Never surrender, never abandon the field of battle
The fight for marriage calls for endurance beyond politics
The whole arc of my career has observed the marriage redefinition debate go from bad to worse. Back in 2010, when I first began working at the intersection of religion, ethics, and public policy, state courts had set trajectories that would eventually bring us Obergefell, the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
But even back then, I knew marriage was worth defending and its cause worth joining, and I have zero regrets about any of the public stances I’ve taken. How could I regret holding to the truth? Conjugal marriage—marriage between a man and a woman—is the cornerstone of society, ordained and ordered by our good God.
Then came the announcement I’ll never forget. I was standing in the legislative annex building of the Kentucky legislature in February 2011 when the notification on my phone flashed that the Obama administration would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act. I distinctly recall the surrealism of thinking how far the sexual revolution had advanced to where a presidential administration would abandon marriage. And so it has, as marriage continues into further statistical decline and irrelevance in the eyes of our elites. Of course, the decline of marriage is not exclusively the result of the LGBT movement’s activism. Marriage has been under assault by heterosexual revisionism for decades.
Later, I began working for the Heritage Foundation, mostly on the philosophical defense of marriage. While at Heritage, the Supreme Court’s 2013 Windsor ruling came that resulted in the Defense of Marriage Act being ruled unconstitutional.
That year, The New York Times profiled me, along with colleagues Ryan Anderson and Eric Teetsel, as the last vanguard of a supposedly dying breed—young conservatives who refuse to give up on “traditional” marriage. Even columnists like George Will, who has at least claimed to be conservative, sounded the alarm that opposition to same-sex marriage was comprised entirely of “old people.”
Ryan Anderson and I wrote a National Review piece back in 2012 titled “Not Dead Yet.” In that essay, we said the same thing our now-older selves are saying today: News of marriage’s death is “greatly exaggerated,” to borrow the phrase from Mark Twain. Marriage, true marriage, is never dead.
Then in 2015 came Obergefell, which we were told would “end the marriage debate once and for all.” All it did was catch a generation of Christians flat-footed in explaining why defending marriage is not only a matter of faithfulness to God’s created order, but also a necessary requirement of Christ’s command to love our neighbor and the society where our neighbor lives.
That brings us to today, where marriage is still under intense debate, now centered on the mistitled “Respect for Marriage Act,” which would finally codify same-sex “marriage” into federal law. No human law can change this: Marriage is and will forever be the covenant of one man and one woman joined to one another within a life-long and monogamous union. If something purports to be a marriage that denies any part of that previous definition, it is not a marriage.
Why do I recount these episodes? Because to my beleaguered band of happy warriors, I have one message: Never give up. Keep the debate alive. Silence never wins. Witnessing to the truth of marriage for its own sake is the call of the Christian. Refuse to surrender what the Bible refers to as a divine creation order, what the philosophers and theologians call the “natural law,” and what everyone else is bound to regardless of whether they recognize it or not: reality and truth—all of which are not up for a vote.
Creation order and the goods that comprise it are monarchical facts inscribed within the grain of the universe by a heavenly King, Jesus Christ. Don’t accept defeat. Look to the pro-life community that, in 1973, could have given up but didn’t. Their long plodding of witnessing and organizing brought us a victory this year that seemed impossible nearly 50 years ago.
I know our view may be an electoral loser ... for now. I do not care. A nation that jettisons the created order is not a nation that elections or pluralism can heal. It must be told of its absconding reality. So, Christians must tell the truth, regardless of the consequences. Any “conservative” at any elite publication or Christian forum who gets behind the “Respect for Marriage Act” has lost the plot. Forsaking the conservation of the most essential unit of society forever is neither conservative nor Christian. Institutions of creation order such as marriage are necessary for sound political community and human flourishing. Marriage cannot be negotiated away by a slow surrender to the demands of pluralism and progressivism. Christians declare that law should reflect the truth, and thus it is always wrong to tell a lie about what marriage fundamentally is.
As G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “The one perfectly divine thing, the one glimpse of God's paradise given on earth, is to fight a losing battle—and not lose it.” We live with that promise, perhaps not with a view toward the temporal age, where political wins and losses are provisional, but in an eternal hope that what God ordained belongs to Him, and He will be victorious.
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