Category archives: Marriage

We’re Better Together

by Daniel Hart

June 7, 2017

In a recent column for The Daily Signal, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) makes a striking observation about the current unease that has infused our society:

…[M]any Americans—poor, middle class, and wealthy—feel that something is amiss. It is a feeling that cannot be reduced to economic anxiety. Rather, there is a sense that our social fabric is fraying.

And these concerns are reflected in objective measures of family and community health.

To cite just a few of the trends that may be grouped under the rubric of “social capital”: marriage and churchgoing have declined, distrust of the nation’s institutions has grown, mixed-income neighborhoods have become rarer, regional polarization has increased, and young men who are neither working nor looking for work have become more numerous and more isolated.

We do less together than in the past, and we are worse off for it, economically and otherwise…

We do less together than in the past…” This insight hits on a deep need that all human beings share: a sense of belonging. We all have the innate desire to be needed and to belong in a community. To accomplish this, human beings need to be together. This seems painfully obvious, but as Mike Lee observed, our society has seen a decline in two of the primary institutions that foster “togetherness”: marriage and churchgoing.

The benefits of marriage to individuals and to society as a whole are incalculable, but let’s focus on the particular power of marriage to bring people together. When a man and a woman marry, they are participating in something far beyond themselves. This is most apparent in the wedding celebration itself, which attracts family and friends from far and wide who gather in one place to rejoice in the mysterious union of two people. This union stretches far beyond the wedding day, however—from that day forward, two wholly separate families are now forever joined to each other “in law.” Marriage, therefore, brings people together in a truly unique and profound way, creating an “extended family” even beyond the newly minted immediate family.

While there are countless jokes that can be made about the drudgeries of “in-laws,” there is no disputing that marriage forges new familial bonds that last a lifetime, providing husbands and wives with both the trials and joys of having a larger family than they did before marriage. This in turn creates new networks of opportunity for “togetherness,” whether it be through expanded family reunions that yield new friendships and shared passions, or new job opportunities that are made possible through extended family businesses. In the same way, marriage creates a whole new network of friends and acquaintances for the bride and groom, who each essentially have the size of their social circle doubled.

The church provides the other great venue for bringing people together. Houses of worship will forever draw us to them because of the God-sized hole in our hearts—the innate desire to reach beyond ourselves and give thanks to our Creator for giving us the gift of life and every blessing in it, and for the ability to belong to a body of believers that gives us a particular identity as sons and daughters of Christ. Furthermore, churches provide avenues for ministering to one another in both practical and spiritual ways, whether it be hosting soup kitchens and clothing drives for the needy, hosting fundraisers for a family affected by tragedy, prison ministry, running youth groups and Bible studies, and on and on. In short, a church is a place where anyone can come and feel like they belong to a community and where they can find a helping hand when in need, either physically or spiritually.

The overarching point here is this: when we are brought together in genuine and deeply rooted ways, we find true fulfilment. Marriage and the church are the primary institutions of permanence in society that provide this union of persons. God, after all, is a union of Three Persons. When we are in communion with each other, we grow in virtue. Therefore, when we as a culture diminish and abandon these institutions, we deny our intrinsic human need to belong, and we miss out on the resulting opportunities to grow in virtue by ministering to our fellow man. So let us champion marriage and the church as the great forgers of “togetherness,” and therefore of human flourishing.

Hopeful Signs of Resurrection in America

by Daniel Hart

April 12, 2017

This Sunday, Christians all over the world will celebrate the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. Easter is the church’s greatest feast day because it encompasses Christ’s fulfilment of his mission on earth: by dying on a Roman cross on Friday, April 3rd, A.D. 33 and rising from the dead on the following Sunday, he conquered human sin and death. The astonishing enormity of this event in history cannot be overstated enough. In one fell swoop, Christ offered the fullness of redemption to every person for all of eternity—namely, release from the chains of our fallen human nature and the prospect of a meaningless death. In and through Jesus, we can become cleansed of our sin and hope in the eternal life that is to come in heaven after our earthly lives are over.

