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A row broke out in a Kentucky county courthouse yesterday when a clerk refused to issue marriage licences to two same-sex couples. When one of the parties demanded to know under whose authority Kim Davis was acting, she said, “Under God’s authority.”

“To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience,” she said. “It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision. For me it is a decision of obedience. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s word.”

This episode is only the beginning of a bigger drama for Davis, who has legal proceedings against her, although she is by no means unsupported in her defiance of the US Supreme Court’s decision to impose a new concept of marriage on the whole country. At the same time it illustrates how conscientious stands against same-sex marriage are likely to multiply as a result of the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

This anticipated consequence of the Roe v. Wade of same-sex marriage is one of two main themes presented in Ryan T. Anderson’s new book, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, which – also this week — became available in hard copy from the US. I got my copy last week in New Zealand, where Anderson, as part of an Australasian trip, addressed a family forum in Auckland.

Anderson is a great speaker, clear as a bell, even when talking about deep philosophical issues like the nature of marriage, which few of us had to think about until quite recently. He is also a great writer, as anyone who has followed his articles from the Heritage Foundation’s news service (and in many other publications) will know.

The 33-year-old top political philosophy scholar is the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at Heritage, the founding editor of Public Discourse and a co-author of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (2012), as well as of a Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy article which preceded it.

His new book is designed to summarise the issues and suggest ways in which marriage can be promoted and defended in the wake of the court majority’s act of “judicial tyranny”. That act and its abuse of the US Constitution is analysed in some detail in the third chapter, which includes the scornful critiques of the dissenting judges.

A secular defence of marriage

In the first two chapters Anderson deals with the truth about marriage from a secular point of view based on natural law and social science. Starting with Aristotle’s analysis of a community according to its actions, the goods it seeks and its norms of commitment, he shows how the marital community is formed by a comprehensive union involving all three dimensions. This union is by nature between a man and a woman and has nothing to do with anti-gay animosity; its social purpose is to unite the spouses with each other in a permanent, exclusive union, and with the children they may generate, for the sake of the common good.

When marriage is not lived according to the norms of permanence and exclusivity – indeed, when it does not even intend to provide the child with its own mother and father — children suffer and society suffers. Yet it is these very norms that are undermined by the Obergefell judges’ view that marriage is primarily about “love”, that is, emotion, and not the comprehensive flesh and spirit union ordered towards begetting children that is implicit in the whole history of the human race. Anderson points to the many activists as well as academics and the odd politician who have openly declared themselves for “throuples” and for “monogamish” and “wedlease” versions of “marriage”.

If marriage itself is threatened, so are the liberty and livelihoods of those who refuse to be complicit in the new definitions, like the Kentucky registrar. And while there are robust secular reasons to defend man-woman marriage, so far it is religiously observant people who have defended it in the public square. Anderson summarises cases in the US where church charities and schools, and business owners have been prosecuted for refusing to accommodate same-sex ideology in some way. Atlanta’s mayor sacked his fire chief for sharing a book based on a Biblical view of sexuality, and Brendan Eich, co-founder of Mozilla, was forced to resign as CEO of the company for privately donating $1000 to the Proposition 8 campaign in California – though not for any overtly religious reason.

Experience in other countries, notably Britain, confirms that religious freedom is definitely on the line in the far from finished debate over marriage. For this reason Anderson devotes a chapter to showing how this freedom is not only a basic human right but, as recognised by the US Constitution, the very first freedom. Federal law in the form of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has also recognised the key importance of this principle, although it has, says Anderson, a “discouraging track record” in defending bakers, photographers and florists who don’t want to provide services for same-sex weddings. Protection of religious liberty is very much on the agenda, post Obergefell.

One of the biggest guns rolled out against free speech in this area is anti-discrimination law, based on the claim that opposing same-sex marriage is equivalent to racism. Anderson devotes a chapter to showing “Why Sexual Orientation Is Not Like Race”.

In selling their case to the public same-sex marriage advocates have also drawn attention to “real families — loving, responsible, stable – who long for ‘marriage equality’” and research which shows “no difference” between children brought up by a same-sex couple or by their married mom and dad.  Anderson therefore devotes another chapter to the social science which shows otherwise and to “The Victims” – individuals (and there are a significant number by now) who have spoken up about their experience of being raised in a same-sex household. Among these is Katy Faust, given a hard time in a televised Q&A in Australia lately for arguing against same-sex parenting, after formerly defending it.

Like ‘bigots’, or pro-lifers?

Anderson begins his book with a reminder that an equally momentous Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, did not end the debate about abortion. Indeed, apart from extremists, most people who accept abortion also understand and respect the reasons pro-life citizens oppose it. The latter have not been driven into some ghetto for bigots and the number of people who describe themselves as “pro-life” has grown.

“Will defenders of marriage be treated like bigots?” asks Anderson. Or will they be shown the same tolerance for their conscientious beliefs, and the right to express them, as pro-lifers enjoy today? It depends on what we do from here on. His last two chapters – “Building a Movement” and “The Long View” – set out the practical consequences of this task, and they range from living the truth about marriage to raising money for the public campaign; from becoming better Christians to fostering inter-religious dialogue. “The Church needs to find a way to capture the moral imagination of the next generation.”

Specifically, there is a need for new laws protecting religious liberty rights – already enacted in North Carolina, Michigan and Texas – in all states. In general, a fight for a sound judiciary, more limited government, and push back on the sexual revolution. It was the sexual revolution, after all, that got us to the point of seeing marriage as merely an emotional union that two men or two women – or three or more people of whatever sex – could take on, and, like the rest of us, throw off at will.

As Anderson concludes, the task ahead is nothing less than “rebuilding, over decades perhaps, the intellectual and moral infrastructure of a society that can once again appreciate the truth about marriage.”  

Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet. 

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet