Gay Marriage: Killing the Democracy of the Dead

President Obama’s position on gay marriage has won some converts, from (perhaps) the entirety of the Democratic Party to (especially) young people. As to the latter, one of them emailed me recently. A good-hearted, thoughtful young man, who this fall will be a freshman at a very liberal college in the Northeast, I’ll leave him unnamed. His story, however, is instructive, and sheds light on an ancient morality tale worth considering right now.

The young man comes from a conservative evangelical family. He has progressively edged in a liberal direction. He read an article I had written on President Obama’s gay-marriage advocacy. Though he disagreed with me, he was respectful. I appreciated that, and responded.

He objected to my point that legalizing gay marriage would represent a radical rupture not just of the definition of “marriage” but of “family.” “How would that happen?” he asked. “I support gay marriage and think that if two people are in love, then they should have the right to be together with full benefits under the title of being MARRIED.” He continued: “I really don’t want to hear any religious arguments. Marriage is a secular act that can also be religious.”

The young man was open to hearing my viewpoint. As he said, he didn’t want to merely yell at me, “Oh my god! You’re against gay marriage? Then you’re stupid!” That’s what he’s sure to hear at the liberal college where his parents will be sending their lifesavings.

Though there were many ways I could have replied to this young man’s email, my response focused not on his youth but, rather, the youth of all of us, of this entire generation, of the whole culture. Here was the thrust of my response:

Whether a society or people are religious or not, the most fundamental basis of society and peoples—literally since the dawn of humanity—has been marriage between a man and a woman. That bond is the cornerstone. To suddenly sever that bond is not only a radical rupture, but remarkably arrogant; it assumes that our current generation is wiser than the multiple millennia of civilizations heretofore. Google the word “matrimony.” “Marriage” has always meant the marriage of a man and a woman.

We shouldn’t mess with these things. Once we begin redefining and reshaping these things in each of our own images, we’re in trouble. I ask progressives: Do you truly want the government to take unto itself the right to remold such ancient terms? (Answer: Yes, they do, but only when the government agrees with them.)

That question ought to give pause to libertarians who support gay marriage. Do they want to allow government this unprecedented, enormous moral power and authority, from which will flow all sorts of new, massive government redistributive power and authority? As Jennifer Roback Morse asks, do libertarians really want the federal government regulating (let alone defining) marriage? If they do, then they’re favoring not small government but big government—actually, huge government.

Even most liberal Democrats (prior to President Obama) had voted to preserve marriage between a man and a woman. Witness the Clintons and congressional Democrats passing the Defense of Marriage Act in the 1990s.

Those against gay marriage need to know that not only are they in the majority today, but over the course of centuries and millennia. Our position is based not on the latest societal/cultural whim at the ballot box but on the inherited wisdom of billions of ancestors and thinkers preceding us. It is rooted in what G. K. Chesterton called “the democracy of the dead.”

In his book, Orthodoxy, Chesterton wrote: “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of their birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”

There is deep, accumulated wisdom in our long line of ancestors. To suddenly assume we know better, compliments of recent enlightened understanding, is self-righteous and short-sighted. Don’t our ancestors—our dead—have any say? There were a lot more of them than us. Are we to judge they were mere brutes lacking our magnificent reasoning abilities?

There’s something to be said about, oh, multiple millennia of consensus belief. It seems unwise to not give our ancestors any serious consideration, and to not at least consider whether we might be wrong on this particular issue.

Should the dead not have a vote, a say, in this?

This column first appeared August 2 on the Center for Vision and Values website hosted by Grove City College and is reprinted here with permission.

Paul Kengor


Paul Kengor is Professor of Political Science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of many books including The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor and Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage (2015). His new books are A Pope and a President and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism (2017).

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Archbishop of Paris André Vingt-Trois put this very well in his evidence to the National Assembly “Even though it has not taken the modern form familiar in our civil legislation, there has always been a means of handing things down from generation to generation, which is the very basis of continuity and stability in a society. This transmission between generations is primarily effected by the family. It is the legal framework of family life that structures the transmission of life and shapes the future of society.”

    His remarks were well received and endorsed by the Pécresse Commission on the Family, who observed that, “As Dean Carbonnier taught, the Civil Code should be amended only with “trembling hands”, that is, with much prudence and with no attempt to stimulate social evolution through legislative revolution.

    • Doughlas Remy

      France will very likely have legalized same-sex marriage by this time next year under President Hollande’s government. Do you know of any specific ways in which this will impact heterosexual marriage there?

  • hHold

    Good article. Aways hated how progressists thought they were superior to our ancesters.

  • Gail Finke

    I don’ t think that argument will make any headway at all against progressives. In my own conversations on this and related issues, about which I’ve learned to take a very different approach than the outrage and disbelief I once expressed (they believe they are the ones entitled to outrage, which we are supposed to find persuasive in itself), I’ve discovered that the accumulated wisdom of every culture throughout all of time does not mean anything to them. They don’t care about tradition, they don’t care about history, they don’t care about reason (although they do care about rationalization — they can invent a reason for whatever they want to to and, if challenged on it, invent one that contradicts the first one without seeming to realize that they did so), they don’t care about what entire existing non-Western civilizations do and believe, and they don’t care about anything prior to about 20 years ago. They believe that nothing has a fixed definition and that we are free to redefine anything we wish to in any way that we desire. They believe that emotion trumps all and so “everyone who loves should be able to marry” is to them a supreme argument, even when one points out that love is not and has never been a requirement for marriage. They believe that intentions matter much more than outcome, and that even negative consequences that have already happened and are easily identified and measured “don’t count” because the future consequences will be different — and will be whatever they project them to be. How you argue effectively against any of this, I have no idea. I think that not even the collapse of Western civilization would convince them that they are wrong. They don’t want to be wrong, and they think that wanting something enough is all that matters.