To contemplate these truths for even a moment does wonders in lifting one’s spirit, which can be easily bogged down when considering the tremendous challenges that our country faces with regards to protecting all human life, cultivating natural marriage, and defending religious liberty. And so, in the spirit of Our Lord’s Resurrection, let’s reflect on some very hopeful recent signs of rebirth in America.

Life

In January, it was reported that the U.S. abortion rate is currently at its lowest level since Roe v. Wade was foisted on the country in 1973. There are a number of different factors that have contributed to this welcome decline, but the tireless work of the pro-life movement in state legislatures has undoubtedly been crucial—334 pro-life laws have been passed in the last five years.

Also in January, President Trump signed an executive order that reinstated the “Mexico City Policy,” which halts federal funds from going to foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that commit abortions or “actively promote” abortion. This is wonderful news, as it stops a staggering $600 million from funding the destruction of unborn human life annually.

This past week, Judge Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to serve on the Supreme Court, filling Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat. As we have pointed out in recent weeks, Judge Gorsuch will be a true Constitutionalist Justice who believes that life is “intrinsically valuable and that intentional killing is always wrong.” While he has not directly ruled on abortion, he has stated in the past that “the right to terminate a pregnancy… involves the death of a person.”

Marriage

The current divorce rate is at a 40-year low, while the marriage rate has risen to its highest level since 2009. While the overall rates of divorce and marriage are still depressingly high and low (respectively), recent trends are encouraging for the immediate future.

Another hopeful trend that bodes well for America’s future is, surprisingly, the marriage preferences of millennials. New research has shown that millennials aren’t as obsessed with the progressive talking point of “gender equality” as one would think. As Ashley McGuire points out in Family Studies, “Many of us also feel more comfortable embracing what Pew continues to find, decade after decade: namely, that women consistently say that part-time work is our ‘ideal work situation.’ Millennial women seem to be asserting our autonomy against a culture that turned opportunity for women into a shackle.” McGuire further notes:

The reality is that many married millennial couples with children will readily admit that two full-time working parents is not ideal for a litany of reasons, including marital happiness, individual stress, financial strain, and familial sanity. That’s not to say that lots of couples don’t make it work, but just a gander over to my city’s most-read parenting blog, and you will find plenty who will call the arrangement of two full-time parents “hell.” Many millennial women, like me, take pride in making choices that feel best for their family at that particular time.

That a rising generation of young people feels more comfortable expressing a preference for a male breadwinner is not a setback to equality in a marriage. Rather, it suggests that both millennial men and women are increasingly respectful of what it is that women want most when they have small children. I would call that a step forward for authentic marital equality. It’s only a setback to equality if we measure women in a marriage against their husbands, and not against women’s own benchmarks for happiness. And it’s only a setback for equality if we refuse to allow women to be the ones to set those benchmarks because of antiquated feminist notions about gender neutrality or because it somehow hurts the GDP’s bottom line.

This simply underscores what has historically been common practice: that most families do best when the mother is a stable, nurturing presence in the home for her children, while the father engages in the majority of paid work to support the family financially. As the studies cited previously have shown, this arrangement is what most men and women naturally prefer anyway.

Religious Liberty

The confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is a tremendous uplift not only for the protection of life, but for the defense of religious liberty. He will now be seated on the High Court in time to hear the case of Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley, which will decide whether state governments can discriminate against churches and religious organizations in favor of nonreligious organizations in the context of receiving public money.

Another sign of hope is the fact that the Trump administration is currently considering signing an executive order that would strengthen religious liberty protections for Americans of faith. A letter signed by 52 House Republicans underscores the urgency of the situation: “We look forward to coordinating with your administration on these efforts so that critical religious liberty and conscience protections may finally be restored to millions of Americans who have been harmed and left unprotected for far too many years.” The proposed executive order would ensure that government persecution of Christians for their beliefs about abortion, same-sex marriage, public prayer, and other concerns would cease, and that their First Amendment rights would be restored.

