BLOG10 Months After Obergefell, It’s Time to Evaluate “Live and Let Live” Promises

By Alliance Defending Freedom Posted on: | May 13, 2016
Last June, the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges created a legal right to same-sex marriage. Before the decision, Christians and defenders of religious freedom were told that same-sex marriage was really about “live and let live;” it wouldn’t actually change marriage, it would just broaden it, extending the joy of marriage to more people. We also heard over and over that legalizing same-sex marriage wouldn’t affect people who believe that marriage is a union of a man and a woman. Of course no one would be forced to celebrate same-sex marriage against their convictions. And of course no one was advocating for things like polyamory to receive legal recognition as “marriage.”

Ten months later, it’s time to critically evaluate those claims. Dr. Robert George, a preeminent defender of the truth about marriage, did just that in a presentation to Catholic Phoenix about “Public Morality and Religious Liberty After Obergefell.” While we were most certainly assured that Christian adoption and foster organizations, schools, social service agencies, employees, business owners, and churches would not be punished for operating according to their beliefs, George says, “That was then, and this of course is now,” and we can see that “it was all obviously nonsense.” And the nonsense doesn’t show any signs of stopping.

Dr. George went on to remind that the argument for same-sex marriage claims that the belief in marriage as a life-long commitment between one man and one woman is ultimately arbitrary and doesn’t have any rational grounding. Therefore, the argument continues, changing out “one man, one woman” for two consenting adults of either gender is fine. But this argument is more insidious than it seems. Because it claims that the opposite-sex understanding of marriage is irrational, any dissent from same-sex marriage is fundamentally irrational, and should be treated like other irrational exclusionary beliefs like racism and sexism. It asserts that no reasonable person of good will can affirm that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. So if someone does, they are either unreasonable or malicious.

Same-sex marriage does more than expand the legal benefits of marriage to more people. It fundamentally changes the definition of marriage from a gender-complementary union with the capacity for procreation to a “sexual romantic partnership.” Marriage becomes a vehicle for companionship, and nothing more. This argument, Dr. George said, “assumes that no reason exists for regarding sexual complementarity as a basis for marriage.” It also, we find, assumes that there’s no reason for the partnership to be confined to two persons. Dr. George referenced a number of thinkers, scholars, and activists who, following the decision in Obergefell, swiftly switched to arguing in favor of polyamorous marriage (consisting of more than two partners) and rejecting the idea of monogamy as a foundational element of marriage. He referenced:

  • Professor Elizabeth Brake, who has argued for reciprocal legal relationships (marriage) to more than one person.
  • Professor Judith Stacey, who said that marriage has “varied, creative, and adaptive contours… [leading some to] question the dyadic limitations of Western marriage….” (Dyadic meaning two people).
  • Dan Savage, who encourages a “more flexible attitude” towards infidelity.

Lest he be accused, yet again, of fearmongering, Dr. George reminded us that less than ten years ago most Americans would not have believed that a Supreme Court ruling forcing same-sex marriage upon the country was anywhere in the near future. Those who warned that the cultural elites were pushing us deliberately in that direction were ignored. He cautioned us against falling into the same trap by believing that polyamory and open marriages won’t become commonly accepted. The goal, he said, is the complete destruction of a cultural appreciation for the truth about marriage—which involves the silencing of those who support it.

Even after Obergefell, many Americans have tragically refused to believe that there is a real threat to those who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and wish to live according to those beliefs. People would rather believe that there’s no problem, would rather not acknowledge that the culture and the country are changing around them in ways that threaten fundamental freedoms, because it’s frightening. But, Dr. George said, it’s clear what is in store for those who stand up for their right to live according to their beliefs about marriage: stigmatization, social ostracization, and civil disability (inability to work/loss of tax-exempt status).

Trying to strike a bargain with those who seek to redefine marriage is a fatal mistake, Dr. George said, because the goal isn’t to develop a society where people can live and let live. The goal is to stifle all views that disagree with liberal secular orthodoxy. “Liberal secularism,” Dr. George said, “will tolerate other views as long as they present no real challenge.” When they do present a challenge, they won’t be tolerated—as we are seeing in instance after instance across America. Jack Phillips, a cake artist who refused (as is his First Amendment-protected right) to use his talents to express support for same-sex marriage, now must choose between losing his business and enduring “reeducation classes” that belittle and undermine his deeply held beliefs. This tactic—forcing a choice between participation in civil society and government-run “reeducation”—is a favorite tool of totalitarian regimes to silence dissent. It is now turned on Americans who hold Christian beliefs about marriage.

But in the face of all this, Dr. George said that defeatism is also a fatal mistake.

We often hear that it’s “inevitable” that people will come to accept and celebrate all forms of sexual romantic partnerships as marriage, and that those who hold doggedly to the truth about marriage will disappear. “But the reality of human freedom is the foiler of inevitability theses,” Dr. George said. This has been demonstrated time and time again in history: 

  • After Roe v. Wade, liberal secularists said that “the conversation is over” and “abortion is the law of the land,” and many people believed that in just a few years, any significant pro-life movement in America would die out. Today, America is more pro-life than at any time since Roe v. Wade, and the movement is more organized, younger, and more vocal than ever before.
  • In the 1920s, it was considered “backwards,” “close-minded,” and “barbaric” to dissent from the practice of eugenics, the forced sterilization of men and women who were considered socially undesirable. The Supreme Court itself ruled that sterilization was constitutionally permitted, with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes delivering his chilling line, “Three generations of idiots is enough.” Today, forced sterilization is widely considered morally repugnant.
But human freedom only resists inevitability if we use it—if we stand up to injustice and falsehood and boldly proclaim the truth no matter what the threats and consequences are. Dr. George left us with a charge: “Refuse to be intimidated. Openly love what is good and defy and resist whatever opposes it. Work diligently in the public square. Be prepared to pay the cost of discipleship,” but know that it will not be paid in vain. 

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