One of the most most rhetorically successful and popular ways to defend homosexual (gay) marriage is the appeal to “marriage equality.” The argument is, in short: if heterosexuals may marry and enjoy the social and civil benefits of the institution then homosexuals, who deserve equality under the law, should be allowed the same benefits by participating in the institution of marriage. There are two great problems with this argument. First equality is quite the wrong category by which to analyze the problem of homosexual marriage and second the assumption that homosexual behavior deserves equal protection under the law.
Homosexual behavior does not deserve equal protection under the law. Please understand that I am not calling for the abuse of homosexuals as persons. Those who identify themselves as homosexuals deserve equal civil protection from criminal acts against them. Homosexuals, like all other sinners, are bearers of the divine image. It does not follow, however, that everything homosexuals do, including chiefly homosexual behavior, is deserving of equal protection under the law.
Magistrates exist to preserve order and to execute justice. They must do so on some basis. They do not create by fiat the order they preserve. Rather, they recognize what has already been established by nature. That is why magistrates (from magister or master or teacher) are also ministers. They serve an authority above them, the law, which, in the civil realm, is grounded in nature. The magistrate is ordained by God to preserve order, which is determined by creation. Understood properly, that natural order is not an arbitrary, man-made category created by one class to oppress or control another.
Nature is objective (i.e., outside) to all of us, it is received by us, and we must order our lives according to it or face the consequences. It’s easy to establish that there is such a thing as nature. Climb a tall structure and jump. What will happen? We can predict because there is a creational institution (or law): gravity. That law, though perhaps superseded or modified by Einstein’s theory, still describes our universal sense experience. It is neither fair or unfair, just or unjust. It simply is. It cannot be defied without consequences. The same is true with sexual behavior. There are natural laws that govern sexual behavior that cannot be defied without consequences. We know by nature that pederasty, pedophilia, and bestiality are all contrary to nature. It is only quite recently that some have begun to argue that homosexual behavior is natural but the claim defies universal sense experience.
Pro-homosexual marriage advocates ignore the reality of the natural order for the purpose of justifying or gaining legal protection for homosexual behavior. Yet it is obvious that the very act of homosexuality is contrary to the natural order. This is a family blog so I cannot explain in detail why it is contrary to the natural order but anyone who is unsure should betake himself to the nearest pasture where there are sheep or cattle and simply watch the animals for a few days. Yes, one might see occasional homosexual acts but the normal or ordinary pattern of things is heterosexual activity. Homosexual activity is the exception, not the norm. Further, though humans are mammals, we are not cattle or sheep. We were created in the divine image and thus we have the natural intellectual and voluntary capacities to avoid doing what cattle and sheep occasionally do. The fact that is happens does not make it natural. Pederasty and bestiality and murder happen but that does not make them natural acts in the same sense in which gravity is a natural phenomenon. Homosexual behavior is so obviously contrary to nature that it’s one of the behaviors to which the Apostle Paul appealed in his exposition of natural or creational law. He knew that pagans, Jews, and Christians could all see that homosexual behavior is manifestly contrary to the natural order:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for ua lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Paul was not appealing to Moses nor to the theocratic legislation issued under Moses (613 commandments) but to nature. His citation of homosexual behavior only works because it is universal sense experience that homosexual behavior is contrary to the intended, natural order of things. Obviously, procreation happens via heterosexual, not homosexual, behavior. Homosexuals are, if you will, living off of borrowed capital provided by heterosexuals. They can only do what they do, so long as heterosexuals continue to do what they do. Should heterosexuals stop procreating, the human race would die out. This truth should be so obvious that we should be embarrassed to say it but here we are. We are at the place in our culture we one must say the most obvious things because we’ve become so culturally oblivious to the obvious. When most people think that food appears magically in the grocery store, then we have become sufficiently alienated from nature as to require basic tutorials. Food does not appear magically in the store. Someone, somewhere grew it—all the while adhering to the natural order lest the crop not grow. Those who would deny that there is such a thing as nature (e.g., “food just appears”) presuppose those who still adhere to nature.
