Published June 29, 2023
Of course the slope was slippery.
As naked men parade in front of kids and pride marchers chant “we’re coming for your children,” a few LGBT activists are beginning to worry that things have gone too far. For example, Andrew Sullivan, an early and ardent advocate for same-sex marriage, is unhappy about reaping what he has sown. And he should be — from sterilizing and mutilating children via “gender-affirming care” to flashing children at pride festivities, the LGBT movement is proving social conservatives right.
Sullivan is repulsed and worried about a backlash, but he still denies any responsibility for the fruits of his labor. He argues his ideas needn’t lead to the illiberalism and radicalism his side is indulging. He is adamant that we could have, however uneasily, agreed to live and let live if the LGBT movement had taken his advice and closed up shop after its legal victories. He insists, “There is no slope in the case I made. There is a clear line: formal legal equality alongside cultural and social freedom on all sides.”
He is wrong. Same-sex marriage was always a radical project with implications for all of society, which is why there is a direct line from Sullivan’s case for it to the extremism he now deplores. Same-sex marriage reduces the differences between men and women to a matter of personal sexual preference, rather than a fundamental ontological one upon which civilization is based. If the sex binary doesn’t matter in marriage, it doesn’t matter anywhere.
Instead of a lifelong covenant that unites the two halves of the human race in a relationship that provides for the future of the human race, marriage was redefined as the mere legal recognition of an indefinite and androgynous pairing. The collapse of the older understanding of marriage began before the LGBT movement, but the triumph of same-sex marriage sealed it.
As Pastor Hans Fiene has put it, expecting that same-sex marriage would have no significant social effects is like blowing up the Hoover Dam and expecting Lake Mead to move only a few inches. And so, less than a decade after the Supreme Court invented a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, men think they can be women, women think they can be men, doctors are amputating the healthy breasts from increasing numbers of troubled adolescent girls — and our leaders from President Joe Biden on down are cheering them on.
The Lie of Being ‘Born This Way’
Evils such as this were baked into the arguments used to establish same-sex marriage. In particular, the claim that people are “born this way” — that LGBT identities are intrinsic and immutable — ensured that dissenters would be persecuted and children would be groomed into rainbow identities. However, though the mantra of “born this way” was a public relations triumph, it was false. The search for a “gay gene” quietly ended in failure a few years ago. The experiences of same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria are often fluid and felt with varying intensity. The causes are diverse and complex; that these feelings and desires may be unchosen does not mean they are determined at birth, or that environmental and psychological factors play no role.
Nonetheless, the lie of “born this way” enabled the hijacking of civil rights law to serve the LGBT agenda, which ensured that opponents of the LGBT movement were not only defamed as the equivalent of racists but that the enormous state power used to break segregation would be deployed against them. And so every wedding cake artist and photographer must bow before the state-enforced metaphysical doctrine that sex is irrelevant to the meaning of marriage. And the dogmas of gender identity demand that women and even little girls must get comfortable with males ogling and flashing them in what used to be female-only spaces.
Worse still, the false doctrine of “born this way” demands the grooming of other people’s children into rainbow identities. After all, if we are born with our sexual orientation and gender identity already fixed for life, then some children are necessarily born into the rainbow elect. Affirming these identities is seen as essential to their flourishing, for the sexual self is seen as the authentic self. Therefore, in order for the children born into the LGBT elect to live as their true selves, they must learn who they really are. And because we do not know which children are born with a rainbow identity until they tell us, then all children must be taught about sexual orientation and gender identity as young as possible, and encouraged to explore any hints of rainbow identity.
Of course, because “born this way” is a lie, the result has been a surge in children and young adults claiming to be LGBT. Consequently, we are now debating whether public schools should encourage children to transition and then hide it from their parents, and whether the government should take children away from parents who don’t affirm a child’s transgender identity. Somehow, “love wins” has become a mandate to seize children from their parents and mutilate them.
Social Conservatives Vindicated
These evils show that though social conservatives have been defeated, we have been vindicated. And there is more than the logic of social and legal revolution at work here. What religious conservatives understood — and what almost everyone else overlooked — is that sin stays hungry. Indulging and endorsing falsehoods about the nature of marriage, sex, and what it means to be embodied as a man or a woman only leads to more lies and more injuries.
If the cause of same-sex marriage had been righteous, we might have seen a result like that Sullivan imagines. That matters have instead gone so wrong, so quickly, should prompt us to look for where we went astray.
This reevaluation will often be uncomfortable, for the premises of the LGBT movement are derived from the sexual revolution as a whole, and that implicates almost all of us. Same-sex marriage was not the top of the slippery slope, it was just a point where it got steeper. The slide began with the effort to separate sex and its pleasures from obligation and commitment — the lie that we could and should separate sex from marriage, and marriage from the natural family of mother, father, and children. This is, of course, a perennial temptation, but the wealth and technological prowess of our age made it seem less harmful than it did in less prosperous times that lacked the pill and penicillin. But money and technology are poor substitutes for virtue and justice, so we have kept sliding down the slope.
Same-sex marriage accelerated this, building on past lies and adding new ones. And it also prevents recovery, insofar as it institutionalizes lies about sex, marriage, and family. Truth must be the foundation of any effort to rebuild a healthy sexual and family culture. And that will require rejecting government dogmas declaring that men and women are sexually and relationally interchangeable, subject only to the sovereign whim of adult preference.
Nathanael Blake is a senior contributor to The Federalist and a postdoctoral fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.