    • The Truth

      I read ALOT. And I have never had someone sum up in total what liberals do. It’s precise and very true. It’s also very scary. They have no foundations, they are drifting all over the place and as you said, it’s icredulous that they believe they are entitled to outrage!

      • Adam Baum

         What we call, “liberalism” (the modern statist left) is largely the political manifestation of emotion and whim, so of course it has no foundations. More importantly it has no boundaries, even reality. It really is a curious amalgam of immaturity, indolence and arrogance.

    • Gail Finke

      HA HA funny how many of the replies on this thread have borne out my thesis. They simply don’t care about anything previous to now, and will even make the argument that we should not accept anything at all, which would make life impossible if actually carried out, or that we can’t accept the meaning of words, which makes even their own argument irrelevant, because every word in it is “just a word whose definition is bound to change.” Q.E.D.

      • The word “homophobia” is one such example.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          I strongly suspect George Weinberg of taking bribes to write his book on “healthy homosexuality” back in the 1960s.

    • Joanne S.

      Very well said. Unfortunately, you are absolutely correct.

    • Chuck Faber

      Sometimes tradition and the “way it’s always been done” is the incorrect way. Slavery has been a tradition for centuries in all different countries. Doing work by candle-light has been a tradition for centuries. Should we reinstate slavery and abolish electronics? It’s not that we don’t care about tradition and history. It’s that simply because something has been a tradition doesn’t make a good argument for maintaining the practice of said tradition. It’s logically not sound.

      • And… you proved my point. You immediately discounted what is, as I said, every single culture in the entire history of the world because, “hey, sometimes people are wrong.” Just for the record, there is a big difference between a tradition and the universal definition of an institution for all of existence.

      • I agree. Imagine if the first Christians had have said lets respect the collective wisdom of our ancestors regarding whether God can incarnate into a man. It seems strange to me that a faith tradition which overturned so much in its time (dietary laws, the status of women, the importance of the temple) has now become the champion of traditionalism. I guess that’s a fairly normal cycle though.

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  • Ultramonta

    Ancestors?  Even that becomes problematic once the floodgates are thrown open on unlimited divorce, open marriages and a new definition of marriage (even if limited to two people).   What are ancestors: the paternal line?  the maternal line?  The step paternal line?  The step maternal line?  Or in a “gay marriage” where one or the other required genetic material inputs is outsourced to an “other-sex genetic material donor (or GMD)” (of either absent sex, of course), does the other sex GMD have any role as the root of a set of ancestors?  Does the gay partner who did not contribute any genetic material qualify as the root of a set of ancestors?

    Cutting off the connection of untold generations of ancestors via natural generation likely will set every one of us adrift as isolated pools of unique genetic material in a “brave new world” with little identity other than that which the marketplace sells us or the government confers on us as “voters.”   

  • Alecto

    What’s most shameful about Obama’s flip flop on this issue is that it isn’t genuine or heartfelt.  By now, we all understand his weak and very maleable character and the flexible moral code which is often sacrificed to advance his marxist-atheist agenda.  This evolution of his position is motivated by the stacks of cash envisioned by the campaign.  Has there ever been such a cynical ploy in the history of politics? 

    That he is attempting to reshape society based on the need for campaign funds puts him beyond hope of any reasoned debate on the issue.  I wonder if the gay marriage activists understand they are being used as well?  

  • Irmakearney

    Just want to add that “Alecto” is right.   But Obama has NO character; the man is evil!

  • Micha_Elyi

    Mr. Kengor, using the very term “gay marriage” concedes the argument to that young man.  The term creates the illusion that it’s just another kind marriage, like “traditional marriage”, “outdoor marriage”, “Catholic marriage”, etc.  Sham marriage is how it should be labeled.

  • Doughlas Remy

    Speaking of matrimony, you write, “We shouldn’t mess with these things.” But even a cursory look at the history of marriage will show that we always have “messed with it.” Marriage in the bronze age was pretty brutal for women, if we are to believe the Hebrew scriptures, and it needed vast improvement. So it has been tweaked again and again over the ages, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. Mostly, however, huge progress has been made. 

    How is it possible to credibly claim that we should always defer to ancestors? We are not Confucians. My own father was a member of the KKK, and I am opposed to racism. Am I not wiser than he? 

    You mention Chesterton’s deference to tradition and to ancestors. But the progressives of Chesterton’s time were also our ancestors. Whose ancestors are we to defer to?

    • Cndrblw26

      You can assure yourself that you are wiser than your father because he was in the KKK, but before you do, can you be sure that if you switched places with your father you would not held his views? Do you have any views today that in a generation or two will be viewed as poorly as KKK memo ship is now?

      I seem to recall a warning against pointing out the speck in your neighbor’s eye before pulling out the log I your own.

      • Doughlas Remy

        “No” to your first question and “yes” to your second. You just supported my point. We mustn’t always rely on our ancestors for guidance. Paul Kengor, in his article above, only alludes to the “wisdom” of our ancestors, not to their folly. I am fully aware that I will become someone’s ancestor, and my hope is that he or she will have progressed far enough to recognize my own follies for what they were. That’s the essence of hope, in my view: not that my descendants will either revere or despise me but that they will see me for what I was, warts and all. Let’s leave ancestor worship to the Confucians.

