Sunday, April 02, 2006
Gay Marriage: Ambivalence Could Be A Tragic Mistake
As a resident of southern Utah, just a short drive from the polygamist enclaves of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona, I read Charles Krauthammer’s recent Washington Post column “Pandora and Polygamy” with great interest.
As is usually the case with a Krauthammer column, it was both thoughtful and well written. He is absolutely right that the line of reasoning one has to take in order to justify legal recognition of gay marriage is the same line of reasoning that has long been used by my southern Utah neighbors in defense of polygamy. The old saying, “politics makes strange bedfellows,” certainly applies in this case. No doubt, my neighbors would never have guessed that the gay rights movement would be the source of legal salvation for polygamy. God does move in mysterious ways.
But there was something Krauthammer said in his column that bothered me. Explaining his ambivalence to the prospect of legalized gay marriage, he said the following:
“I'm not one of those who see gay marriage or polygamy as a threat to, or assault on, traditional marriage…..The minting of these new forms of marriage is a symptom of our culture's contemporary radical individualism — as is the decline of traditional marriage — and not its cause.”
Krauthammer is obviously correct in his assertion that the decline of traditional marriage is a symptom of deeper problems in our culture. But it is a mistake to make the leap from that fact to a conclusion that gay marriage and polygamy are not threats to traditional marriage. It’s the equivalent of saying that when someone is very sick it’s okay to ignore additional symptoms that might develop. And never mind treating symptoms, only the root cause of the illness matters.
You most likely know from your own medical history that treating symptoms, not ignoring them, is an important aspect of medical care. In fact medical treatment almost always consists of two parallel tracks: mitigating the symptoms and eradicating the root causes of the disease. And if the root causes are stubborn, symptom mitigation is even more important. In fact, symptom mitigation can be necessary to keep the patient alive long enough to affect a permanent cure. And that’s exactly the situation we are in with traditional marriage. I’m afraid the ultimate cure for the decline of traditional marriage is either a long way off or will never be found.
Therefore, we certainly should not abandon treating the symptoms of the decline of traditional marriage. We need to do everything possible to prevent additional complications that could weaken this patient beyond the point of recovery. And it should be clear to everyone that marriage is in very tough shape already. In this politically correct era nobody likes to talk openly about it, but it is indisputable that single-parenthood and high divorce rates are primary contributors to the obvious deterioration of American culture in recent years.
Selfishness, promiscuity, lack of accountability and disregard for life are just a few of the many root causes of this tragic disease. They are personality traits that are now deeply ingrained in the personalities of too many Americans. These traits will not be rooted out of the personalities of those who already possess them. Unfortunately, the root causes will therefore not be cured in our lifetime. Saving traditional marriage is a project that will take generations.
And that’s why it is so important that we not fall prey to the idea that traditional marriage is already so ill that we shouldn’t worry about adding gay marriage to the laundry list of symptoms afflicting it. Legalizing gay marriage would be a life threatening blow to traditional marriage because it would further dilute the value of traditional marriage in the eyes of the public. If there are additional alternatives to traditional marriage, there will be less emphasis on the importance of traditional marriage.
We should spend more time devising ways to strengthen and encourage traditional marriage, not finding more ways to destroy it. If we don’t mitigate the symptoms while we work on the ultimate cure, traditional marriage, the most essential building block of the American way of life, could expire before the cure is found.