All of this should be a great source of encouragement for believers. But even if all of these hopeful signs fail to come to fruition, our hope in Christ cannot fail. Christ suffered, died, and rose again for all of humanity. Therefore, Christ is the Lord of history, who “is intent on remaking and saving his world, binding up its wounds and setting it right.” This wonderful reality will forever resurrect our fallen human hearts.

Marriage: The Abundant Life

by Daniel Hart

February 10, 2017

It’s National Marriage Week, so it’s a good time to put in a good word for marriage: I got married last April, and my previously miserable life has been perfect ever since.

I’m kidding, of course, but what is true is that the nature of day to day life does change as a married man. When I was single, day to day decisions about life were usually about me: “What do I feel like eating?” “What do I want to do this weekend?” “What do I want to watch tonight?”

What’s different about marriage is that my day to day decisions are now primarily based on the question “What does my wife need?” rather than “What do I need?” In a sense, being married is a shift away from one’s self and toward another person. What I have found, paradoxically, is that this can be very freeing. Instead of constantly agonizing about what my true purpose in life is and what I should really be doing with my life (which I did incessantly when I was single), it is now very clear to me what I need to do every day: I need to love my wife. Everything that I now do (going to work, doing chores, going on errands, or even playing the guitar) is a means by which I can accomplish that goal.

In this sense, the married life is a full life. I don’t mean to say that those who are single are somehow living inferior, less fulfilled lives. I just mean that marriage, in essence, is a total and complete gift of self.  Within the vow of “forever”/ “unto death do us part” lies the freedom of giving one’s whole self, whole life, and whole future to another person. Indeed, my life feels more full than it did when I was single. I don’t think this is an accident. As Christ said in Mark 10: “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.” In a sense, then, marriage is a way of becoming more fully human because we are supernaturally joined to another person.

When I was single, I would often try to imagine what it would be like to be married. I would often try to imagine myself as a husband and think “How could I ever do that? I know nothing about how to be a good husband or father.” I would often think that in order to be married, I would need to change my personality and natural temperament in order to fit in to what an acceptable “husband” should be, otherwise I would completely fail at it. What I have found is that we can never really change who we are. Once you become a husband, you naturally make this new role your own. In other words, marriage isn’t about attaining a status, it’s about growing into a more loving human being. God has given us marriage as a means by which we can become more holy.

I say this in order to encourage anyone out there (men especially) to not be afraid of marriage. You don’t have to worry about being a perfect husband, there will never be a perfect time in your life to get married, and you will never find a woman who is perfect. If you think you have found the right woman (which should be prayerfully discerned), don’t be afraid to propose!

Action #16 - Defend the Freedom to Believe in Natural Marriage

by Family Research Council

January 11, 2017

We are highlighting the top 20 ways that the Trump administration can address values issues in the first 100 days through administrative and agency actions in order to repair some of the damage that the Obama administration has inflicted on the dignity of life, natural marriage, and religious liberty.

Action #16 - Defend the Freedom to Believe in Natural Marriage

The administration should issue an executive order protecting federal employees and contractors from discrimination by the executive branch on the basis of their view that marriage is between a man and a woman. In the wake of the Obergefell ruling redefining “marriage,” agency actions have put pressure on those who continue to support the stance President Obama had prior to 2013 that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Opponents of Freedom Reveal Their True Agenda: Intolerance

by Travis Weber

May 12, 2016

Before same-sex marriage was constitutionally enshrined, we heard about how it would not affect anyone’s religious freedom. It was just about access to the marriage license, we were told.

Anyone who thinks opponents of Christian morality are not interested in forcing everyone to conform to their views need only glance at a motion filed in federal court in Mississippi reacting to a law which provides, of all things, exemptions on conscience grounds.

In their motion, this group of opponents asks the court to make sure that anyone “recusing himself or herself under Section 3(8) of HB 1523” be forced to “desist from issuing any marriage licenses to any other couples, including opposite-sex couples.”

Why make this request if access is the only issue? No access to any licenses has been impeded. But we know it is not about that. These opponents are requesting clerks not issue any licenses because they just can’t stand the idea that someone would not agree with their same-sex marriage.