  • Joseph J. P.Pippet

    JMJ  Why is it that wherever I read or hear talk about Homosexuals they often are called gay. The problem with calling them gay is they’re Not gay! They are “Homosexuals”. Nor are they gay Homosexuals, They are Homosexuals. They call themselves gay because they hate the word Homosexual. You don’t hear them calling them selves  “gay Homosexuals”  No, because they don’t like the word Homosexual. That’s why they say they’re gay. They don’t want to be called Homosexual. Remember the story of the king and his new clothes? We can not change a Truth, We can change the meaning of some words which is right and proper under certain cultures, etc. Homosexual can not have Gay as it’s definition, Impossible. Check any dictionary, etc. ( It is possible for some to attempt a changing of the definition) that’s why Homosexuals insist on gay. If they’re trully Gay why is it they’re so angry/violent when others disagree with them especially those who tell them they are Sinfull (some definition for words are not changed, they  are not spoken of, like “SIN” thinking the word will be forgotten that way their is no “SIN”. Doesn’t work that way. Homosexuals involved in the sexual act are Sinners, not gay, Abomination in the eyes of God. Respectfully with Love, Joseph J. Pippet  

  • Actually, marriage has not always been defined as between a man and a woman. In the Old Testament, it was often between a man and many women while the man also quite often had concubines on the side. Abraham was such an example. There are also Native American cultures that practiced the equivalent of SSM. However, even if it were historically accurate to claim marriage has always been defined as being between a man and a woman, would it matter? All cultures up to and including the Stone Age practiced cannibalism. Does this mean we should never have stopped cannibalizing? After all, our ancestors did so for generations. Many of our ancestors were either slaves or slave owners. Should we therefore support slavery? Our ancestors could be extremely cruel and barbaric. It’s quite nauseating to read about  how the early kings and queens of England, for example, had their rivals killed. I like to believe that the  human race has grown and developed in many ways over the centuries. 

    It’s fine to oppose same-sex marriage, but this particular argument for doing so is spurious.

    • justamom

      Could it possibly be that you are reading these situations in history with your progressive colored glasses? You say ALL cultures practiced cannibalism? Really? And those Native Americans – what leads you to believe that the behaviors you refer to were actually considered equal to marriage in that culture? Yes – concubines existed – but were they in fact deemed equal marriages in their cultures’ eyes? Which textbook/college class did you get this information from?
      Yes, many practices of the past generations are barbaric and we are all happy to see them gone. But marriage – true marriage – is not one of them.

    • Marlin77

       Maybe grouping traditional marriage together with cannibalism and slavery will give them pause … or maybe not.

    • Adam Baum

       Wow. What an incredibly confused adventure into revisionist relativism that is-very telling to read ” I like to believe that the  human race has grown and developed in many ways”. Indeed, in many ways it has grown-monstrous and deformed. Gulags and concentration camps were once regarded as growth and development. Your desire to believe something, if it is merely unfounded assertion isn’t a noble aspiration, it’s a dangerous fantasy that matters since ideas have consequences.

      • Doughlas Remy

        I think Maggie’s point is sound. We can’t always point to the past for guidance, or to ancient “wisdom.” What was considered wise in Shakespeare’s time might be considered foolishness now. We cite the authority of ancestors only when it suits us and when we agree with them. I would favor applying a different set of criteria for judging present and past behaviors–one that tries to discern their real-world, evidence-based consequences. So far, I do not see any evidence that same-sex marriage is having any negative effects whatsoever. 

        • Adam Baum

          So far, I do not see any evidence that same-sex marriage is having any negative effects whatsoever. 
          Well then its settled, society should be reordered because Doug doesn’t see a problem.

          • Doughlas Remy

            Do you see any such evidence?

  • Doughlas Remy

    @Meggie Graham: Very good point! Do we want to emulate everything our ancestors did? After reading Steven Pinker’s new book, “The Better Angels of Our Natures,” I can no longer accept the view that we haven’t progressed over the centuries. The evidence is overwhelming that we live in a much more civilized era, with the exception of certain pockets where no progress seems to have been made. Calls for ancestor worship are throw-backs. We don’t want to go there. Let’s be selective about the ancestors that we emulate and respect.

    • John200

      Dear Mr. Remy,

      As you wish: Pinker is a second source for the “expanding circle of empathy.” Do you not plan to inform your interlocutors of its meaning and provenance?

      • Doughlas Remy

        Sounds like you know more about this than I do, so please be my guest.

  • Doughlas Remy

    @Joseph J. P. Pippet: The term “Homosexual” is disavowed by some, but not all, homosexuals. It is a clinical term, of course, and most people, of whatever orientation, dislike being labeled with clinical terms. People have a right to decide what they will be called, and I think we should respect their choices.

    As a linguist, I can tell you that definitions change all the time. When a significant number of people begin to use a word differently, then its definition changes. Dictionaries only seem to be prescriptive about such things. Over the long term, they are descriptive. The dictionary definition of “marriage” is already changing, as the definition of “gay” has already done.

    “Sin” is a word that is progressively being emptied of meaning.

