Thoughts on the Chic-Fil-A Imbroglio

In light of the Chic-Fil-A imbroglio, my mind was drawn to an article I had read a few years ago.

I’m not writing this article to spark controversy, but rather to think through some of the arguments used by proponents of gay marriage and offer some reflections. Principally, I’m drawing my comments from philosopher Francis Beckwith’s 2005 article entitled, “Legal Neutrality and Same Sex Marriage.”  Beckwith’s piece seems particularly apropos since those who oppose Chic-Fil-A do so because they think the owner’s views are hateful and discriminatory.  While the detractors have not said so (at least not to my knowledge), their actions appear to be consistent with the belief that the government should remain neutral with respect to gay marriage.

For starters, proponents of gay marriage argue that states should remain neutral with respect to the definition of marriage. This idea is rooted in the fact that we live in a pluralistic society. That is to say that, since “there exists a plurality of different and contrary opinions on matters religious, philosophical, and moral . . . one cannot say with any confidence that one’s view on religious, philosophical or moral matters is better than anyone else’s view.” Stated simply, due to the array of beliefs that exist within a given society, the state is to remain neutral. This is supposed to allow people to truly be free.

Beckwith notes that such a belief is rooted in a system of thought known as “Philosophical Liberalism.” Philosophical liberalism “is the view that because reasonable people disagree on fundamental questions of the nature of reality, knowledge, human beings, and the good life, the state ought not embrace any one of these views as correct.” What makes this view popular is that it appears to be open and tolerant of other views. Upon further inquiry, however, one can see that this is not the case.  Philosophical liberals, rather than being open and tolerant of other views, actually want to see a society which reflects their own values.

Beckwith uses Ellen Degeneres’s acceptance speech from her 1997 Emmy award for her co-writing of her “coming out” episode on her own show. In that speech Ellen said, “I accept this on behalf of all people, and the teenagers out there especially, who think there is something wrong with them because they are gay. There’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t ever let anybody make you feel ashamed of who you are.” Of course, this was met with endless cheer. As Beckwith observes, however, Ellen’s speech is an example of, “passive-aggressive tyranny.” “The trick is to sound ‘passive’ and accepting of ‘diversity’ even though you are putting forth an aggressively partisan agenda, implying that those who disagree with you are not only stupid but harmful,” Beckwith says.

In order to understand what he’s saying, Beckwith gives the following example: Imagine that a conservative Christian won an Emmy award, and in her speech she said, “I accept this on behalf of all people, and especially the teenagers out there who
think there is something wrong with them because they believe that human beings are made for a purpose and that purpose includes the building of community with its foundation being heterosexual monogamy. There’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t ever let anybody, especially television script writers, make you feel ashamed because of what you believe is true about reality.” Of course, a person who expressed such views would be considered a bigot, and would be seen as intolerant. As Beckwith conludes, “Ellen’s Emmy speech does as much to those with whom she disagrees.” By encouraging her audience to accept her views, she is by definition saying that those who disagree with her are wrong.

As we can see, philosophical liberals are not as “Live and let live,” as they proclaim to be; they are not neutral. They are not neutral because their understanding of reality “presupposes a particular and controversial view of human nature, human community, and human happiness.”

Their controversial view of human nature, human community, and human happiness extends to the arena of sexual relations. Allow me to explain. Proponents of gay marriage assert that three elements must be present in order for sex to be permissible: 1) adult consent, 2) one’s desire, and 3) it cannot interfere with another person’s sexual practice, i.e. you can’t hurt someone in the process. Furthermore, advocates of gay marriage assert “that there is no disordered sexual practice as long as all the participant adults consent.” What’s more, they also assert that there is no proper function of sexual organs. Since this is the case, “consummation is no longer a necessary condition for a couple to be married.”

Aside from what this does to the definition of marriage, if what makes sex okay is meeting the three elements of sexual permissibility, where will this lead us? Beckwith gives this example: “Imagine that identical twin brothers over the age of eighteen travel to Massachusetts and request a marriage license. Could the civil servant in charge of issuing these licenses have any grounds to reject their request?” The answer seems to be no. We may not agree with incest, “But it is not precisely clear why the three elements of sexual permissibility could not be employed in this case to declare the anti-incest laws unconstitutional?”

As long as adult consent is present, how can we say incest is unconstitutional? And if we grant the premise used by gay marriage advocates—that there is no disordered sexual practice—it seems to me that the incest laws would also have to be overturned; to say nothing of bestiality.

Moving on, Beckwith argues that marriage is a natural institution, not a social construction. By “natural institution” Beckwith is drawing attention to natural law. He is saying that the make up and definition of marriage is rooted in nature. If I understand him correctly, Beckwith is saying that nature, and “nature’s God,” (whoever he, she, or it is) defines marriage, not the state. Thus, the state cannot define marriage, they are simply to recognize what marriage is. In this same vein, philosopher Michael Pakaluk
writes, “laws recognizing gay marriage imply the falsity of the view that marriage is an objective reality prior to the state.” Moreover, if the definition of marriage is not rooted in nature, then why would the definition of parenting be rooted in nature? Pakaluk believes this is what follows, for, “if the bond of husband and wife is not [rooted in] nature, then neither is the government of those who share in that bond over any children that might result.” Consequently, “laws recognizing gay marriage imply, similarly, that parents have
no objective and natural authority over their children, prior to the state.”

If this is true, “This would mean that parents have no natural right, no actual moral grounds, to object to the public schools teaching their children lessons about human sexuality that are contrary to the lessons taught in church and home.” This would follow if the state gets to define marriage, rather than recognize what it already is.

Finally, if gay marriage becomes legal in all states, what will happen to those who refuse to change their position? Beckwith asks, “Does anybody seriously doubt that recalcitrant social conservatives, serious Christians, Jews, and Muslims, who resist this
change in any public way, would receive the swift and certain punishment of the
law?”

Beckwith makes three concluding points:

1)A “regime’s understanding of the nature of marriage is wholly contingent upon a cluster of beliefs about human nature and gender, not to mention the good, true, and
beautiful.”

2) A “necessary condition for the permissibility of same-sex marriage is for the state to declare that the notion of proper sexual organs is
irrational.”

3) “If same-sex marriage were to become legal, it would result in the criminalization and social condemnation of the actions of serious religious believers.”

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