Dr. Ryan T. Anderson reflects on the consequences of the legal redefinition of marriage

“As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live,” said Pope Saint John Paul II in a 1986 homily in Perth, Australia.  The saint’s prophetic words reflect his insight into a trend that reached a new height with this summer’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision in the United States Supreme Court.

Speaking at Notre Dame in the wake of the Court’s decision, Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D., echoed John Paul II’s statement in a lecture given Monday, October 5, entitled “Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom.”  The lecture, hosted by Students for Child-Oriented Policy and the Tocqueville Program for Inquiry into Religion and Public Life, was based on Anderson’s book What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, co-authored by Sherif Grigis and Robert P. George (Encounter Books, December 2012), and on Anderson’s recent release, Truth Overruled.

Anderson serves as the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation.  Currently, his research and writing focus on marriage and religious liberty, as well as justice and moral principles in economic thought, health care, and education.  He has expertise in bioethics and natural law theory and is the founder and editor of Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, New Jersey.  Anderson holds a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a doctoral degree in political philosophy from the University of Notre Dame.

The lecture began with an examination of the effects of the Sexual Revolution, which, according to Anderson, brought about shift in the cultural understanding of marriage, which long preceded the legal redefinition.  Discarding the vision of marriage as a commitment between two complementary spouses who unite exclusively, monogamously, and permanently as one flesh, the Sexual Revolution instantiated a revisionist view that assumes marriage is primarily for satisfying the romantic desires of consenting adults.

It was this transformation of the definition of heterosexual marriage that provided the conditions for same-sex couples to seek recognition under the law.  “Had the cultural redefinition of marriage not taken place,” Anderson explained, “the legal redefinition of marriage would not have taken place.”

The Obergefell decision, therefore, is a direct result of this paradigm shift.  Effectively, Anderson argued, “the problem with Justice Kennedy’s decision is that it enshrined the vision of sexuality, the vision of marriage, the vision of family, that the sexual revolution gave us.”

In response to the question, “Why does state redefinition of marriage matter?” Anderson proposed four consequences of legal recognition of same-sex marriages.  First, he explained, there is no longer an institution in public life that upholds the ideal that every child should have a mother and a father.  Thus, marriage is no longer concerned with the needs of the children involved.

“Same-sex marriage creates an institution for missing parents, which is unlike single parenting or divorce,” Anderson said, because a child of a same-sex couple is not given the freedom to express a desire for the second parent.  Anderson then pointed to six adults who filed amicus curiae briefs with the Supreme Court opposing the redefinition of marriage because of their experiences as children of same-sex couples.

The second consequence of state recognition of same-sex marriage, Anderson continued, is that there is no reason the redefinition of marriage should stop at recognizing same-sex couples.  To illustrate this, Anderson explained several terms recently coined in American public dialogue.

A “throuple,” for example, is a romantic relationship between three individuals.  “On the Anthony Kennedy definition of marriage,” Anderson said, “these three men have a marriage,” because as soon as the state rejects the idea that marriage is fundamentally between a male and a female, it no longer has a principled basis to require that marriage is only between two individuals.

Ideas such as “throuple,” “monogamish” (used to describe individuals who consent to living in a sexually open relationship), and “wedlease” (a marriage that can be dissolved whenever the individuals are no longer interested in being bound to their spouse), increase the number of sexual partners and decrease the level of commitment between partners, leading to a higher number of fragmented families and fatherless children.

Anderson’s third consequence was that legalized same-sex marriage will further harm unborn human life.  An increase in the number of same-sex couples seeking a child of their own would result in an increased use of artificial reproductive technology.  This would affect women and children because many more embryos would be created and then “selectively reduced.”

Finally, Anderson outlined the expected effect of the decision on religious liberty.  Kennedy’s opinion, Anderson explained, “will be used to stigmatize and penalize individuals who believe in the traditional definition of marriage.”  He cited examples of Catholic adoption agencies in Massachusetts that had been forced to shut down after denying adoptions to same-sex couples. Such an action, he stressed, “simply scores a point for political correctness,” and is more about “silencing” those who oppose the redefinition of marriage than providing same-sex couples with a child.

In response to the Court’s decision, Anderson proposed that the “pro-marriage movement” should model itself after the pro-life movement, combatting judicial activism with a vision of marriage as exclusive, monogamous, permanent, and aimed at procreation.  Anderson described Kennedy’s decision as “freshman philosophizing about what marriage is” and insisted that Kennedy’s vision of marriage is not required by our Constitution.  Like the pro-life movement, Anderson continued, the American people need to let the Supreme Court know that its actions are not acceptable.

Anderson’s final statements shifted from the political, constitutional, and social to the ecclesial.  We need to develop a coherent and effective way to transmit the value of exclusivity, monogamy, and permanency to young people, he maintained.  Using Courage, a Catholic apostolate that ministers to individuals with same-sex attraction, as an example, Anderson said that we need more explicit ministries for people who have same-sex attraction and who desire to live in chastity.

Saint John Paul II, Anderson concluded, recognized that “all of the debates of the 20th century were about false anthropologies.” Ultimately, then, what is needed is more people living and witnessing to the truth about marriage and human sexuality.  Echoing Pope Benedict XVI, Anderson asserted that it is the lives of the saints that win converts rather than the doctrinal work of philosophers and theologians. “If we can get more people simply to live the truth about marriage,” he said, “that will be the best defense of marriage in the long run.”

Click here to watch a video of Ryan Anderson’s talk.

Nicole O’Leary is a sophomore theology and history major living in McGlinn. Contact her at noleary@nd.edu.