Michael Bradley, Editor-in-Chief
Editor’s Note: Bradley submitted this piece to the university’s official daily newspaper, the Observer, in response to a viewpoint column written by the President of Notre Dame’s College Democrats on September 10.
Adam Newman’s recent viewpoint piece (“Striking down a bad argument”) advances an incoherent, confused argument. His argument betrays both a deep unfamiliarity with biblical scholarship and a deep misunderstanding of the arguments being made for conjugal marriage.
Newman seeks to advance the thesis that it is wrong to mine the Bible for isolated proof texts, sans any broader interpretational hermeneutic, in support of one’s positions on public policy. I agree. I therefore find it ironic that Newman mines the Bible for isolated proof texts—I suspect he had recourse to Google searches—in order to support his conclusion that biblical mine-proofing is wrong. We can bracket this methodological and logical blunder, though, and pursue his thesis directly.
Let’s bracket too for the moment the fact that many Americans who support same-sex marriage buttress their own views by citing, sans any broader hermeneutic, isolated biblical passages about equality, dignity, “God’s creation” and “God’s love,” as Newman does.
As a strictly factual point, Newman is fundamentally wrong about which biblical passages are “most relevant” to contemporary discussions of marriage. The Jews’ perspective on marriage—a natural institution rooted in the sexual-reproductive complementarity of man and woman—is expressed firmly and unequivocally in their creation narratives, in which this reality of sexual complementarity is woven into the order of God’s creation itself.
Other ancient cultures, including the Romans and Greeks, shared as their foundation for philosophically and legally holding marriage to be a male-female union the same principle of a complementarity intrinsically oriented toward childbearing; this despite the social reality that in ancient Greece, homosexual relations and relationships were commonly practiced and widely considered morally licit.
This same principle of sexual-reproductive complementarity undergirded the legal and philosophical traditions of marriage (which are fully distinct from though similar to religious traditions that sacralize marriage) that have informed the civil and common law traditions of every western society until extremely recently. This doesn’t make those traditions true, of course, but it does bespeak the non-religious bases on which these societies grounded their marriage policies, cultures and practices.
So for Newman to collapse traditions, laws and practices that affirm conjugal marriage to some sort of religious-biblical misinterpretation is, simply, historical falsifiable. So too is his claim that one can only find biblical support for conjugal marriage through a “literal interpretation” of Sacred Scripture.
We can bracket, too (for now) the fact that Christ himself, when asked his own views on marriage, echoed and affirmed the creation narratives’ description of male-female sexual-reproductive complementarity. I’m not sure how Newman concludes that the “main message [this] story works to convey” is God’s endorsement of calling a relationship between two men or two women “marriage.” Perhaps Newman can explain that in a subsequent column.
After he’s finished mining the Bible for proof texts in support of his policy position on marriage, Newman draws his own conclusions: Those who believe that marriage is an institution the essential norms of which are unintelligible if it is an intrinsically sterile relationship have “misguided views against gay people.”
Similarly, Newman concludes that by “loving creation”—which, he astutely notes, includes gay people—we therefore also must believe that any persons who love each other have a civil or human right to marry each other.
These conclusions are so fallacious as to not merit a response; their invalidity is self-evident. Still, I will say that it’s disappointing to see the President of Notre Dame’s College Democrats indulging them. They are of a piece with arguments that take astrology seriously, or seriously defend alchemy as a legitimate science.
Newman also talks about “gay rights,” a term I confess not to understand. I understand civil or natural rights, which are ours by virtue of our citizenship and humanity, respectively. So when Newman and others speak of “gay rights,” my inclination is to take them as meaning that we ought to secure for gay persons the same civil or natural rights that we all share as citizens and persons.
I agree with that position, but that doesn’t seem to be the understanding of “gay rights” Newman has in mind.
There is no civil or natural right to call a relationship between members of the opposite sex “marriage,” since the essential features that make a relationship a marital one—and not a friendship or some other type of relationship, however loving—are rooted in a sexual-reproductive complementarity that two men or two women cannot achieve. Nobody has a right to obliterate the norms that make marriage what it is by reducing it to an intrinsically sterile union founded on mutual attraction, divorced from reference to or regard for children and their right to be raised by the man and woman who gave them life.
Finally, Newman has the gumption to suggest that Roe v. Wade was simply an “opportunity” for “the modern conservative movement…to define themselves [sic] based on social issues.”
Since Roe was handed down, 57,000,000 children have been killed by their own parents under the protective mantle of the law. Shouldn’t the unborn among us, like those who are gay among us, be entitled to the same civil and natural rights we all share as citizens and persons?
Whose rights are being violated, again?