Those who have read Anderson’s earlier book, heard him speak, or read his articles and watched his videos (as I have) will find much familiar material here. But it is helpful to have it all packaged together in one volume. And given the June 2015 US Supreme Court decision, this volume is as up-to-date as you can get, just squeezing in that ruling and its implications.
That Obergefell v. Hodges was an exercise in raw judicial power, collapsing the views of fifty US states, and replacing it with the views of five Justices, may make this book seem redundant. But decisions can be overturned, and those nations which have not yet gone down this path must learn more about the case for marriage and the harmful results in redefining it.
His earlier book (written with Robert George and Sherif Girgis) looked at the broad question of what is marriage and it serves as a good introduction for this fuller and more rounded treatment. See my review of the 2012 volume here: billmuehlenberg.com/2013/01/07/a-review-of-what-is-marriage-by-sherif-girgis-ryan-anderson-and-robert-george/
Anderson begins by restating the case of what marriage is – and what it is not. He contrasts the revisionist view – that marriage is basically whatever adults in relationship agree to (the ‘consent-based’ view) with the historic view, that marriage is the permanent and exclusive union of a husband and a wife (the comprehensive view).
He reminds us that the comprehensive view of marriage “is based on human nature, not anti-gay animosity”. He cites Chief Justice Roberts in the US decision: “Marriage did not come about as a result of a political movement…. and certainly not as a result of a prehistoric decision to exclude gays and lesbians. It arose in the nature of things to meet a vital need: ensuring that children are conceived by a mother and father committed to raising them in the stable conditions of a lifelong relationship.”
Marriage matters for public policy because children matter. If marriage did not involve children, the state would have no real interest in marriage. But because having children is always a possibility from the sexual union of a man and a woman, governments have a keen interest in ensuring any such children are properly cared for.
And the social science research data makes it abundantly clear that children do best – by all indicators – when raised in a married heterosexual household. Mothers and fathers matter, in other words, and each brings a unique set of skills and experiences into the act of child raising.
Marriage is our most pro-child institution, and therefore governments have long extended to it benefits which other types of relationships do not receive, simply because of the tremendous social goods heterosexual marriage bestow onto society.
But given that these themes have been well covered in the earlier volume, here we find more emphasis on the dangers that arise when we go down the path of redefining marriage. And various common objections are dealt with along the way.
For example, it is often claimed that heterosexuals have done plenty to destroy marriage, so why the big fuss about homosexual marriage? It is certainly true that from the 60s Sexual Revolution onwards – with no fault divorce, ramped up promiscuity, the decoupling of sex from procreation via things like the Pill, the rise of the porn culture – we heterosexuals have done a good job of messing up marriage.
But these were mainly cultural changes. What we are now talking about are legal changes – changing the very definition, meaning and purpose of marriage. Law has a normative effect, and when we tell society that marriage is simply about any deep emotional adult relationship, with gender no longer meaning anything, then we send out the message that mothering and fathering do not matter, and that children do not matter.
We weaken an already struggling institution instead of shoring it up. When a person is ill, we don’t say we might as well just bump him off. We do all we can to restore and renew the person. Marriage needs to be restored and reaffirmed, not further weakened and broken by redefining it altogether.
Another common objection says that denying homosexuals the right to marry is the same as denying blacks the right to marry whites. This is easily answered of course: sexual orientation is not the same as race. A ban on interracial marriage was based on racism, not on anything inherent in marriage itself. There is nothing in marriage to prevent two people of different skin colours from marrying, but there is concerning two people of opposite gender.
A constantly raised objection is the claim that children do just fine in homosexual households. Anderson reminds us of the social science data on this, but perhaps more importantly allows some of these children to speak for themselves.
One such victim of this revolutionary social experiment is Katy Faust who was raised by two lesbians. She bears no ill-will to them, but knows firsthand the heartache of father-absence. “This debate,” says Faust, “is about one thing. It’s about children.” She explains:
When a child is placed in a same-sex-headed household, she will miss out on at least one critical parental relationship and a vital dual-gender influence. The nature of the adults’ union guarantees this. Whether by adoption, divorce, or third-party reproduction, the adults in this scenario satisfy their heart’s desires, while the child bears the most significant cost: missing out on one or more of her biological parents.
A major portion of this book demonstrates how freedom in general, and religious freedom in particular, suffer from legalising homosexual marriage. The simple truth is, when governments decree that marriage can be a genderless affair, then anyone objecting to this new definition can and will face the heavy hand of the law.
And that we see happening aplenty. Indeed, in my own recent book I document nearly 200 cases of people being fired, fined or jailed simply for affirming heterosexual marriage and resisting its redefinition. Anderson offers more such cases – some quite shocking and infamous cases indeed.
But his explanation of why such crackdowns on religious freedom will occur is worth recounting here. When marriage is redefined
we can expect to see the marginalization of those with traditional views and the erosion of religious liberty. The law and culture will seek to eradicate such views through economic, social, and legal pressure. With marriage redefined, believing what virtually every human society once believed about marriage will increasingly be deemed a malicious prejudice to be driven to the margins of culture.
People will object that often there are exemptions in the various anti-discrimination laws to allow a minister or pastor to do his thing, to refuse to perform a homosexual wedding. But religious freedom is for everyone, not just church leaders. We all suffer when these laws are passed and homosexual marriage comes into play.
There are religious schools, charities, institutions, small businesses run by religious folks, and so on that will be impacted. And all the periphery workers are impacted as well: bakers, florists, reception centre owners, photographers. What about their religious liberties? We already find all these groups being punished when declining to cater for homosexual weddings.
Anderson does not leave us in despair, but ends his fine volume with strategies for the way forward. He offers various proposals, including learning how to speak truth in the public square, mobilising the churches, becoming co-belligerents with other concerned groups, and so on.
He reminds us that what comes down in a day will take much longer to rebuild. We need a long-term vision here. And we must not believe that the war against marriage and family is inevitable or irreversible. He reminds of the great gains being made in the pro-life movement over the past decades, and how we can see similar results in the pro-marriage movement.
We need to rebuild the “intellectual and moral infrastructure” of society, Anderson says in closing, so that we “can once again appreciate the truth about marriage.” And this book greatly helps us toward that end.