijing agenda has permeated the way our society thinks. … There is no doubt that a planned agenda is being implemented.” While many people, especially on the Left, consider this to be an infallible sign of social progressivism, it more likely than not signifies the opposite, the downward spiral of a civilization in decay.
There is a pungent irony at work in the ostensibly enlightened project of regendering our understanding of conjugality. While “advanced” societies are in the midst of legitimizing same-sex marriages, heterosexual unions are drying up. The corollary is that such societies stand little chance of long-term survival. As for same-sex unions, these have been a fact of mutual existence from earliest times. But same-sex marriages breach the premise of the institution of matrimony, which is propagation and child-rearing, reinforced by contractual security and meant to ensure existential continuance.
This is a position that has been eloquently defended by internationally renowned ethicist Margaret Somerville, author of The Ethical Canary and The Ethical Imagination, who has no problem with gay unions but vigorously opposes gay marriage. This she does on the grounds that children require both a mother and a father for optimal development, which includes not only full psychological and emotional growth but responsible citizenship and heed for the future. The alternative is what we can see happening all around us: escalating violence, the onset of communal anomie, and the collapse of standards of personal civility and public decorum, a condition which the damaged institution of matrimony can only exacerbate.
Homoeroticism may or may not be contra naturam — the concept is inherently ambiguous, and, after all, human beings have taken to the skies and the seas though nature has not provided them with wings and fins — but same-sex marriage is plainly contra societam. As such it is not only a contributor to the ongoing debacle but, no less significantly, a disturbing portent of a civilization in free fall, an index of what is coming down the pike. Could we take a step back and refocus our cultural-historical perception of, say, imperial Rome in one of its most depraved periods, we would see that this is exactly the pattern of debasement and excess we associate with a civilization inevitably approaching its end. Certainly, the practice of same-sex marriage is no less a mockery of the social dimension of our existence than Caligula vesting his horse with a consulship is a caricature of the political.
For a famous instance of same-sex marriage, the first in the recorded history of the West, we can read Suetonius’ account in The Twelve Caesars of the emperor Nero’s betrothal to a certain Sporus, going through “a wedding ceremony with him — dowry, bridal veil, and all — which the whole court attended.” Nero couldn’t get enough of what he reckoned a good thing and later married his freedman Doryphyrus. This exercise was only one among many of Nero’s extravagances, but it is symptomatic of an accelerating cultural degeneracy. As Edward Gibbon wrote in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, following the Roman History of Cassius Dio, the descent from traditional custom was consummated as a historical perversion by the third century when the emperor Elagabalus married his Carian slave Hierocles, whom he officially designated as his “husband.” This was royal assent with a vengeance.
Today, paradoxical as it may seem, the situation is far more destructive of social cohesion and cultural preservation than it was in the Roman centuries, for Nero’s and Elagabalus’ follies constituted a violation of Roman law whereas in the contemporary West the law is being changed to accommodate precisely such usages. What was once deemed a premonitory aberration is now becoming the legislative norm.