    • Adam_Baum

       Words have meaning. “Gay” was an attempt to empty sodomy of its moral disrepute and it worked wonderfully. If you decry that vacant meaning of the word “sin’, you should reject euphemestic relabelling.

      • Doughlas Remy

        Let’s be clear. Words do have meaning, but their meaning may be very fluid over time and from place to place. Again, speaking as a linguist, I can assure you this is true. Just think of all the English words that do not travel well between the U.K. and the U.S.A. The expression “How boring!”, spoken by an Englishman, may mean “What a bother!” in some contexts. 

        Or the word “sin.” Think how many meanings that one has from culture to culture… There might have been a time when the word had a more stable meaning, but its meaning is now so diffuse and subjective as to render it nearly meaningless.

        It’s a rare word that doesn’t have multiple meanings in whatever language it is used, and these meanings often change radically over time. For example, “awful” used to mean “inspiring wonder (or fear).” 

        This whole field of study is called “semantic drift,” and you can find an abundance of information about it on the Web.

        The so-called “linguistic argument” used to discredit gays or same-sex marriage is a very weak one, and most people have recognized that by now.

        Your understanding of the word “gay” as “an attempt to empty sodomy of its moral disrepute” is off the mark. Anal intercourse is extremely common among heterosexuals and far from universal among homosexuals. I imagine many people who practice it would prefer not to be the objects of moral opprobrium. It would be completely understandable if they wanted to get out from under the weight of highly charged words like “sodomy” and turn to the medical community for answers about their choices.

        • Adam_Baum


          “Let’s be clear. Words do have meaning, but their
          meaning may be very fluid over time and from place to place. Again, speaking as
          a linguist, I can assure you this is true.”

          As a non-linguist,
          I can assure you I don’t need your assurances in this regard, especially in an
          argument based  perilously to close to
          one based on appeals to authority.  

          This whole field of study is called “semantic
          drift,” and you can find an abundance of information about it on the Web.

          “gay” is not the result of semantic drift-or spontaneous changes in popular
          usage- but of a consciously directed effort at linguistic engineering. Just as
          the statist left arrogated “liberal” from political theorists whose philosophy
          was intrinsically opposed to the unlimited accretion of state power, homosexual
          activists arrogated and transformed a word that once indicated a care-free
          state of mind to a term used to define and subordinate an entire person around a disordered

          The so-called “linguistic argument” used to
          discredit gays or same-sex marriage is a very weak one, and most people have
          recognized that by now.

          on making an ipse dixit statement and attempting to buttress it “argumentum ad populum”.   

          Your understanding of the word “gay”
          as “an attempt to empty sodomy of its moral disrepute” is off the mark. Anal
          intercourse is extremely common among heterosexuals and far from universal
          among homosexuals. I imagine many people who practice it would prefer not to be
          the objects of moral opprobrium. It would be completely understandable if they
          wanted to get out from under the weight of highly charged words like “sodomy”
          and turn to the medical community for answers about their choices.

          Since I have neither empirical
          evidence, nor any definition of what you consider “common” I can’t dispute your
          nebulous assertion. Whatever its prevalence among heterosexuals, male homosexual conduct is commonly
          associated with that act, indeed it that association was noted by the Supreme Court a few years back in invalidating anti-sodomy laws a few years back. So in keeping in with your comfort with linguistic
          fluidity, you should have understood that I meant male homosexual intercourse,
          rather than requiring me to spell it out.  The
          very fact that you consider “sodomy” to be “highly charged” shows an inherent
          comfort with euphemistic relabeling.  

          “I imagine
          many people who practice it would prefer not to be the objects of moral

          Sure, and every other sinner would
          prefer their practices not to be “objects of moral opprobrium”. But if we are
          going to remove social stigmas from one sin, why not all sins? After all, many
          people are defined not by durable desires they embrace and repeat, but single
          acts committed in a moment of weakness that are contrary to the conduct
          exhibited during the rest of their lives. Of course what you really want is to
          force others to accept homosexual desires and conduct as normal, immutable and
          benign, isolating persons with same sex attraction  from guilt-when guilt might be the strongest impetus to
          pursuing chastity-especially now that the mental health community no longer
          considers same-sex attraction disordered and largely considers any therapeutic
          efforts as cessation or correction to be malpractice..   show more

          • Doughlas Remy

            The word “gay” is indeed an instance of semantic drift. It was not “engineered.” Its connotation of “carefree and uninhibited” became associated with homosexuals around the end of the 19th century. There’s no evidence that gay people were responsible for the initial shift, but they gradually owned it through the 20th century. Furthermore, I haven’t found evidence of any gay “activism” until the Mattachine Society of the 50s, when the word “gay” already meant what it does now. 

            The prevalence of anal and oral intercourse among heterosexuals is easy to research. I just did, using Google, and the numbers are much higher than you might expect–on the order of 40% for men and 35% for women. 

            Shunning the word “sodomite” does not necessarily indicate a preference for euphemisms. Most people–straight or gay–dislike being named after a sex act–any sex act. Let’s leave the terms of derogation to the schoolyard bullies.

            Many or most gay individuals do not believe their sexual expressions are sinful acts. The medical community does not consider homosexuality to be disordered, though certain sexual practices–whether practiced by straights or gays–are considered risky under certain conditions. Persuading people to abandon high-risk behavior is not helped by judging them and laying on guilt. Medical professionals have found such approaches to be counter-productive.

    • NDaniels

      Doughlas, with all due respect, as a linguist you should know that a rose by any other name is still a rose.

