The intellectual origins of same-sex marriage

130717 Marriage equality

What ultimately stands behind the gay marriage proposal is a perverse rationale that originates in certain philosophical presuppositions we find all the way back at the inception of liberalism, argues Michael Therrien.

To expose some of these presuppositions behind the gay marriage movement and how we got here, let us return to the Enlightenment. It is there that we find some of the deepest roots of our current situation, although not all of them. Three ideas, in particular, are formative and they have each received their due condemnation from Pope Leo XIII (and subsequent popes), whom I prefer to cite since he enjoyed a certain historical proximity to the institutionalization of these ideas. The first is the privatization of faith, which is how I will describe the classical liberal understanding of the separation of church and state. The difficulty is not with the idea of distinguishing the respective roles of church and state in public life, something Pope Leo XIII did quite commendably (Immortale Dei, no. 13). The difficulty is rather in how the Encyclopedists relegated matters of faith to the private sphere. Leo XIII describes it thus:

And it is a part of this theory that all questions that concern religion are to be referred to private judgment; that every one is to be free to follow whatever religion he prefers, or none at all if he disapprove of all. From this the following consequences logically flow: that the judgment of each one’s conscience is independent of all law (Immortale Dei, no. 26).

The second idea is the exaggerated primacy placed on the exercise of individual liberty, which some liberals touted as our highest political end. Here’s how Leo XIII describes it:

But that harmful and deplorable passion for innovation which was aroused in the sixteenth … invaded the precincts of philosophy …. From this source, as from a fountain-head, burst forth all those later tenets of unbridled license which … were wildly conceived and boldly proclaimed as the principles and foundation of that new conception of law which was not merely previously unknown, but was at variance on many points with not only the Christian, but even the natural law (Immortale Dei, no. 23).

The third idea is the liberal notion of social contract theory, which essentially means that civil authority originates in the will of the people and not from God (contra Wisdom 6:3 and Romans13:1).


- Michael Therrien

The intellectual origins of same-sex marriage (Crisis Magazine)

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