The opponents proceed to read into motives and offer blanket generalizations:

Thus, although the most recent efforts by the State of Mississippi to disregard the constitutional rights of LGBT Mississippians through HB 1523 may be somewhat more subtle than the “steel-hard, inflexible, undeviating official policy” of the past, see United States v. City of Jackson, Miss., 318 F.2d 1, 5 (5th Cir. 1963) (ordering end of racial segregation in bus and railway terminals), the underlying impulse is exactly the same.” (emphasis mine)

But calling all genuine Christians everywhere complete racists isn’t enough.

They also mischaracterize the law as “exhorting state residents to discriminate against their gay, lesbian and transgender neighbors in a wide variety of circumstances.” Where is this behavior “exhorted?”

They also want the state to be forced to “post all recusal notices to a prominent place” on a government website. Shaming, anyone?

The real motive is obvious. It’s to force those who now disagree to eventually agree. Nothing more (for now), and nothing less.

What’s Next in a Blurry Culture

by Rob Schwarzwalder

April 21, 2016

Ideas have consequences, Richard Weaver reminded us years ago. What someone believes will affect his behavior. What society endorses will consummate in certain results.

We are living in a time when blurry is the new normal. As Christian rocker Randy Stonehill wrote years ago:

    Right is wrong and wrong is right
    White is black and black is white
    I think I just lost my appetite
    Stop the world I wanna get off

Well, his last plea cannot be fulfilled (and where would we go if it could?), but his larger point—moral confusion is one of the gods of the age—is more valid by the day. Here are some scenarios that are wholly possible at a time when gender is seen as “fluid,” petulant insistencies are seen as “rights,” and petty (and often fabricated) emotional duress is seen as “micro-aggressive.”

Transgender use of restrooms and showers: A man, clothed in attire traditionally identified as masculine and short, crisply-parted hair, walks into a women’s locker room at a gym. The women there are upset and demand he leave. His response: “I am a transgendered man who prefers wearing men’s clothing and cutting my hair in a manner consistent with accepted norms for professional male hairstyles. But I identify as a woman and have every right to be here.”

Marriage: Three men and two women insist upon the right to marry. They argue that the definition of marriage as the union of only two people is arbitrary and culturally-based. They assert that their affection for and commitment to one another, and their free volitional choice to unite in matrimony, entitle them to legal marriage. They cite Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s statement in his Obergefell opinion that “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.” If two people become something greater than once they were, how much greater will five? Who is anyone to say that the five of them don’t mutually fill one another’s needs uniquely?

Legal accountability: “A Connecticut judge declined on (April 14) to dismiss a lawsuit brought against the maker of the assault-style rifle that a gunman used in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School to fatally shoot 26 people before killing himself,” reported the New York Times earlier this month.

How about this: A woman is hit by a drunk driver and experiences physical trauma. She sues the manufacturer of the vehicle’s tires for enabling the guy behind the wheel to automate his car and, in his drunken state, hit her.

Hate speech and coercive silence: Is it hateful to quote a Bible verse, express a controversial opinion, or hold an unpopular view? Fascism was supposed to have been America’s enemy in the Second World War; is it now our accepted modus vivendi?

The University of California, Los Angeles Graduate Student Association approved a resolution Wednesday calling those who do not support a pro-Palestine agenda ‘Islamophobic’,” according to reporter Peter Fricke. This is but one example of hundreds, even thousands, of how the Left is seeking to compel uniform cultural allegiance to its agenda and the silencing of those who resist it.

Chai Feldblum, a Georgetown Law Center professor and an Obama appointee to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, makes it very clear that religious liberty is subordinate to the special privileges of people who identify as lesbian or gay:

For all my sympathy for the evangelical Christian couple who may wish to run a bed-and-breakfast from which they can exclude unmarried, straight couples and all gay couples, this is a point where I believe the “zero-sum” nature of the game inevitably comes into play. And, in making that decision in this zero-sum game, I am convinced society should come down on the side of protecting the liberty of LGBT people.