      • Doughlas Remy

        Do you have any idea how many varieties of roses there are? The come in all the colors of the rainbow.

        • NDaniels

          The fact that there are many different varieties of roses does not change the inherent nature of a rose and thus its’ essence, just as the fact that there are many different characteristics of a human individual does not change the fact that every human individual, regardless of race or ancestry, has been created equal in Dignity, while being complementary as male and female.

          • Doughlas Remy

            Dignity, yes. Complementarity, only mostly. Persons who feel same-sex attractions should not seek sexual complementarity with a person of the opposite sex. That is a recipe for trouble–especially in a marriage. I believe we can best honor each other’s dignity by respecting these natural differences and not forcing each other into roles for which we’re not suited. 

            • Adam Baum

               Complementarity derives from nature, not emotional satisfaction. Nobody is suggesting a person who is not properly disposed for marriage should pursue it. An undisclosed same sex attraction is a significant enough impediment to marriage as to be a cause for a declaration of nullity.

              What you don’t recognize is that not every desire should be acted upon. It isn’t dignifying or respectful to encourage, through indifference or celebration relationships based on sinful acts.

              • Doughlas Remy

                Sinful acts? Why would you think that sexual relations between same-sex couples are sinful?

      • Adam Baum

         It seems linguists are invincibly ignorant and eager to demonstrate it.

        Remy isn’t interested in dialog, he’s what is known as a troll.

  • MMC

    Marry whoever you”love”?  Same sex attraction is not love…it is brokeness and the soul’s attempt to fix whatever lie, rupture, trauma, identity issue is the root.  Let us get back to the true definition of “love” which is willing the good for the other…not lust, not disordered sexuality, not emotional brokeness.

    We need to stop tip toeing around the emotionally explosive and irrational “gay agenda” and get to the heart of things which is the truth: same sex attraction is a disorder.  The sooner we have the courage and charity to speak that truth in kindness, the sooner those with same sex attraction can find healing and wholeness.

    I agree that not all the things of our ancestors should be repeated…but looking at the overall decay of our society, they certainly had things right when it came to marriage.  God will not be mocked and we will reap the insanity that we sow if we mess with the foundations of family.

    Let’s stop letting the unstable run the asylum.  Bring back reason, definitions, honesty, courage, and most of all truth who is Jesus Christ.  

    • The Truth

      That’s the crux of the problem. what is “love.” Homosexuality is not love any more than adulterous affairs are or fornication. We’ve lost the real meaning of human love. God is love and without Him there is no love. The problem is trying to convey that is almost impossible. They will have none of it, they can’t see beyond their grasp of their idea of freedom.

      • Doughlas Remy

        I just responded to Adam Baum about words that have multiple meanings or meanings that have become diffuse over time. You spoke about “love,” but you only defined it as “God.” (“God is love.”) Beyond that, I’m not sure what you mean by it.

        Are you saying that only someone who serves or identifies with God in some way is capable of human love? 

        • Michael

          I don’t think so. One can choose to love, but to the extent they love is directly related to God whether they decide to see it as identfying with God or not.  To the extent one truly loves, they are serving God.

    • Adam Baum

       Where have the young ever been taught that love and sex are different?

      • Proteios1

        Turn on a tv. That should help you answer that question.

    • Doughlas Remy

      Medical professionals (i.e., all the major medical associations) have refused to classify homosexuality as a disorder.

      There is plenty of brokenness and trauma among heterosexuals. Are we to conclude that they are disordered?

      What about homosexuals who are not broken or traumatized? What about all those who have good jobs, a robust family life, pay their taxes, and give back to their communities? Are they disordered?

      • Adam_Baum

         “Medical professionals (i.e., all the major medical associations) have refused to classify homosexuality as a disorder.”

        No, the creased doing so. There’s a difference.

        • Doughlas Remy

          They creased doing it? When was that?

          • Adam Baum

             I assume you can google “removed from the DSM”.

            • Doughlas Remy


              • John200

                DSM is the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
                Disorders (DSM)” of the American Psychiatric
                Association. It provides the current rules for psychiatrists who would diagnose mental disorders.

                “Removed” will give you an excellent insight on the
                homo”sex”ual …. well, it’s time for action. Google it, you’ll see.

                • Doughlas Remy

                  Sorry, I still don’t get it. What am I supposed to google?

                • Doughlas Remy

                  OK. I googled, “removed from the DSM,” and this is what I got:
                  Homosexuality is no longer considered a form of mental illness by mainstream psychologists and psychiatrists.I knew that.

                  Oh, I see what this is all about. I said that medical professionals had “refused to classify homosexuality as a disorder,” and you are pointing out to me that it would be more correct to say that they “removed” homosexuality from the DSM.

                  Got it. Good point. Thanks for the correction.

  • Adam Baum

    It would be easily to attribute the ready acceptance of same-sex unions among the young to their place in life. It is the nature of youth to be impetuous, short-sighted, injudicious, intemperate, indiscreet, hyper-confident and naive. The current generation’s tendencies to these attributes have been exaggerated by childhoods that were overly-structured, protected, indulged, free of behavioral consequence and moral restraint or example. The world was in many ways conformed to them, rather than they being conformed to the world. “Whatever” isn’t just a dismissive rejoinder, it’s the single-word anthem of a generation weaned on absolute relativism. The problem with this idea is that there have always been young, and even the hippies of forty years ago-who were hellbent on changing the world and who for the most part dispensed with marriage, never made its redefinition a cause.

