It has been just six years since I wrote Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity, warning against the fantasy that two members of the same sex can marry one another, when they cannot even have sexual relations but can only mimic them. I founded my arguments not upon Scripture or the teaching of the Church—indeed I did not refer to them at all—but upon common observation, historical and cultural precedent, and the biology of male and female.
The principal opponent I had in mind was not the person already engaged in the fantasy, but the fence-sitter, the “moderate,” who can be found in all of us, and not usually to our credit. The earth is heaving from beneath, and we shrug because it’s not making our own house tremble, or at least not too much. We cannot worry about everything. No one has the energy for that. So in a time of rapid change and decay in our fundamental institutions, we keep a handhold on this or that which seems healthy enough for our purposes for the time being. “The public schools are dreadful, but ours is not so bad,” we say. Or we say, “At least our children will have a mother and a father.” The sky is not falling.
Predictions of disaster usually fail. This is because they extrapolate from trends, which are temporary, or from the rate of change in a trend, which is more temporary still, or because they imagine a future factor which confirms and accelerates the change. But sometimes the predictions come true, and this is not by chance. When the prediction is based upon the playing-out of principles, and when it is buttressed by historical precedent and a firm grasp upon human nature, it is likely to come true, mainly because it is not a prediction so much as a cold and penetrating analysis of what already is. So it was when Pope Paul VI predicted that the mass use of contraception would lead to more abortions and more children born out of wedlock, and the world, inattentive and irresponsible, laughed. But the world was wrong, and the Pope was right.
The world now seems to have finished with saying, “Extending the right of marriage to same-sex couples will have no effect upon anybody else,” and now is beginning to say that it doesn’t matter what effect it will have, because a right is a right, and that is all. The parallel with what happened with contraception and abortion is clear enough. Justice Douglas based his reasoning on Griswold v. Connecticut, which struck down the state’s law prohibiting the sale of contraceptive pills, on the holy privacy of the marriage bed, shrugging away any argument that the pill would make the holiness of that bed a thing of the past. And that was about the last we have heard of it from the Supreme Court. We were told that making abortion legal would result not in more abortions, but in safe abortions of the same number; and no mere third party, even the third party called the father, should be permitted to enter the inner sanctum of a woman’s relationship with her doctor. Holiness is apparently fungible.
I do not say that the sky is going to fall. It has fallen. We were already in very bad times. Only a small percentage of people in the flower of youth are married. So I argued that we should not drive even further the wedge between man and woman. How could same-sex pseudogamy do that? Well, a principle or the abrogation of a principle works its way through the social system like a general nourishment or poison. The poison here is this: the denial that man and woman are made for one another. I am speaking of Genesis. The point is both biological and anthropological. Before we address the political question of how people can be united across incomes, professions, geographical divisions, creeds, and levels of education, we must unite them across that first tremendous abysm in humanity, that which divides man and woman; otherwise all our talk about unity is in vain. You cannot build a city with rubble.
I had no idea six years ago that relations between the sexes in the advanced nations of the West—those nations in whom the disease of sexual individualism is far advanced—could deteriorate as badly and as fast as they have. When people pay tribute to innocence, they can express their being-male and being-female in a healthy and broad variety of ways. The grounds are open and safe. But evil crowds out the innocent. A man can lose his job if he tells a woman that it’s a handsome dress she is wearing. He will be thrown together with the cads that the collapse in sexual mores does in fact produce. She, for her part, will be ever dissatisfied with her lot, and will blame her disappointments on “the patriarchy”—in the least patriarchal society ever to have existed on earth. Young men are surly in their sexual isolation, which is as similar to chastity as whoredom is to marriage. Young women declare that they are proud of their abortions. They strip in public to protest against whatever, for hysteria will always find a cause.
Male and female God has made us, and I am inclined to accept the suggestion that the image of God was incomplete in Adam without Eve. But that suggestion makes no sense at all under feminism or its latest instantiation, in mock-sex and mock-marriage. That is, I believe, feminism’s original sin, the fons et origo of the sexual and social chaos arisen from it with dreary but sudden inevitability. A sane person would look upon the relation between man and woman and notice that it is unique. It is not like the friendship of man and man. It is not like the friendship of woman and woman. It is not neighborliness, or dutifulness in a child, or mutual assistance in a business, or the commonality of interests in a club. It and it alone is productive of new life, of the children we so thoughtlessly murder, whose innocence we so thoughtlessly corrupt, and whose security in the home we so thoughtlessly toss aside. A woman needs a man as a fish needs a bicycle, said the feminists, not pausing to consider that if it were not for men they would have neither fish nor bicycles, nor roads to ride the bicycles on.
But we have already passed from denying that the latest thrust into sexual decadence would harm marriage to not caring whether it does. I should not need to say that that carelessness is not compatible with the social teachings of the Catholic Church, which are founded upon the created reality of marriage and the family, and which prescind not from individual desires but from the duties that we owe to one another as members of bodies. The social body that is nearest to the creating hand of God is that union of man and woman, which is meant to blossom forth in children, or which, in cases of infertility, is a glowing exemplar of that union, a cause by way of example. With every proposal regarding men and women, boys and girls, sexual morality, and the raising and educating of children, we should ask whether it affirms or denies the reality of marriage, whether it promotes or frustrates understanding and cooperation between the sexes, whether it springs from gratitude or resentment, from hope or despair, from materialist individualism of one kind or another, or from the joy of membership in an embodied society.
There was a time when Catholics on the economic left and right agreed about the end for which we have economies at all; they disagreed about the means. It is time we remembered that end.
Author: Anthony Esolen
Anthony Esolen, a contributing editor at Crisis, is a professor and writer-in-residence at Northeast Catholic College. Dr Esolen has authored several books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008), Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013).