What’s next? How about these:

  • Teaching the eternal destruction of those who refuse to trust in Christ as their Savior and Lord is made illegal as it is “hateful.”
  • Telling one’s daughter she must dress as a girl is deemed “oppressive” and “genderist.”
  • Preventing people from eating certain foods because they are deemed inherently unhealthy, or in some way tracking the eating habits of ordinary citizens so as to restrict their intake of various kinds of foods.
  • The Supreme Court voiding all laws against full legal recognition of same-sex unions as marriages.

Oh, wait…

Governor Intends to Ignore Same-Sex Marriage Ruling—Will He Be Chastised?

by Travis Weber

March 11, 2016

A federal district judge in Puerto Rico recently ruled that Obergefell v. Hodges does not overturn Puerto Rico’s marriage laws because the constitutional protections at issue in that case do not apply to an unincorporated territory like Puerto Rico the same way they do to the states.

Puerto Rico’s governor responded by indicating he will not abide by the ruling: “I will respect what has been determined by higher hierarchy courts that, fortunately, order a very different procedure… The fundamental right to equal marriage has been validated and ordered by the federal Supreme Court and by the appeals court in Boston.”

Predictably, the ruling is being dismissed, and the governor’s defiance celebrated, by same-sex marriage advocates.

But according to these same advocates, federal court orders are supposed to be sacrosanct ground, as we were told last year when the Alabama Supreme Court differed from federal courts in articulating the requirements of the Constitution on this issue.

Merits of this ruling (which is likely to be appealed) aside, the more pressing question is: Would those celebrating such independent judgment by the executive branch in this case also celebrate it if the shoe was on the other foot?

Idaho’s governor certainly was not celebrated in such an instance, and he didn’t even flatly disregard the ruling in that case, but merely disagreed with and appealed it.

Indeed, when federal district courts consistently ruled in favor of same-sex marriage over the last several years, their rulings were celebrated and regarded as law by same-sex marriage supporters. If so, why is the recent federal court decision out of Puerto Rico not law?

Our entire legal system depends upon neutrality and objectivity. When society decides to compromise those qualities for the sake of a controversial issue whose advocates aggressively insist on their agenda, we collectively imperil ourselves.

Framing Christian Thinking About Human Sexuality: Three Theological Considerations

by Rob Schwarzwalder

August 17, 2015

What follows are three points regarding historic Christian teaching about human sexuality. This list is neither comprehensive nor thorough, but instead addresses three of the most commonly-raised issues relating to the Bible and sexual matters.

 

  1.  Of the three components of the Mosaic law, the ceremonial and sacrificial element was symbolic of both the need for holiness and the need of a mediator between God and man, and the civil element applied only to Israel in a specific historic context (although the principles are relevant - e.g., the prohibition against allowing children to play on rooftops so they won’t fall off was animated by trans-cultural need to protect children). The moral element of the Mosaic law articulated in Exodus through Deuteronomy is composed of commandments that are found from Genesis through Revelation. The moral law is applicable to all people at all times.
  2. Using careful exegesis and sound hermeneutical principles, faithful believers can come to different conclusions about eschatological, ecclesiastical, and other non-essential theological matters. But no honest evaluation of Scripture can lead to any conclusion other than that sexual intimacy is reserved for one man and one woman in the covenant of marriage. This teaching is not ambiguous; it is clear.
  3. If the Bible is God’s written Word, its teaching is not malleable and the truths it teaches cannot be tailored to any culture’s preferences. If all Scripture is God-breathed, its authority is final.  Thus, faithful Christians are not to employ fanciful exegetical gymnastic exercises to obtain the result they wish but are called by God to submit to His propositional, clear, and authoritative Word.

To learn more on this topic watch FRC’s lecture featuring Robert Gagnon, as well as our articles ‘Leviticus, Jesus, and Homosexuality’ and ‘The Bible’s Teaching on Marriage and Family.’

Is Homosexuality “Immutable?” Justice Kennedy’s Shaky Bridge to Redefining Marriage

by Peter Sprigg

August 5, 2015

Many conservative commentators have dissected Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Obergefell v. Hodges. In that case, a slim 5-4 majority declared that the 14th Amendment of the Constitution requires every state to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. One wonders what the authors of that 150 year-old amendment would have thought of this notion.

