This simple, sentimental catchphrase has revolutionized American society, from the level of government all the way down to the level of bathrooms in public institutions. “Love is love!” we hear the masses cry out. If we are truly a nation committed to the equality of all of its members, then our laws must recognize that love is love, no matter who it is that loves, or how they choose to love. The new cardinal virtues of self-authenticity, acceptance, diversity, and political correctness have dramatically altered the way in which we conceive human bodies and relationships, or rather are fruits of the changes in how these human phenomena have been perceived over the last few decades. The voice of tradition cries out as well, seeking to make herself heard over the masses who are parading down the main avenues, toting their flags of progress and rainbows: “we cannot change what we did not make!” The human body is given. Human relationships are morally ordered by Nature. These voices, shaking but not wavering, strive to recall their compatriots to who they truly are, and yet they seem not to attract much attention. All they seen to receive are glares of contempt and attempts at being silenced.
Why is it that the voices that stand for human Nature and morality, as traditionally understood, only seem to garner negative responses from the American mainstream? Is what they promote true? Are they indeed hateful bigots? It would be imprudent to categorically assume any answer, and would prove dangerous for the fate of our society to do so. Only an authentic and self-critical reflection could allow these voices to bear fruit and build bridges in the public sphere. Before asking this question, it may be helpful to look at the voices of opposition, mainly those of the gay liberation movement, to see how they have progressed over time and arrived at their current platform.
The Stonewall Era of the gay liberation movement, though it precedes the current gay liberation movement by a mere forty years, was marked by a radically different platform and characteristics from what is advocated now by the voices of gay activists. Much less organized, and miles away from anything remotely modeling bourgeois puritanical moral norms, the faces of the gay liberation movement consisted of drag queens, gender ambiguous persons, leather boys, topless “dykes”, sadomasochists, prostitutes, and a smattering of other sexual deviants who would shake the moral sensibilities of most who esteemed “American family values.” These deviants were essentially advocating the right to congregate in public spaces without being arrested. Fast forward to 2015, and you found the new faces of the gay liberation movement, typically two attractive, cisgender, upper-middle class white men, clad in matching tuxedos at their marriage certificate signing ceremony at the local courthouse/Episcopal church, followed by photos of their post-wedding life, complete with a perfectly furnished condo, which is also home to their pristinely coiffed toy dog, and is known for hosting many a chic and happening cocktail party, with hors d’oeuvres found on pinterest and…..just the ideal, clean-cut, bourgeois image of married life! Hardly the abode of devilish, promiscuous, pedophilic, perverted sodomites.
What happened to the gay liberation movement in the small span of forty years? While you will definitely encounter a handful of the previously mentioned “deviants” at many a gay bar, one would be pressed to find a gay sadomasochist on an advertisement in a NYC subway funded by the Human Rights Campaign. It seems as if the gay liberation movement took some time to seriously consider what strategies would most effectively win over the moral senses of the American public. Clearly, it would be hard to convince a down-home apple pie eating American family to accept their son, who revealed to his parents that he has been seeing several young men who share his fetish for dressing in leather and occasionally engages in transvestite prostitution. American families typically value “American family values”: rooted in puritanical moral sensibilities, catering to the ideal lifestyle of the “average American” middle class, a two person married couple with a few (2, 3) children. The HRC and other prominent gay rights organizations were no fools when they started to aim their platform toward “traditional” family values. “We just want to be like everyone else!” we hear now. All they want to do is live a picturesque, Better Homes & Gardens cover-perfect married life that conforms to the ever-American family ideal. Love is love. All people just want to share their feelings for their beloved by making a commitment that is formalized by the government and starting a life together (possibly “getting” some kids if it tickles their fancy, maybe not). “What is wrong with these traditionalists?” wonder those who are on the “right side of history.” When will they come around to see how genuine, tame, and moral gay couples are? Their love is just like anyone else’s, right?
As long as Christians continue to resort to arguments that characterize homosexuals as perverts who lead dangerous and psychologically depraven lifestyles, they will barely stand a chance against the gay agenda’s emotionally-hooking push of the sweetly innocent gay couple next door, who wants to have a regular married life “just like everyone else.” Christians, first of all, should take this as an opportunity to affirm that this American ideal for marriage hardly fits the sacramental understanding of marriage that has existed since well before the establishment of America, and within drastically different social contexts than that of the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Perhaps this is because the true “home” of marriage cannot be found on earth, let alone in materialistic and puritanical conceptions of “the ideal” and of morality. The true telos of marriage can only be found in Heaven, thus the secular culture’s confusion as to how to define marriage.
That being said, gay activists and their “allies” do recognize that there is indeed beauty and goodness within same sex relationships. The fact that they conform to bourgeois moral standards does, in some regard, render the relationship more beautiful and morally approvable than the more outright “deviants” of the Stonewall era. Their slogan “love is love” can be said to contain “glimmers” of truth within it. The beauty and goodness of same sex relationships is neither new nor foreign to Christian sensibilities. A brief look at Scripture and at Christian tradition will reveal a plethora of beautiful, loving relationships between people of the same sex. But these relationships were not sexual in nature, rather they were understood as friendships. It’s not difficult to understand why some revisionist theologians look to the stories of biblical characters like Ruth and Naomi, and David and Jonathan as scriptural affirmations of same sex marriage. These relationships were devoted and loving. Relationships between contemporary homosexual couples also can be devoted and loving. The point of divergence is in the use of sexual intercourse as a means to express the couple’s love, and the openness to categorizing this relationship as a marriage.
Like many other aspects of contemporary society, the slogan “love is love” is an extreme reduction of a profoundly complex human phenomenon. Love manifests in many forms, as CS Lewis may tell you. There is love for inanimate objects, between mother and son, husband and wife, teacher and student, brother and sister, friend and friend, married person and committed celibate. These are all forms of love, and yet they manifest in different ways. And when illuminated by the light of Agape, Divine unconditional love, the human loves are purified and ordered towards a particular task. Two men and two women can and sometimes ought to love each other. People of the same sex may find each other to be beautiful as well. “Love is” not “love” in the sense that this love, which ideally would manifest in the form of a disinterested friendship, does not take on the task of fleshly union and does not express itself through the conjugal act. Yes, the love between many of the newly engaged same sex couples is in a sense good, but remains incomplete and impure until it realizes its true form and task. Were we to subtract the sexual-erotic element of the relationship and were to call it by its true name (friendship), traditionalists may likely have very little to condemn in the gay couple next door’s relationship. Perhaps we could praise their willingness to commit themselves to loving service and devotion to each other as friends. Perhaps…
Needless to say, these circumstances are a shade more complex than a mere matter of adding and subtracting terms in an equation. Yet this may help traditionalists to better understand the matters at hand, and teach us how to listen and respond more adequately and charitably to the secular culture. While the intent of same sex couples to marry may in some aspect be good and morally commendable, their intention to express their love sexually and to call their relationship a marriage is not. But let us look more closely, that is more discerningly, into what is being asserted in the claim for same sex marriage, and let us ask ourselves what exactly we are defending and condemning. What do the voices of traditionalists stand for? Are we indeed condemning two men or two women who want to lovingly devote themselves to each other? Or are we condemning acts of sodomy, lust, and a false definition of marriage? And most importantly, is this a voice that invites people to something more true, fulfilling, and ultimately, more human? I’m pretty sure there’s a difference, even if all of the aforementioned factors constitute aspects of the same relationship. But that distinction may make all the difference to someone who is considering entering into a same sex marriage. And that distinction may very likely make or break the validity of traditionalist voices in the public sphere.