    It would also be easily to attribute this change to broadcast media and secular education with their relentless propagandizing of homosexuality as an attribute as immutable, benign and normal as hair color and therefore entitled to respect, accommodation and celebration. It seems instinctual to give credit to the Joe Biden who is so rarely right, for a certain insight in his comment about about “Will and Grace”, even if he left out innumerable other examples of shows that gradually took homosexuality from opprobrium to oddity to option to obligation, but the reality is that such a view merely serves to delusions of enlightenment and significance so commonplace among the artistic and thespian classes.

    The reality is that the apparent embrace of “gay marriage” is the result of five centuries of war on marriage that was unleashed by two old adversaries-Henry the Eighth and Martin Luther. Henry wanted the indissolubility of marriage to be subject to an exception for the hereditation of a sovereign-since in his view nothing could be preempt the necessities of statecraft-which in a monarchy means heirs. Luther made a broader attack in asserting that marriage wasn’t a sacrament, but a contract to be regulated by the state. Despite those assaults, marriage was largely proclaimed and held to be a lifetime commitment by a man and a woman for centuries, even as its practice deviated more and more from that ideal.

    Today, marriage is an estate that is still formed with an exchange of vows promising mutual,  unreserved, unconditional lifetime fidelity and commitment but practiced as a contract of convenience, with each party knowing that bifurcation is possible with any or no reason, without significant cost or opposition, at the behest of either party at any time.  Today’s youth grew up in a culture where few couples actually remain wed to each other until death and many establish households without benefit of clergy. Anything that is optional and disposable will never be thought of as valuable, unique or permanent, even if it is initiated with the elaborate and costly ceremonies that are the modern wedding.

    The Pied Piper of Hamelin is as much a cautionary tale about the ease which children can be led astray en masse by charismatic demagogues as it a murky retelling of an actual historical event. With no acculturated example about the meaning and permanence of marriage, and with parents increasingly regarding children as exercises in vanity, whose formation is the responsibility of others, it should be no surprise that they consider marriage to be an amorphous arrangement devoid of any inherent nature, worth preserving, defending and promoting-but a franchise to be extended thoughtlessly to any group that requests it. 

  • Peter Freeman

     It is true that we can’t always model ourselves on particular past behaviors, but that doesn’t mean we should never look to the past for guidance. The column asks us to consider if there are good, rational, sound reasons why no major Western civilization has ever defined marriage in a way that would permit homosexuals to declare themselves married. Were the ancient Greeks and Romans all just homophobic? Were all of Shakespeare’s readers homophobic? Or are there valid reasons for preserving an exclusively heterosexual definition of marriage that our ancestors could see more clearly than we can? It’s not like they were unaware of same-sex attraction (even if they didn’t call it homosexuality). Yet they still didn’t see the need to restructure the family unit in an official sense. Were sodomy laws all just expressions of hatred, fear, and bigotry, or did they protect vulnerable individuals and preserve a broader good? We’ll never know if we keep getting shouted down as neolithic hate-mongers every time we ask.

    • Doughlas Remy

      Unfortunately, our ancestors in the Western world didn’t leave many clues about their reasoning on this matter. However, I doubt they  had (on average) a more sophisticated understanding of human nature than we. There’s plenty of evidence, too, that humankind’s capacity for empathy has been steadily increasing over the centuries, despite major setbacks now and then. It’s hard to locate the beginnings of the “rights revolution” that has been going on for so long, but some of its milestones stand like beacons: the American Revolution, the Emancipation Proclamation (1863), the Nineteenth Amendment (women’s suffrage, 1920), and the Civil Rights Act (1964). This has been called the “expanding circle of empathy,” and gay Americans are coming into it late.

      If there are, as you say, “valid reasons for preserving an exclusively heterosexual definition of marriage,” then I think we should be able to work out for ourselves what they are. We’re grown-ups. We can take charge of our own lives without having to consult the elders. Fact is, father doesn’t always know best.

      Ten countries–mostly in Europe–have legalized same-sex marriage, and the number will soon be twelve. If we really want to know whether same-sex marriage has all the ill-effects that we are constantly warned about, then let’s look at the outcomes in countries like Canada, Spain, Argentina, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands. This, in my opinion, would be the best way of approaching the issue. Looking to ancestors–the same folks who owned slaves, forced children to work in mines, and denied women any rights–does not seem very rational to me.

      • Peter Freeman

        Your comment seems pretty defeatist. Because father doesn’t always know best, we shouldn’t consult him at all? The best way to find out what the consequences of social reform are is to experiment on whole countries?

        These are precisely the kinds of attitudes that Chesterton deconstructs so elegantly and concisely.

        I’m also skeptical about the “expanding circle of empathy.” Many of those nasty skeletons in Western Civilization’s cupboard were very empathetic in their context. Ancient slavery arose from pity for a defeated foe in combat (it was kinder than killing him); peasants, slaves, and women couldn’t vote because their lords would exploit them.

        Ancient civilizations might have had a less “sophisticated” or rather “scientific” understanding of human nature, but they probably had a clearer, wiser, and healthier understanding of it–because survival depended on knowing what the other guy (or gal) was capable of doing.

        • Doughlas Remy

          We shouldn’t consult father if he held slaves, beat his wives, and was a drunken fool his entire life. If he did, then just count him out and look for better models, of which there are plenty.

