Something We Agree On

Is there a liberal case against gay "marriage"? Susan Shell, professor of political science at Boston College, thinks there is. She published an article on that very subject in the latest issue of the Public Interest. Shell believes that the liberal thing to do is not to impose same-sex "marriage" on our society, but rather, to find some middle ground that everyone can agree on. In her words, we need "to find a way of understanding marriage that is similarly true to the human situation and at the same time relatively impartial." Obviously, a Christian is going to have problems with Shell's belief that human beings define marriage, rather than a transcendent moral law. Nonetheless, her argument is still a valuable one, because she correctly identifies the factor that distinguishes marriage from every other type of arrangement. Oddly enough, it's a factor that many liberals don't want to talk about at all. "A suitable account of marriage might," Shell writes, "begin as follows: Most human societies have honored the notion that special responsibility for children lies with the biological parents. . . . Human generation has a significance that is more than arbitrary, if less than obvious. Marriage is the primary way societies interpret that significance, and it is doubtful whether any other custom could substitute for it adequately . . . " She goes on to argue, "Even marriage among those past child-rearing age or otherwise infertile draws on notions of partnership and mutual aid that has its primary roots in the experience of shared biological parenthood." Shell concludes that this is why marriage must remain unchanged: It has a special meaning and purpose. It protects children and strengthens the "natural bonds" -- as she puts it -- among family members. And this, she says, is what's wrong with liberal arguments in favor of same-sex "marriage." As an example, she cites Jonathan Rauch's new book, Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America. Rauch endorses the idea of marriage as companionship above all else. Marriage, to him, means knowing "that there is someone out there for whom you are always first in line." As Shell points out, "Rauch views marriage as a response to the fears of adults that they might one day be abandoned, rather than to the fears of parents for their children, let alone the fears of children that they might actually be abandoned here and now." She notes that, "Not every proponent of gay marriage makes the same arguments as Rauch. Still, few centrally insist upon the automatic parental rights and duties intrinsic to marriage as it is almost universally experienced." That's because they've come up with a different model for marriage, one that simply provides companionship. As Shell's argument helps us understand, if we gave the name of marriage to a union that could not possibly produce a child, the whole meaning of the word would dramatically change. Now there's a lot to disagree with in Shell's article -- for example, her endorsement of civil unions. But we owe her a debt of gratitude for emphasizing an all-important point. I encourage everyone to read this article, because her "liberal case" is one we can make with our neighbors and with many others -- including Christians who say they don't want to impose our views on society. For further reading and information: Susan M. Shell, "The Liberal Case against Gay Marriage," Public Interest, Summer 2004. Stanley Kurtz, "No Explanation," National Review Online, 3 June 2004. Stanley Kurtz, "Unhealthy Half Truths," National Review Online, 25 May 2004. BreakPoint Commentary No. 040621, "Dutch Disaster: How Holland Destroyed Marriage." Jonathan Rauch, "A More Perfect Union," Atlantic Monthly, April 2004. This article is drawn from Rauch's new book Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America. Read a transcript of an American Enterprise Institute symposium, "Should Conservatives Favor Same-Sex Marriage?" which included Jonathan Rauch along with Michael Novak, Charles Murray, and Christopher DeMuth of AEI. Rev. John C. Rankin, "A Conversation with Homosexual Advocates," BreakPoint Online, 27 October 2003. Visit See BreakPoint's sanctity of marriage resource page. Call 1-877-322-5527 to request the free BreakPoint marriage amendment information packet and the free "Talking Points on Marriage and Same-Sex Unions." Also available is the Speak the Truth in Love kit (suggested donation: $25).


Chuck Colson


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