Few, however, have noted two passing comments that actually describe the key factual assumption on which the entire decision rests. Justice Kennedy declared—twice—that a homosexual orientation is “immutable.”

On p. 4 of the opinion, Kennedy writes,

 … [I]t is the enduring importance of marriage that underlies the petitioners’ contentions… . And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.

Then on p. 8, he says,

Only in more recent years have psychiatrists and others recognized that sexual orientation is both a normal expression of human sexuality and immutable.

Why does this matter?

The “Right to Marry”

First, the core of Justice Kennedy’s argument is that homosexuals have been denied the “fundamental right to marry,” which the Court has described as a “liberty” interest protected by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment in earlier cases. The amendment says a state may not “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”).

However, another key precedent concerning the analysis of “fundamental rights” under this clause, a 1997 case involving assisted suicide called Washington v. Glucksberg, has said that before a new “fundamental right” can simply be declared by the Court, there must be a “careful description” of the asserted right, and it must be shown that the “right” so described is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.”

This “Glucksberg test” was a serious problem for those claiming a “fundamental right” to same-sex “marriage.” It is obvious that a “careful description” of the right being asserted in the Obergefell case was “the right to marry a person of the same sex.” It is even more obvious that “the right to marry a person of the same sex” is not “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.”

Justice Kennedy got around this seemingly insurmountable obstacle in two ways. First, he simply denied that the binding precedent of the Glucksberg test was actually a binding precedent. Justice Kennedy declared (wrongly), “History and tradition guide and discipline this inquiry but do not set its outer boundaries.” It is notable that in the portion in which Kennedy made this statement, he cites a case from 1961 (Poe v. Ullman), rather than the later precedent of Glucksberg. Chief Justice Roberts pointed this out in his dissent, saying that “the majority’s position requires it to effectively overrule Glucksberg.”

Second, Justice Kennedy argues that the issue is not whether there is a “right to same-sex marriage,” but rather whether gays and lesbians, as persons, may exercise the “fundamental right to marry” which belongs to everyone.

The answer on the face of it is that, even when marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman, people who identify as gays and lesbians are entirely free to marry. Marriage licenses have never inquired as to the sexual orientation of the spouses. A self-identified gay man may marry—as long as he marries a woman. A self-identified lesbian may marry—as long as she marries a man.

Sexual Attraction as the Basis for Marriage

This sounds absurd to many people—why would you marry someone to whom you are not sexually attracted?

To treat sexual attraction as the fundamental basis for the definition of civil marriage is to assume that the reason marriage is treated as public institution is to promote relationships that bring sexual pleasure to the spouses.

While this may be an important personal interest for the majority of people who marry, it is hard to argue that there is a public interest merely in promoting sexual gratification.

The federal government should not be deciding if people can marry based on their sexual interests.  After all, don’t we want to keep the government out of our bedrooms?

It is particularly odd that the Court would (implicitly) say that sexual attraction is foundational to the definition of marriage, but the potential for procreation (in which there is a significant public interest) is not. The public purpose of marriage historically has been grounded not in the encouragement or affirmation of sexual relationships, but in the need to stabilize them because of the recognition that wanton sexual expression leads to social decay: massive out-of-wedlock births and parentless children, children growingup reckless and uneducated, etc.  Seeking to avoid these and other problems, marriage for millennia has been a public institution, one animated by its implications for society as a whole.

Yet while same-sex marriage claims to imitate natural marriage in stabilizing relationships, the public purpose of such stabilization – prevention of unrestricted, chaotic, and socially disruptive procreation – becomes irrelevant given the inability of same-sex partners mutually to create children. 

I have written about the public purposes of marriage in relation to sex and procreation elsewhere.

In any case, the first premise Justice Kennedy requires in order to claim that self-identified gays and lesbians have been denied the “fundamental right to marry” is the premise that marriage is about sexual attraction.

Is Homosexuality Immutable?