          History has been full of social experiments, many of which failed, like Prohibition did in this country. Others, like women’s suffrage, the emancipation of slaves, and child labor laws, were a resounding success. Every change entails risk, but we learn from our mistakes. If we never tried out new ideas, we’d never make progress. There’s no sign that SSM has undermined the institution of marriage in the countries where it has been legalized. On the contrary: more people are married (and to the people they love). Fewer people are trapped in marriages with partners who are not attracted to them. An estimated 50 million Asians are in unhappy and ill-fated marriages because one of the partners is gay. (That’s the combined populations of California and Illinois.) Wouldn’t it be better for everyone concerned if they could sort it out?

          You’re skeptical about the expanding circle of empathy? Are you saying that ancient slavery resulted from a higher level of empathy than we possess today? I guess it is, if your benchmark is cold-blooded murder.

          Survival still depends on knowing what the other guy is doing, and ancient civilizations definitely had less sophisticated understandings of human nature than we are capable of having today. There is no contest. We have (access to) the accumulated wisdom of all the intervening years, and they do not. The big question is what we’ll do with it. Rejecting modern scientific understanding of human nature is not a good beginning.

          • John200

            Dear Mr. Remy,

            I don’t want you to miss my comment to Mr. Freeman above. He is wise enough to be skeptical about the
            “expanding circle of empathy” which you brought to us from Peter Singer, the utilitarian and animal rights guru.

            You might have informed us of its provenance and, in all honesty, of its utilitarian,
            vaguely inhuman (in my view, subhuman) tenor.

            Mr. Freeman is wise to be skeptical of the “expanding circle.” I thank him for prompting me to further inquiry. 

            • Doughlas Remy

              Actually, I brought the expanding circle metaphor to you courtesy of Steven Pinker. He discusses it in his recent NYTimes best-seller, “The Better Angels of our Nature.” Pinker is not theoretical; he finds statistical evidence to support the expanding circle idea, and I personally found his conclusions very persuasive. 

              • Doughlas Remy

                Who is Peter Singer?

        • John200

           Mr. Freeman,

          I wanted you to know you have very good reason to be skeptical about the “expanding circle of empathy” which is direct to you from Peter Singer, Princeton philosopher (well, sophist) and animal rights guru.

          I smelled something funny about the concept as Mr. Remy introduced it without much explanation of its content. I sensed a leftish, sickminded, vaguely inhuman tone to it. But to be honest, I was going to let it go. Your good intuition spurred me to a quick background check.

          It is wise to be skeptical of the “expanding circle” and wiser still to deeply oppose it.

          • Gail Finke

            Really? I have heard about “empathy studies” from a few people lately but I had no idea they came from Singer. I dismissed the idea after about 5 minutes of thought. Oh yes, the deaths of more than 100 million people (China, the Soviet Union, Cambodia, etc.) and the mass imprisonment of millions more PROVE it. Humanity is SO much more compassionate and empathetic than it used to be! Give me a break. Humanity isn’t empathetic at all — only a person can be empathetic, and that takes both will and grace. Christianity and the command from God to love everyone (not just your clan or family), even your enemy, is what increased the “circle of empathy” or whatever the heck it’s called over the last 2000 years. The abandonment of Christianity is what brought in the concentration camp, the gulag, and genocide. Ideologues think that the perfect system will make everyone be perfect. Christians know that people are by nature selfish and cruel, no matter what system you put them in, capable (and prone to) violence, indifference, and even terrible crimes…. but also made for love, kindness, self-sacrifice and goodness. To deny this is to deny human nature, which of course is what ideologues do. But truth is truth. You can deny it or pretend things or different, but truth doesn’t much care what you think or say.

            • Doughlas Remy

              On the one hand, you seem to think there has been no “expanding circle of empathy,” and you cite Pol Pot and the Gulags. But you also state that “Christianity … is what increased the circle of empathy over the last 2000 years.” So it was just the abandonment of Christianity that interrupted the expanding circle? But then what do you make of the fact that the Cambodians were never Christians to begin with?

              • Gail Finke

                I was using the term “circle of empathy” metaphorically, sorry for confusing you. I do not accept the entire expanding empathy theory, which seems to be (from my admittedly limited reading) yet one more in the family of “humanity — as represented by us — has spontaneously and/or by means of science resulted in superior human beings — again as represented by us” school of ignoring reality. My point, as I have no doubt you understand perfectly well, is that Christianity teaches that everyone is to be respected and loved. It has taken millennia for people to live that ideal better and better, but that did indeed happen. Abandoning Christianity is abandoning this idea for the older and natural understanding that the people of your tribe (literal or constructed) are to be protected and everyone else is more or less fair game. Examples of both (peoples who abandoned the idea and peoples who never held it in the first place) are abundant and the world is full of their bloody example.

                • Doughlas Remy

                  I’m not at all sure that the “expanding circle” folks are ignoring reality. As I mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I brought that metaphor into the discussion courtesy of Steven Pinker, whose recent NYTimes bestseller, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” makes a really strong case for the idea. Pinker is not a theoretician. He is a collector of data, and his data are very persuasive. I must say, he really changed my mind.

                  While it is true that Christianity teaches that everyone is to be respected and loved, that principle seems sometimes to be more honored in the breach than the observance. We are all remarkably adept at stigmatizing and ostracizing others even as we proclaim our piety. I blogged for several years on Gil Bailie’s “Cornerstone Forum” site and was astonished at the amount of gay-bashing he was engaged in. What’s so ironic about this is that he is a devout orthodox Catholic and a popularizer of René Girard’s magisterial works on scapegoating. 

