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.
The gay or LGBT community is obviously a sub-demographic whose numbers in themselves do not warrant alarm and whose existence is wholly acceptable. Rainbow flags brighten the air and gay parades are colorful festivals. And besides, live and let live. Rather, the dilemma is that the institutions which keep a society intact and guarantee its prolongation are now being redefined in such a way as to cancel their fundamental purpose. With respect to matrimony, the redefinition proceeds in the name of either compatibility, which is a welcome component of marriage but, from a societal point of view, is not the sole or even essential reason for marrying, or of untrammeled desire, often specified as a right or an entitlement. But homosexual matrimony is, in more ways than one, a non-starter. In fact, it is heterosexual matrimony that should be an object of equal or greater concern since it is teetering daily toward dysfunctionality. The one, however, is merely the obverse of the other.
Recent legislation favoring same-sex marriage is not, in my view, an indicator of a compassionate and socially progressive culture as many have automatically presumed. It is, rather, a prime indicator of decadence, the weakening of common sense, and the dissipation of belief in a common future. What we do in our private lives is for the most part our own business, but in the public sphere the disciplined adherence to the principle of continuity is indispensable. The fiscal and social amenities that accrue to the married condition are a form of recompensation, a reward for the duties of procreation and bringing up children in, ideally, a stable environment. There is no reason for gay unions to profit from status recognition, tax breaks, pension and inheritance rights, family courts, civil enactments, and the like. These are privileges that must be earned and that reflect the labor and sacrifice involved in the reproduction of the generations.
What else is there that renders us deserving of such exemptions and prerogatives? Unions which are in their nature unreproductive do not merit special dispensation by the state, as if Big Brother had turned into Big Daddy. This is not a moral question we are debating but a civilizational requisite we forfeit at our peril. The issue is not the bed but the altar. People can sleep with whom they wish, live with whom they want, but legal vetting and economic advantages are properly accorded to the progenitive or, since not all marriages are fecund, the potentially fertile. The beneficiaries of legal recognition and appropriate indemnification should be those who have invested in, or are at least capable of endowing, the larger social enterprise, namely, perpetuation.
We have now entered the realm of farce. The Ontario Court of Appeal, for example, adjudicating a case in which a lesbian couple accepted a sperm donation from a homosexual friend, decided that a child may have two legal mothers and that the donor father may claim access. Clearly, marriage and the nuclear family are being reconstrued out of existence by a Carrollian judiciary since the precedent that has been established is effectively non-containable. Indeed, Piet Hein Donner, Dutch minister of justice, has recently pleaded the case for the legitimacy of polyamorous “group marriage.”
Adding to the element of burlesque is the fact that it is now the gay community among the secular population that appears to have become the most outspoken stakeholder in the traditional institution of marriage. No matter. There is little future in an empty crèche. Pregnancy in the developed world has tended to become something of a fashion statement and marriage a ritual performance to validate the barren. As Claire Berlinski writes in her dirge for a civilization, Menace in Europe, “Not since the Great Plague has Europe’s population been so dramatically gutted,” the reproductive replacement rate plunging sharply below the magic number of 2.1. Only in those Western nations still committed to preserving their historical and cultural lineage do the numbers resist erosion: the United States, which — up to now at any rate — has maintained the ratio, and Israel, which exceeds it.
It is truly as if we no longer wish to perpetuate ourselves and to take custodial responsibility for the future but instead prefer to knit our energies and loyalties to a convergent present, the acquisition of ancillaries, career and sensations, immediate remunerations, the cult of private pleasure, and political infatuations that pander to our easy sense of righteousness and our emotional autism. The global warming hysteria with its avowed planetary solicitude does not invalidate the hypothesis. Based on demonstrably incomplete science and riven by contradictions and bogus claims, the ecological crescendo has become a process whereby the New Age pursuit of self-esteem and “self-realization” is magnified as the salvation of the earth. It has not occurred to our environmental zealots that without children, there is no afterward, regardless of the temperature.
In effect, the Western individual has “progressively” tended to become a pure consumer preoccupied chiefly with the aggrandizement of self, owing as often as not to his or her credentials as a member of some presumably marginalized class, group, organization, or faction. Profiting from an ethnology of complaint, resentment, immunity, and special treatment, he or she manifests as what the French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in Anti-Oedipus called a “desiring machine” and sociologist Gilles Lipovetsky in L’Être du Vide described as a “floating space … pure availability.” Lipovetsky’s analysis has become increasingly pertinent, anatomizing “the beginning of a postmodern culture … that was satisfied merely to democratize hedonist logic,” a culture moving away from the communal domain toward a value-deficit world wedded to sterility, prone to faddish intoxications, and hovering on the brink of implosion.
This condition of domestic recreancy and unfettered emotivity comprises, as much as anything else, a “clear and present danger.” It is a danger that may assume many different forms, including, as we have seen, the social redefinition of marriage in terms of the couple rather than in terms of the children. As Allan Bloom (despite his own sexual leanings) cogently argued in The Closing of the American Mind, since the family must be understood as both the nucleus and reflection of the larger civilization, the fate of the latter cannot be separated from that of the former.
It is important that the distinction I am making between same-sex unions and same-sex marriage is not interpreted as a form of homophobia. What I am saying is that, unlike the freedom to choose one’s erotic or live-in partners, same-sex marriage is not a civil rights issue, as many activists erroneously claim. Rather, it is the right to express one’s sexual orientation without fear of repressive legal measures or state persecution that qualifies as a civil rights issue. But the legal and plenary status of traditional marriage is integral to the welfare and propagation of culture, society, and civilization and must therefore be safeguarded.
Gays have come out of the closet and entered common life without shame or inhibition, which is a necessary and desirable outcome of liberating social movements. It does not mean, however, that a person’s heteroclite sexual choices permit him or her to enter the Constitution or the sacraments, that is, into state-sanctioned formal arrangements. The individual’s sexual orientation and erotic preferences, as such, have nothing to do with the state, any more than his or her appetites, tastes, reveries, longings, or dreams can be legislated or licensed. Given the virtues of limited government and the proviso of non-interference in the private and intimate life of its citizens, the state’s proper objective is to ensure the security and survival of the society which it serves.
In this regard, upholding the institution of marriage is critical. If, for example, we lived in a Hollywood/Arnold Schwarzenegger world, as in the film Junior, in which a man could bear a child, there would be no scruple over waiving the legal impediments to same-sex marriage. Regrettably, this is not the case, transgender Thomas Beatie, a.k.a. Tracy Lagondino, notwithstanding. Beatie, after all, assuming his much-publicized claim to pregnancy is not a hoax, did not have his reproductive organs surgically altered.
Same-sex marriage is quite literally a no-brainer. Predicated on the disintegration of a fundamental structure of social and civilizational viability and the desertification of the womb, it’s only function is to deplete society of a sustainable future while catering to the whims and “needs” of what we might call the “group individual.” All this under the sign of “progressivism,” a doctrine that has espoused the ideology of identity politics in which group membership trumps both the autonomous individual and the larger social contract.
Same-sex marriage is both a cause and an effect of the pervasive narcissism and acedia that is coming more and more to characterize the therapeutic world we live in — a world in which the state replaces the community, recreational sex is promoted at the expense of procreational sex, an improvisatory legalism does duty for traditional morality, the underdog has been rebadged as the overlord, and the group individual rejoices in the grievances which empower him.
“The future is not what it used to be,” said poet Paul Valéry, surveying the human wreckage of the First World War. The sentiment is truer now than it ever was.