On Marriage and the Liberal Empire


Over at First Things, a thought-provoking new essay has just been published by R.R. Reno, on the ultimate political and philosophical implications for gay marriage: if they can do this, there is nothing they can't do.

A few excerpts:

"The debate about same-sex marriage brings the modern liberal project to a point of clarity. If marriage can be reshaped to accommodate same-sex couples, then there is nothing that the modern liberal state cannot redefine to serve its own purposes."

And more:

"Here’s the way Girgis, George, and Anderson put the thrust of Koppleman’s disagreement: “Against our view that marriage is a pre-political form of relationship (albeit one that the state has compelling reasons to support and regulate), Koppelman holds that marriage is merely a social and legal construction—the pure product of conventions.”

Whatever one thinks of the morality of homosexual acts or the role of same-sex relationships in society, this contrast strikes me as telling. Most who defend traditional marriage hold that our body of law should recognize the reality of marriage, while liberals tend to take the view that our legal system creates the institution of marriage, and therefore can reshape and recreate it as the democratic majority (or in this case a judicially empowered minority) sees fit.

In this distinction between recognizing and creating we can see the fundamental metaphysical question at stake in the same-sex marriage debate. Are there any stable and authoritative social realities—such as marriage—prior to or more fundamental than the legal artifacts created by the modern liberal state? Or is the Leviathan of the modern state the singular source of social reality?"

And he understands the deep connections between marriage and life issue--both instances of the state attempting to redefine primal human reality.

"If, as Koppleman and other liberal legal theorists forthrightly affirm, the modern liberal state can do with this fundamental institution as it wishes, then it seems to me that there is nothing the modern liberal state cannot redefine, reshape, or reinvent.

Creating and never recognizing—it’s a vision of political life that fills me with foreboding. After all, the human person, like the institution of marriage, is (thank God) pre-political, to be respected not remolded, recognized rather than subjected to redefinition.

But just as liberal theory so easily takes up and refashions marriage, I fear that an imperial liberalism will soon be underwriting a redefinition of parenthood and reproduction—the very origins of the human person and thus the inner fabric of our humanity. Not a happy future."