A grand misconception is embedding itself in the public brain: To wit, the Supreme Court soon will clue us in to the true meaning of marriage.
Nope. No way. Isn’t so. Can’t be so.
This despite the court’s intention, announced last week, to decide whether gays and lesbians merit constitutional entitlement to wed. I am obliged to note the discrepancy between, on the one hand, what commentators blatantly suggest is going on here and, on the other hand, what the most solemn assemblage of judges you ever set eyes on has actual power to do.
The justices of the Supreme Court have no power to recast marriage as something other than civilization, especially the civilization of the West, in which we live and move and have our being, has forever understood it to be. That thing is the union of man and woman, conceived as opposite, yet complementary, beings.
The legal union of man and man, of woman and woman, howsoever loudly clamored for, fails to meet the test for conformity to the institution our judges purport to examine. To fail to meet that particular test isn’t to say anything at all against those who don’t pass. Their guilt, if any, lies in taxing the nation’s attention span with claims for the right of trespass on the larger community’s cultural pasturage. It could be said these people have hoodwinked themselves.
The honorable justices have no more power to transform the venerable institution of marriage than has, say, an academy of music to declare that a harmonica is a bull fiddle.
What the court has power to say is that — whoopee! — we’ve invented a whole new institution, called marriage by courtesy, if not by right. That’s because, thanks to us on the court, we’ve got side-by-side marital institutions. One accommodates the court claimants — those who want to marry whomever they like. The other institution keeps up the original arrangements, reflecting so far as possible the realities of Creation; man and woman as generators and transmitters of life, each bestowing distinct blessings on their children.
The overhaul of marriage, if it comes to pass, would be a vast task, requiring brass and presumption of a sort rarely exhibited in a Western democratic setting. The court may or may not be up to such an enterprise. The fact is that marriage — a sacrament in Christian terms; “instituted of God,” in the language of the Book of Common Prayer — is a constituent element of the life Christianity, as well as Judaism, views as suitable for the children of God.
Now if you’re minded to say, “Children of God, my hind foot!,” as many these days are minded, you likely don’t mind dismantling any institution built on old-fashioned religious principles and thus understood as transcendent — surpassing human judgment; out there in Reality, whether we like it or not.
Among these old-fashioned principles: the preeminence of the family structure, with father and mother at its head, a pair joined by sacred pledges — “to love and to cherish, till death do us part … “
It ought to be said — it ought to be borne down on, hard — that such are the premises the West always has bought into. Wrong ones? Outdated as a calico bonnet? Who says so, huh? On what basis? With what authority?
With zero authority, it is fair to say. Arguments against understanding marriage in the “traditional” sense seem based mostly on the very modern, very subjective notion that I — got that? first-person “I” — can say about sex whatever I want to, make whatever claims I like, apply to myself whatever rules I like, if any at all, never mind what some primitive Near Eastern god may have said about the matter long centuries ago.
Modern confusion about sex is in fact a reversion to the primitivism that existed before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob undertook to clarify His intentions concerning human life and its duties. Into the clamorous disorders of the present day various moderns want to drag, of all bodies, the U.S. Supreme Court for a reading, a re-interpretation, a new take on The Way Things Ought to Be.
Are we thrilled yet?
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