New York Redefines Marriage

New York has redefined the public institution of marriage. No blog by an amateur can do justice to this momentous event, but I must add my voice, constrained by time, to share some of the perspective that has come especially over the past 15 years.

Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto, reflecting the preexisting marriage pathologies that contributed to the plausibility of same-sex marriage, Tweets “[G]ood news for NY men. We can now marry without worrying wife will take half our stuff in divorce. Downside: marrying a dude.”

I believe this is the first time a state has redefined marriage democratically and without a measure of judicial coercion (Vermont and Iowa, I believe, may have voted “under the gun” of court decisions mandating them to “fix this,” in effect).

I have yet to hear a convincing account of (1) how typically procreative male-female bonds are no different for purposes of justice from inherently non-procreative homosexual relations, or (2) even if there’s no principled difference, what the state interest is in gay couples, as gay couples (as opposed to unmarried adult brothers or sisters) pairing off. Both questions are serious ones, and I scarcely hear any attempts to address the second question.

This political and cultural movement is driven by some combination of, among other things, sentimentalism (including a crude and credulous egalitarian narrative of “what America is all about”), anti-Christian transgressivism and the failure of illegitimi non carborundum (there are too many people who got too damned tired of being called “bigots,” eventually withdrawing from the field with a naïve “what real harm is there?” shrug).

Sentimentalism is the force of feel-goodism, the means by which we may cast off the conventions of faith and casually dismiss those institutions that refuse to submit to the trending times and morals. The Sentimentalist trusts his feelings over hallowed authority or the urgings of his reason, frequently answering hard religious questions with some noble-sounding phrase like “The God I believe in wouldn’t…” (fill in the blank). What fits in that blank is typically some tenet of traditional faith that isn’t currently fashionable, some moral demand that pop culture considers impossible—and hence, not worth even trying. Thus the Sentimentalist, while believing he follows the inviolate voice of his conscience, is really sniffing after trends, forming his heart according to the sensus fidelium of middlebrow magazines and public radio.

A Sentimentalist cannot reconcile religious convictions—whether rooted in scripture, tradition or cultural practice—that do not correspond with his own considered feelings, which for him are both weighty and principled. Convinced that the people he loves cannot possibly be denied anything they want by a just God, or that the same just God would not permit deformities, illness, war, childhood abuse, or any of the human sufferings common to us all, he will not participate in a Church so fault-riddled and out-of-step with a generous and enlightened generation as…his own.

(Quote from The Anchoress)

Among my many concerns about the effects of redefining marriage is the effect on religious freedom. New York threw us religious dogs a bone with some religious freedom protections that weren’t in early drafts. But as the ripples go out from a major cultural revolution like this, no statutory protection will ever suffice to protect believers in monogamous heterosexual marriage from being marginalized as eccentric bigots.

For instance — a rather obvious one — school texts will “mainstream” this marriage redefinition and tell the story of how it came about. For the intermediate future, until human nature prevails over ideology, anything like orthodox Christianity will be portrayed grimly.

At times like this, I’m glad to be an Orthodox Christian, because although New York’s move is ugly and inconsistent with true human thriving, and although it’s contributing to the marginalization of Christians, I just cannot get frantic and anxious. There are plenty of self-styled Christians who have been frantic and anxious, and will be even more so now, but they — in their Bible-thumping political pushiness since the Moral Majority era — have invited backlash.

I don’t use the “Bible-thumping” notion merely for rhetorical effect. I’ve been in public meetings on weighty issues, trying to make a case from shared principles, only to be undermined by louts whose only argument, buttressed literally with waving Bible, is “thus saith the Lord.” They presumably are among those who buy the dwindling “Christian America” narrative, the obvious fact having eluded them that even if America once was Christian (an equivocal description that I equivocally deny), it ain’t no more.

So why am I glad to be Orthodox? Because, in this context, you can’t stand in an Orthodox Liturgy regularly, surrounded by the the great “cloud of witnesses” cheering you on in your Christian race (of whom we’re reminded by icons); and especially you cannot hear the full Synaxarion of Saints we are commemorating that day, read in the Matins service that precedes liturgy — most of whom died as martyrs — without understanding that “confession” (being persecuted for the Faith or for beliefs that accompany it) and even martyrdom (witnessing to the Faith by laying down your life for it) is the ordinary state of Christian life. The freedom that has decreasingly prevailed during my lifetime is the anomaly.

So it may get grim out there for all Christians to the right of the United Church of Christ on the marriage issue, and many “churches” will move left as the cultural mainstream moves left, but be of good cheer. We know the one who has overcome, and he’ll give the grace to endure. Heck, this coming era may even be “the refiner’s fire,” burning off dross.

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