Lost in the hubbub surrounding the unsurprising “personal evolution” by President Obama toward support of a radical redefinition of marriage was how the president characterized the position of the majority of Americans who uphold the natural and traditional definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman. His May 9 ABC news interview was significant not only because he revealed what he believes about redefining marriage, but he also gave strong indication of what he thinks about those of us who do not share his opinion.
The first characterization of his opponents, (if thirty-one states’ democratic defense of traditional marriage are any indication) the majority of Americans, is found in the now oft-repeated word describing his position on homosexual unions – “evolution.” “Evolution” is a carefully chosen word that signifies much more than just changing one’s mind or the politically damaging “flip-flop.” It is a word that the administration insists on using over and over again when discussing this matter; its use indicates the regard the president has for his opposition. “Evolution,” as most commonly used today, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or worse to a higher, more complex, or better state.”
This word-choice is laden with implications for the Christian/traditional/majority view on marriage. In the mind of the president, our view, it seems, is backward, lower, simpler and, well, positively “cro-magnon.” His view is not only right but is – without having to actually argue the point – better, more refined, cultured, sophisticated, and progressive. The clear implication is that if you do not hold his view you are not just an opponent, you are an unevolved opponent standing in the way of human progress. As Shepherd Smith recently said on Fox news – you don’t want to find yourself “sitting very firmly, without much question, on the wrong side of history.”
If you want to get with the times, you evolve. If you don’t evolve you become marginalized, irrelevant, and ultimately, you die out. This appears to be the underlying assumption of Vice President Biden who has taken up the claim of the gay lobby that we are merely postponing the inevitable. “I think,” the Vice President somberly proclaimed, “the country is evolving and I think there is inevitability for a national consensus on gay marriage.”
The message from the White House is clear: Join the emerging consensus we are creating and forcing upon the American people or you will regret it. Progress and evolution or marginalization and, need we say it? That is our choice. Or if you prefer the words of the Duke of Norfolk in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, “But damn it Thomas, look at these names. Why can’t you do as I did and join us, for fellowship?”
A no less demeaning characterization of the President’s opponents is the following statement that explains why President Obama has been loath to publicly state his position on redefining marriage – at least since he has had his eyes on the presidency: “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word ‘marriage’ was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.”
Mr. President, while I appreciate your sensitivity, I think this “culture war” is about much more than a word. It is about a fundamental institution at the heart of every human society. Though some might suggest that it all depends upon “what the meaning of is, is” the fact is that words are intimately tied to, signify and, in a sense, make present the reality to which they are attached. Those who support marriage are fighting for more than just a word. Marriage is not just a label or a stamp that can be placed willy-nilly on different sorts of relationships as human beings “evolve.” Contrary to Secretary Clinton’s 2009 plea to the students of Georgetown University, we do not have a right to love whomever we choose and then to call that relationship a marriage. Marriage is only the life-long union between one man and one woman.
The word “marriage”, like all words, means something and it is for that something that we fight. We defend a natural institution that is essential for the flourishing of humanity and we argue for it from varied perspectives. Many have the conviction that God created marriage and from the beginning ordered it toward his command to be fruitful and multiply and then further dignified marriage by elevating it to a sacrament that signifies the love Jesus has for His Church. Some rally around an institution we know to be the cornerstone of society, indeed the first natural society, and the fundamental building block of a thriving community and nation. Others are concerned because we know that children have a natural right to be raised by both parents in a stable and loving home.
Leaders are willing to go down swinging because marriage is already on the ropes today as cultural forces gradually tear down individual marriages and they fear that the radical redefinition of marriage will further distort the true meaning of this beautiful institution. Still others simply want to maintain a traditional understanding of marriage enshrined in law in every land. Others make slippery slope arguments and fear what is next. And, yes, many fear that legal recognition and elevation of homosexual unions will codify into law an acceptance of sexual acts we believe to be intrinsically disordered, immoral, and a grave depravity. In short, we fight for an institution that we believe to be beautiful, traditional, vital, a sacrament, and necessary for our flourishing.
This is the seriousness of our perspective, and characterizing our view as little more than a sentimental clinging to a word amounts to nothing more than erecting a straw man. We argue for the one and only true definition of marriage and our arguments cannot be characterized as unevolved thinking. We approach marriage from different perspectives, each concerned citizen emphasizing different goods to be protected and upheld. Our principled positions and careful argumentation are not at the service of a moniker or label we slap on relationships we wish to affirm. We would not fight for a mere word; we fight for marriage.
We will oppose words, however, because we know that they have implications and a deep connection to reality. We realize that your words are intended to prepare the nation for the forthcoming action to radically redefine the first and most fundamental institution of society. As we hear your words we share the conviction of Cardinal Timothy Dolan who has stated, “We cannot be silent in the face of words or actions that would undermine the institution of marriage, the very cornerstone of society. The people of this country, especially our children, deserve better.”
Words have meaning, Mr. President. Though you may be surrounded by many who hold that words only mean what we happen to want them to mean at a given moment, you cannot change the nature of this fundamental human institution. And many of us cro-magnons are willing to fight for this basic truth.