A second premise is also necessary, however. To conclude that a one-man, one-woman marriage definition denies to self-identified gays and lesbians the “fundamental right to marry,” one must not only assume that sexual attraction is foundational to marriage, but must also assume that such attractions can never change—that they are “immutable.”

Justice Kennedy included the “immutability” claim because it is necessary to give his “fundamental rights” argument any coherence at all. Only if (a) sexual attraction is fundamental to marriage and (b) sexual orientation is “immutable” can it be argued that a law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman is the same as a law saying that there is an entire class of persons (self-identified gays and lesbians) who are denied the fundamental right to marry because it is impossible for them ever to marry.

In support of this claim (that a homosexual orientation is “immutable”), Justice Kennedy cites an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief filed in the case by the American Psychological Association (APA—not to be confused with the other APA, the American Psychiatric Association).

This brief can be found online on the Supreme Court’s website here.  Yet surprisingly, a word search shows that the word “immutable” appears nowhere in the brief.

The closest to which it comes is a statement, in a topic heading, that sexual orientation “Is Highly Resistant to Change.” This is not the same as “immutable.” The word “immutable” suggests an absolute, 100 percent, without-exception type of statement. Race is an immutable characteristic (and the mockery of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who claims to be black, simply demonstrates the widespread understanding of that fact). One’s biological sex is “immutable” (the “gender transition” of transgendered Americans notwithstanding). “Highly resistant to change” is a strong statement, but in an entirely different category from truly immutable characteristics such as race and sex. It is definitely not an absolute one.

However, when one reads the entire text of the section of the APA brief that Kennedy cited, the actual evidence offered hardly even supports the “highly resistant to change” characterization. For example, the section begins this way:

Sexual orientation refers to an enduring disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions to men, women, or both. It also encompasses an individual’s sense of personal and social identity based on those attractions, behaviors expressing them, and membership in a community of others who share them. Although sexual orientation ranges along a continuum from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual, it is usually discussed in terms of three categories: heterosexual (having sexual and romantic attraction primarily or exclusively to members of the other sex), homosexual (having sexual and romantic attraction primarily or exclusively to members of one’s own sex), and bisexual (having a significant degree of sexual and romantic attraction to both sexes).

This description bears a striking resemblance to the key point I made in my 2011 pamphlet, Debating Homosexuality—namely that “sexual orientation” is not one thing, but is an umbrella term for several different things. They include a person’s sexual attractions, sexual behavior, and sexual self-identification. The APA cites all three of these (“attractions,” “behaviors,” and “identity”), while even adding a fourth category (“membership in a community”).

This brings me to a “gotcha” question often asked by people in the media: “Do you think people are born gay, or do they choose to be gay?” The best answer is, “Neither,” because the question presents a false dichotomy.

No one knowledgeable about “sexual orientation” issues would claim that most people with same-sex sexual attractions “choose” to experience those attractions. However, the meaning of “sexual orientation” is not limited to sexual attractions, as even the APA acknowledges. It also “encompasses” behaviors, identity, and “membership in a community”—all of which are primarily a matter of personal choice, and therefore by definition not “immutable.”

In addition to defining “sexual orientation” in terms of multiple factors, all but one of which involve significant freedom of choice, the APA brief uses other language one usually would not expect in a description of an “immutable” characteristic. It says that sexual orientation “ranges along a continuum from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual,” and that each of the two major poles of sexual orientation, heterosexual and homosexual, can be defined in terms of “attraction primarily or exclusively” (emphasis added) to either opposite or the same sex. The use of the word “primarily,” and not just “exclusively,” is a concession that some people may identify as “homosexual” even though they have some opposite-sex attractions. Again, this is hardly as absolute as the word “immutable” would suggest.

Although I would never argue that sexual attractions are primarily “chosen,” the APA actually concedes that at least some homosexuals acknowledge that “choice” played a role in their sexual orientation. Here is what the APA wrote about that topic in the amicus brief cited by Justice Kennedy:

Most gay men and lesbians do not experience their sexual orientation as a voluntary choice. In a [national survey], only 5% of gay men and 16% of lesbians reported feeling they had “a fair amount” or “a great deal” of choice about their sexual orientation. Fully 88% of gay men and 68% of lesbians reported that they had “no choice at all.”

