“Forget Falwell – All’s Well With American Tolerance.”
This was the headline of an (8/29/85) op-ed column in The Wall Street Journal.
The author noted that the overnight visitations to
Nebraska’s governor by an actress caused disapproval among only one of
eight workers in a statewide poll, that Rock Hudson’s avowal of his AIDS
affliction seems to be making the public less critical of homosexuality,
and that millions of people read Playboy and Hustler and use
mind-altering drugs despite the efforts of The Moral Majority and others
whom the editorialist called “hyperthyroid Puritans.” Toleration, he rejoices, is winning the battle against repression.
The social trajectory which he described has continued for almost
two decades and Toleration is nearing total victory over – WHAT? If repression were, in fact, the only loser in this contention,
Americans should rejoice. But
it isn’t, and they shouldn’t.
What is taking place is the suppression of the standards of conduct
essential to the civil order. A
person who celebrates the widespread use of illegal drugs seems oblivious
of, or has no concern for, the common well-being. What happened at Woodstock was not just a crowd of youth enjoying a
rock music jamboree. It was
also, in effect, an insurrection of 400,000 people openly and
intentionally defying the legal prohibition of marijuana and other drugs.
The Federal Government’s failure to intervene and terminate those
festivities was a lapse of judgment which probably foreclosed the
possibility of ever controlling by law the wide-spread use of
Before long, the prevalence of marijuana smokers became a shoulder
shrug for most Americans, lowering by several notches the venerable
assumption that Americans are, and should be, a lawful people. During the three decades since Woodstock, lawlessness has increased
to the point that many churches must keep their doors locked night and day
to protect their property and personnel. Two generations ago, those doors had never been locked.
A second fundamental norm of American life which the op/ed piece
reported to be on the wane was sexual morality. Today’s enthusiasts for abolishing restraints on sexual activity
are now joined in a full-court press to legalize and normalize same-sex
marriage. In most cases,
their arguments evidence no recognition that such a thing as the common
good even exists or has any bearing on the goal they pursue. The collateral consequences of same-sex marriage need to be
enumerated and evaluated.
Some years ago, Senator Daniel Moynihan made a shocking prediction
that the continuing disintegration of the African-American family would
prove disastrous for the nation. He
was tragically correct. America’s
cruelest social pathology is surely the large cohort of babies born to
inner-city unwed mothers (who, all too often, were themselves born to
unwed mothers), socially, psychologically and economically incompetent to
nurture, acculturate and sustain their offspring. The provision of sex education, birth-control devices and abortion
services has been of no avail in diminishing this endless delivery of
babies into a twilight zone of sub-human existence – gangs, drugs,
crime, husbandless motherhood, fatherless children, and permanent
These unfortunate mothers, and the fathers of their children, have
had no opportunity to learn what a family is, or to observe the
satisfactions husband and wife derive from helping their children mature
and succeed in worthy activities. They have no knowledge of the fact that sexual morality
constitutes the dues one pays for membership in a solid and loving family.
They have been grievously short-changed by society’s default in
its primary obligation to the young.
Every new generation must be taught about the nature of their
society and its institutions and how to live responsibly in that society.
There is nothing inherent in human nature that inclines an
individual to be honest and cooperative and to subdue the natural
tendencies to be aggressive, vengeful and destructive. Schools and churches and literature contribute to this process of
acculturation, but the members of the family – father, mother,
grandparents and siblings – provide the natural, and by far the most
effective, teachers for the young to learn social and moral maturity.
This function is so vital to the perpetuation of the free society
that it is surprising that Americans have not been more concerned about
reversing the deteriorating condition and the declining status of the
Just as Woodstock was the watershed event after which American
lawfulness began its decline toward insignificance, so the enactment of
no-fault divorce laws turned out to be the agent which blasted the
family’s status as America’s central, most valued and most cherished
institution. For most
Americans marriage had been an act of the highest significance and
solemnity, a lifelong covenant undertaken in a house of worship in the
presence of God, with family members and friends as witnesses to the
commitment made by the couple. “Holy
Matrimony” it was called.
Suddenly, no-fault divorce snatched one generation from the family
context. Either husband or wife was enabled to demolish the family
household if he or she found someone else more alluring then the spouse,
or decided that marriage was too burdensome, or too anything else. The children and grandparents instantly became second class
citizens whose well-being was of no consequence whatever in the legal
process of familial dissolution. The
institution of marriage was by a single act of law degraded to the
insignificance of an auto insurance policy. If a spouse terminates a family, don’t worry about it, no blame
is attached. The other family
members simply have to do the best they can to rise above the wreckage and
get on with their lives.
There was also collateral damage caused by these laws.
The sexual restraint required to sustain a good marriage had still
been widely respected in America. The
no-fault laws which devalued marriage also attenuated both the individual
conscience concerning marital fidelity and the public disapproval of
philandering. The decreased
respect for marriage and for sexual morality seemed to feed on each other,
further diminishing the family’s viability and its uniquely beneficial
role in society.
judgment to initiate no-fault divorce and the discussion of enacting
same-sex marriage need to be viewed in a larger context. Among the profound insights Robert Nisbet enunciated in
of Authority, the one he stressed most strongly in his chapter on
“The New Science of Despotism” was “The New Equality.”
I think it would be hard to
exaggerate the potential spiritual dynamic that lies in the idea of
equality at the present time… Once equality becomes a cornerstone of
national policy…it resembles some of the religious ideals or passions
which offer almost unlimited potentialities for continuous onslaught
It is the nature of
providential ideas like equality that they are stayed by neither fact nor
The arguments for same-sex marriage are cast primarily in terms of
the unfairness of legally prohibiting individuals, disinclined toward
heterosexual marriage, from enjoying with their partners the emotional,
psychological, legal and social satisfactions and privileges which are now
available only within heterosexual marriages. The question that must be probed and analyzed is whether the
benefits to the whole society derived from granting equal marriage status
to homosexuals outweigh the further erosion of the institutions of
marriage and the family which that extension of equality will cause.
There is, I believe, a predominant judgment among family
sociologists and psychologists that the family and sexual liberation are
mutually exclusive. The one
cannot become more prevalent and publicly approved without a comparable
decline in the status of the other. The
impact of no-fault divorce laws illustrates that maxim.
Certainly, no civilized person would want to sustain a situation
that makes life more difficult for anyone, especially members of a
minority group, but to make a national judgment in favor of same-sex
marriage solely on the basis of sympathy for a minority group would be
irrational and unwise. Should the society pay the price of further weakening and
destabilizing the family?