In light of the recent Supreme Court decision, these are sobering, almost prescient words from Robert George in his new book Conscience and Its Enemies.

A fundamental error some supporters of conjugal marriage have made is to imagine that a grand bargain could be struck with their opponents: “We will accept the legal redefinition of marriage; you will respect our right to act on our consciences without penalty, discrimination, or civil disabilities of any kind. Same-sex partners will get marriage licenses, but no one will be forced for any reason to recognize those marriages or suffer discrimination or disabilities for declining to recognize them.”

There was never any hope of such a bargain being accepted. Perhaps liberal forces would accept parts of such a bargain temporarily for strategic or tactical reasons, as part of the political project of getting marriage redefined. But guarantees of religious liberty and nondiscrimination for people who cannot in consciences accept same-sex marriage could then be eroded and eventually removed.

There is, in my opinion, no chance–no chance–of persuading champions of sexual liberation (and it should be clear by now that this is the cause they serve) that they should respect, or permit the law to respect, the conscience rights of those with whom they disagree. Look at it from their point of view: Why should we permit “full equality” to be trumped by bigotry? Why should we respect religions and religious institutions that are “incubators of homophobia”? Bigotry, religiously based or not, must be smashed and eradicated. The law should not give it recognition or lend it any standing or dignity.

The lesson for those of us who believe that the conjugal conception of marriage is true and good, and who wish to protect the rights of our faithful and of our institutions to honor that belief in carrying out their vocations and missions, is that there is no alternative to winning the battle in the public square over the legal definition of marriage. The “grand bargain” is an illusion we should dismiss from our minds. (144-45)

Considering that a majority of the Supreme Court considers traditional marriage supporters to be motivated by “animus” in their views, a victory in the public square is looking less and less likely. And yet, considering that losing this debate in the public square will be worse than many Christians fear, we should not be quick to give up our winsome promotion and intelligent defense of what is true and good.

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6 thoughts on “The Myth of a Grand Bargain on Marriage”

  1. Lee DeYoung says:

    It’s ironic that many who plea for tolerance on the front end of a debate like this (pre-legalization) can become quite intolerant of diverging views once legalization occurs.

  2. anaquaduck says:

    In my wisdom/bigotry I consider the fresh bread is far better than the mouldy. If any should tempt me to think otherwise I’d say it was a deception. I have all I need in the fresh.

    Equality may accuse me of being a bigot as it seeks to honour the dry, hard & mouldy bread but they are not the same & never will be, no matter how many laws or speeches are made.

  3. Mark Hanson says:

    The “five words” that radicals use to compromise a Godly institution:
    – We have a right to be heard!
    – We demand a place at the table.
    – There must be equal representation.
    – We’ll let those who disagree stay.
    – Our way or the highway.

    We are moving from the third to the fourth step in the homosexual marriage debate. And the RCA is getting close to the fifth step in women’s ordination.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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