About a month ago, Shelby Steele wrote a Wall St. Journal article, "Selma to San Francisco", that argued "same-sex marriage is not a civil rights issue." The homosexual lobby sees marriage as "more a means than an end, a weapon against stigma." Andrew Sullivan took issue with Steele and penned a New Republic article, "Civil Rites" (available to subscribers only), arguing as much.
Now Steele has written a rebuttal of Andrew Sullivan’s defense of same-sex marriage in his own New Republic article, "Married With Children". This last article is a more robust and persuasive argument than Steele’s original Journal article, and so I take note of it here. Steele does not think Sullivan’s analogy to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s is a fair one. More importantly, Steele makes a fundamental point about (heterosexual) marriage being primarily a "civilizing institution," and not simply or principally an institution to facilitate "romantic love and adult fulfillment." Instead, marriage exists to channel or "manage the explosive natural force of male-female sex" toward "the heavier and more selfless responsibilities surrounding procreation." In short, marriage does not exist to integrate or equalize individuals, as Sullivan presumes. For Steele, the function of marriage is "the perpetuation of the human species, the launching of family life, the nurturing and socialization of youth, and even the survival of whole peoples and nations when tyranny and cataclysm collapse all other institutions."
Steele rightly observes that "the conundrum for the gay marriage movement is that marriage has already declined from its more selfless and stable era into something very much like what gays already have," which is more self-focused than other-centered, especially when those "others" are one’s children.
What is curious about Steele’s argument is that while he recognizes the natural functions of marriage that make it indispensable to life in civil society, he still argues--along with Sullivan--that "the stigmatization of homosexuals is evil and in no way contributes to the moral health of society." Now, perhaps Steele is drawing a distinction between stigmatizing homosexuals and stigmatizing homosexuality--a secular version of hating the sin but loving the sinner. If so, this is an important enough distinction to merit a bright line between the two.
Marriage is grounded on natural distinctions between men and women that give rise to the civilizing institution, the family. The fact that nature itself, along with the dictates of reason that produced a morality long supported by both nature and religion, are rarely mentioned in this debate surely explains why civil unions for homosexual couples (as opposed to marriage) are now conceded by a majority of the population. If arguments against same-sex marriage are considered null and void by virtue of their appeal to morality, which is to say an appeal to what both natural reason and revealed truths teach about men and women in civil society, then even the arguments put forth by Steele will not avail much. His best arguments are grounded in nature, and the conclusions one can readily draw by use of one’s reason. We can only hope and pray that said appeal will regain its authority before this issue is decided for the nation by over-reaching courts.