It is with nature that the magistrate must concern himself. There are limits to what people may be allowed to do. Humans may not murder other humans. Humans have a natural right to live and they may not be deprived of that right without due process. Arbitrating such cases is the magistrate’s business. Marriage is a natural, creational, institution received by and administered by the magistrate. It is not a mere arbitrary, nominal convention cruelly imposed by mean-spirited heterosexuals for the purpose of hurting or controlling homosexuals. Marriage is fundamental to the natural order and it is inherently heterosexual. The union of homosexuals, whatever it be, is not a marriage. The magistrate may no more license or sanction the violation of the natural order in marriage any more than he may sanction the violation of the natural order in physics or murder. Why don’t murderers get “equal rights”? Because they don’t have any right to commit murder. This is why “equality,”, however appealing it may be to the post-19th-century American egalitarian spirit, is the wrong category by which to analyze who may marry whom.
If we’re going to ignore nature and use “equality,” as the governing rubric then how, on such a basis may we exclude the “marriage,” of humans and animals or adults with children? Don’t laugh. Homosexual marriage is only the starting point in the war against nature. Bestiality is already being advocated in leading universities. This is not the dreaded “slippery slope” argument. The same arguments used to promote homosexual behavior and homosexual marriage are now being used to promote other contra-natural unions.
Like murder, homosexual behavior and unions are not adjudicated under “equality” because that assumes things are false and contrary to the creational order. This is why pedophilia or incest or bestiality are not treated under the rubric “equality.” This is why racial inequity must be treated under the rubric of equality, because it is contrary to the natural order for people to be deprived of their liberty because of their race. Race or ethnicity is not the same thing as homosexual behavior. No one chooses to be Caucasian, Asian, or African. “But”, one might argue, “no one chooses to be homosexual”. Even if it that is true (and it is a highly disputed proposition) it does not follow that homosexual behavior is necessary. Caucasians, Asians, and Africans cannot be other than they are and one’s race does not necessitate any behavior because of race. One’s race does not justify murder. Thus, even if one is born with a homosexual orientation it does not follow that the law must sanction homosexual behavior. Some people are born with unnatural inclinations. We don’t permit sociopaths to practice sociopathic behavior. Even if some are born with a homosexual inclination society has a right to expect that class of people not to act on their impulse and certainly such an innate inclination creates no necessity on the part of a society to license it.
It is true that the categories of “nature” and “natural law” have been abused in the past in order to justify racial oppression and in order to commit crimes against humanity. The abuse of a category doesn’t destroy the category of analysis. The French radicals appealed to “equality” in order to justify mass murder as did the Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot but that does not obliterate the category of equality.
Further, the proponents of homosexual marriage cannot appeal to nature and deny it at the same time, in the same way. They cannot argue that homosexuality is a natural condition or natural phenomenon and, at the same time, deny the category of nature when it suits their agenda. If nature exists, then it exists.
I understand that late moderns are deeply suspicious of nature but I think that late moderns are still capable of reason in civil matters. First, we have to overcome the late modern aversion to nature. We must establish that there are boundaries to what humans may do, that we are not endlessly plastic, that there is a pattern that we all inherited, to which we must conform, which we must observe. No human instituted gravity. Speed limits do not apply only to one race or another. They apply to all equally. Theft is a crime for everyone. Most people still recognize such basic, creational universals. We should begin with them and work back to marriage. We might start with the question: which group of people invented marriage? It’s a trick question. No one “invented” marriage. The question assumes a false premise but I guess that many, particularly those under 40 simply gratuitously assume that marriage is just another social, artificial, institution fabricated by someone, somewhere, to control them. Of course countless heterosexual parents have given them plenty of reason to think so, have they not? Those who argue that the destruction of marriage began long before the debate about homosexual marriage.
So, the answer to the problem of homosexual marriage is not “equality” but nature but it is long road back to recovering that category in a deeply suspicious age. Nevertheless, on reflection, if we think about something as basic as food, we may begin to see that, though we are increasingly alienated from nature, nevertheless, it still is and so we are necessarily bound by and obligated to it.