                  Tribal thinking is always a problem, and I agree that one of Jesus’s core teachings is that we must never dehumanize people who are not part of our “tribe.” Our modern-day tribes are fraternities, teams, religious and political groups, and, of course, entire nations. 

                  I’m afraid that what I have seen in this blog discussion is very much in the vein of what I saw on Gil Bailie’s. Sometimes our concerns about cultural issues are justified, and yet sometimes they become a little hysterical. I don’t see any justification for all the “collapse of civilization” talk that I find here.

          • Doughlas Remy

            What a sleuth! Good going!

    • NDaniels

      Marriage, by its’ very essence is restrictive to begin with, because it is a self-evident truth that not every couple can exist in relationship as husband and wife.

  • Paumaguy

    When growing up in the 40’s and 50’s being a “good Catholic” was easy. There was a consensus surrounding our Christian/Catholic sexual/life/family morality. It was mainstream. Now the opposite is true. To be a good Catholoc now and in the future will require courage and strength and conviction. Faith will be tested. You have been granted the grace of trial and tribulation and therefore a shot at salvation.I think there will be more saints in your generation than in mine. C.Smith age 74.

  • CorneliusRamsholt

    Hm, an interesting argument. However, it has a hole or two in it. 

    Now, surely it’s a good thing to consider our honoured ancestors, and take into account what they have thought, and said, and done. Surely, we ought not to discount them out of hand.

    But then, “taking into consideration” is not the same as “instantly agreeing”. You know, I suppose, that for much of history bathing was considered not only unhealthy, but possibly deadly? Yet, nowadays, we have changed our opinion. This does not dishonour our ancestors, or make them useless idiots — it merely means that we have expanded our knowledge and worldview, and changed our minds. This is also why we have (for the most part) moved past monarchy towards democracy, past farming towards industrialization, and so forth. We have changed, as has the world.

    Further, much as I respect my forebears, it does seem just a little bit pathetic to let ourselves be outvoted by the dead. They, it must be said, had their fair turn running the world, and now it’s ours.

    I am aware that the view I have thus expressed is a primarily unpopular one among the devoutly religious, so — I’m going to leave my comment here, then go my way and, you know, commit unspeakable acts of debauchery with my love, since that’s what us people do . . . (I’m being sarcastic, if you couldn’t tell. He’s reading over my shoulder now and insisting I clarify that point. We’re actually going out to weed the garden.)

    • DoughRemy

      You’ve made some very good points. The question we should be asking is not, “Did our ancestors believe it?” but rather, “Is it reasonable and just?” What many ancestor worshippers do not stop to consider is that for every ancestor who held an opinion they agree with, there was probably one who did not. There was G. K. Chesterton, but there was also Bertrand Russell. 

  • scoobydoossmj

    This is by far the dummest case against gay marrige. And thought I read them all. NO! the dead do not get a vote.

  • AE

    While I agree with Mr. Kengor’s beliefs about the sanctity of marriage, I am always cautious about arguments based on antiquity. Arguing that tradition is right simply because it is tradition reminds me all too welll of the arguments forwarded by Edmund Burke – arguments that were quickly refuted by philosophers such as Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft.

    It is almost too easy to refute tradition-based arguments such as the one Mr. Kengor forwards here. For example, spousal rape was not considered a crime until the 20th century (with the last US state outlawing it as recently as 1993). Did centuries of treating women as the legal property of their husbands make it a “deep, accumulated wisdom in our long line of ancestors”?
    If we want to convince others that marriage should remain heterosexual, then surely we should come up with a more convincing argument than “because it has always been that way.”

    • AE, you write, “Surely we should come up with a more convincing argument than [tradition].” I agree. The argument from tradition is extremely weak, and, as you say, “almost too easy to refute.” Why do people continue making it if better arguments are available? Personally, I suspect that there ARE no better arguments. Arguments that have so far been offered (the argument from biblical or ecclesiastical authority, the argument from tradition, the slippery-slope argument, the appeal to junk science in the absence of any other kind, the “common-sense” argument, and the “natural law” argument) have worn so thin that they are all “too easy to refute.” There is nothing left except a retreat into purely subjective justifications. Am I right? Why do you yourself agree with Mr. Kengor’s beliefs about the sanctity of [straight] marriage?

    • Gail Finke

      I understand your point but at the same time it is useless to say “whatever people have done or thought in the past doesn’t matter,” and of course none of us lives our lives disregarding every understanding that comes from the past — it would be impossible to independently establish every single belief and definition. If everyone in every culture at all times has agreed that marriage is by definition between one man and one woman, then it seems to me perfectly reasonable to demand that anyone who disagrees show that he has a damn good reason for saying otherwise. And so far, I haven’t heard any — especially considering that redefining marriage, besides being impossible (a thing remains itself, whatever you decide to call it), redefines almost everything else.

      • Gail, there’s a big difference between these two sentences:
        (1) Whatever people have done or thought in the past doesn’t matter.
        (2) What people have done or thought in the past is not necessarily right.

        Marriage has already been redefined in 10 countries (soon 12) and seven U.S. states. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary now lists two definitions.

        There are many, many “damn good reasons” for these changes.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    The democracy of the dead died a long time ago. Fiscal and sexual libertines replaced it with their own selfish desires. My generation doesn’t stand a chance.