But if sexual orientation is inborn and “immutable,” as Justice Kennedy asserts, wouldn’t you expect 100% to say that they had “no choice at all?” The fact that, among self-identified lesbians, nearly one in three said they had at least some choice, and nearly one in six said they had “a fair amount” or “a great deal” of choice, would seem to seriously undermine the notion that homosexuals are always “born gay and can’t change.”

The APA’s brief also cites another publication the APA issued in 2009 which addressed the issue of “sexual orientation change efforts.” Here is how the brief characterizes the conclusions of the 2009 publication:

Although some groups and individuals have offered clinical interventions that purport to change sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual— sometimes called “conversion” therapies—these interventions have not been shown to be effective or safe. A review of the scientific literature by an APA task force concluded that sexual orientation change efforts are unlikely to succeed and can be harmful.

One thing to know about the 2009 publication is that—like the 2015 amicus brief—nowhere in either texts is the word “immutable” used to describe sexual orientation. Note also the less than absolute language of the conclusion—saying that such efforts “are unlikely to succeed” is not at all the same as saying they “cannot” succeed; whereas, saying they “can be harmful” is not at all the same as saying they are always harmful. Here is a key quote from the 2009 Task Force Report:

Although the recent studies do not provide valid causal evidence of the efficacy of SOCE or of its harm, some recent studies document that there are people who perceive that they have been harmed through SOCE. [emphasis added]

Even the APA is conceding here that claims of “harm” from SOCE are supported by no more “valid causal evidence” than claims of its efficacy. The statement that some people “perceive” they have been harmed really amounts to a back-handed concession that the evidence of “harm” is primarily anecdotal, not scientific.

More and better research is clearly needed. However, there is actually an abundance of evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, that sexual orientation can be changed; the addition of the words “valid causal” represent an effort to discount that fact by raising the bar as to what is accepted as evidence.

In fact, Nicholas A. Cummings, a former president of the American Psychological Association, wrote in USA Today in 2013, “Of the patients I oversaw who sought to change their orientation, hundreds were successful,” adding, “…contending that all same-sex attraction is immutable is a distortion of reality.”

Ironically, when the Supreme Court handed down its ruling on June 26th, I was at the national conference of the Restored Hope Network—a network of Christian ministries that help individuals to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions—along with dozens of ex-gays whose existence Justice Kennedy seemed to deny. Many people who once had a homosexual sexual orientation—as measured by attractions, behaviors, and identity—have experienced transformation and are already legally married to someone of the opposite sex. Some of these, like Garry and Melissa Ingraham, are now active in helping others change. Others, like former lesbian Chirlane McCray (who is now married to Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City), simply moved beyond “the assumptions I had about the form and package my love would come in.”

Change of sexual orientation can happen in either direction. The Family Research Council’s own amicus brief to the Supreme Court was unique in pointing out the “remarkable (but heretofore unnoticed) fact that dozens of the plaintiffs in the same-sex marriage cases that have been brought over the last twenty-four years previously had been married to a person of the opposite sex.” This is proof on its face that either: a) people with a homosexual orientation are capable of marriage to the opposite sex (if we assume that these plaintiffs were homosexual all along); or b) people’s sexual orientation can change during the life course; or both. However, if either assumption (whether a or b) is true, it demolishes the premise of Justice Kennedy’s opinion.

None of this is to suggest that changing one’s sexual orientation is easy. Most people will never try, and of those who do try, some will fail. But some also succeed.  This, and the fact that some people move from homosexual relationships to heterosexual ones—or vice versa—serve as proof that sexual orientation is not “immutable.”

Justice Kennedy’s claim that a homosexual orientation is “immutable” was his bridge from identifying the desire of some people to marry someone of the same sex to identifying a “fundamental right” to do so. The claim, however, is unsubstantiated—making the bridge a shaky one indeed.

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