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Fellow Notes

Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom* [Book Review]

“‘The Truth About Marriage’ brings to light many of the flaws and weaknesses of Obergefell v. Hodges and how they can impact the future of families.”

Jason S. Carroll | February 5, 2016
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A heterosexual couple embraces, which represents the true nature of human sexuality and marriage.

The central premise of Dr. Ryan Anderson’s new book entitled, “Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom,” is that with its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court of the Unites States “brought the sexual revolution to its apex – a redefinition of our civilization’s primordial institution, cutting its link to procreation and declaring sex differences meaningless.

This redefinition he argues is fundamentally a cultural and social revolution that will have consequences far beyond those couples newly able to obtain a marriage license. This is a key observation that is almost entirely absent in our cultural conversation about the legal recognition of same-sex relationships, where many prefer to look backwards through the telescope and narrowly frame the debate as a matter of personal relationships.

The Truth About Marriage

The debate in the United States... is not about equality – it’s about marriage

The compelling aspect of Dr. Anderson’s book is that he correctly highlights how defenders of same-sex marriage are not engaging in the true debate that is before us. For many, they would say that the Supreme Court decision was about “marriage equality.” But, as Dr. Anderson aptly points out, everyone in America is in favor of marriage equality. Everyone wants the law to treat all marriages equally and in the same way. But, the debate in the United States before and after Obergefell v. Hodges is not about equality – it’s about marriage. We disagree about what marriage is. As Anderson points out, “before you can get to considerations of equal protection of the law, you have to know what it is that the law is trying to fully protect.”

In compelling terms, Dr. Anderson lays out for his readers how the recent Supreme Court decision reinforces the “Consent-Based” view of marriage that defines marriage primarily in terms of an “intense emotional union – a romantic, caregiving union of consenting adults.” From this view, what sets marriage apart from other relationships is simply the priority of the relationship. Anderson argues that this view collapses marriage in significant ways, he explains:

Rather than understanding marriage correctly as different in kind from other relationships, the consent-based view sees in it only a difference of degree: marriage has what all other relationships have, but more of it. This gets marriage wrong. It cannot explain or justify any of the distinctive commitments that marriage requires – monogamy, exclusivity, and permanence – nor can it explain what interest the government has in it.”

* Note: This fellow note is a review of Ryan Anderson’s book “Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom,” Ryan Anderson, Ph.D. is the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation, and the founder and editor of Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, NJ.

And if our legal and social definition of marriage can no longer explain or justify these dimensions of marriage they are in serious risk of further decline, as others seek legal recognition of plural, group, and open marriages. Anderson concludes:

The law cannot be neutral between consent-based and conjugal views of marriage. It will enshrine one view or the other. It will either teach that marriage is about consenting adult love of whatever size or shape the adults choose, or it will teach that marriage is a comprehensive union of sexually complementary spouses who live by the norms of monogamy, exclusivity, and permanency, so that children can be raised by their mom and dad. There is no third option. There is no neutral position. The law will embrace one or the other.

The Future of Religious Freedom

While Truth Overruled extends Anderson’s previous writings on the debate about marriage and the harms of redefining marriage in our culture; this book also sets forth the most compelling analyses to date of how this debate is inherently linked to the future of religious freedom. This connection emerges not primarily from what is being debated about the nature of marriage, but rather in how it is being debated. Specifically, Anderson points to what he calls the “false analogy of interracial marriage” where same-sex marriage advocates insist that people who oppose same-sex marriage are just like people who opposed interracial marriage – and the law should treat then just the same as it treats racists. So, Anderson asks the all-important questions: “Will the defenders of marriage be treated like bigots?” and “Will our society and laws treat Americans who believe that marriage is a union of husband and wife as if they are the moral equivalent of racists?”

Dr. Anderson presents some hope that this is not our inevitable path. He explores the possibility that perhaps the marriage debate can follow the path of the abortion debate in our culture. He explains:

“Ever since Roe v. Wade, our law has granted a right to abortion. And yet, for the most part, pro-life citizens are not treated as though they are “anti-women” or “anti-health.” Those are just slurs for extremists. Even those who disagree with the pro-life cause respect it and recognize that it has a legitimate place in the debate over public policy and – this is crucial – it’s because of this respect that pro-choice leaders generally respect the religious liberty and conscience rights of their pro-life fellow citizens.”

Will the same tolerance be shown to those who believe the truth about marriage? Will the government respect their rights of conscience and religious liberty? Dr. Anderson believes that right now “it doesn’t look good” and the “trend has been in the opposite direction,” but he goes into detail in his book about what defenders of marriage can do to reverse that trend.