One Year Since Obergefell, Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

By Stefano Gennarini Published on June 25, 2016

“Speak now or forever hold your peace.” These are familiar words that historically became part of wedding ceremonies to prevent fraudulent marriages. One year after the Supreme Court’s invention of a constitutional right to homosexual marriage they ring truer than ever before.

Taking stock of the public debate that has ensued in Obergefell’s wake, or, to be more precise, the lack thereof, one remains astounded.

More and more social conservatives, especially GOP politicians, shy away from arguing against same-sex marriage in the public square and opt to only defend religious freedom instead. But even religious freedom is losing proponents.

Obergefell has been a blip in the GOP primaries, and it is not likely to feature at all ahead of the November elections from the looks of it. A few officials and intellectuals have visibly taken bold actions following the Supreme Court case — most notably Kim Davis who risked life and liberty for her conscience, and Robbie George who has invited states to consider Obergefell a modern day Dred Scott.

But overall, entire swaths of the social conservative movement have thrown in the towel on same-sex marriage altogether, in the hope that religious freedom will win out in the end. This strategy is bound to fail, as state level religious freedom battles show.

Virtually every single religious freedom bill since Obergefell is dead according to the ACLU’s latest religious freedom bill death toll.

One hoped that Kennedy was more sincere in his assurances for religious freedom in the Obergefell decision than his assurances that he would not seek to impose same-sex marriage in Lawrence v. Texas. But it’s out of his hands now.

Freedom of Conscience Is the Main Target

No one who wants to protect marriage and religious freedom should be deceived at this point. Religion and belief will not be allowed to stand in the way of unfettered sexual autonomy if the latter is allowed to advance uncontested and unopposed. This should have been evident to all from the very beginning of the homosexual marriage debate.

“Marriage equality” was never about marriage or equality just like the gay rights movement was never about non-discrimination. It is and always has been about imposing social acceptance of homosexuality — the true goal of the homosexual lobby, and one it will pursue by any means necessary, whether by coaxing, bullying or the force of law. Florists, bakers, business owners and CEOs across the country know this all too well.

In this context religious freedom is a false hope and self-censorship on homosexual marriage, as on homosexuality more generally, will prove costly.

Others have already argued that the Obergefell coup was quite possibly sown years ahead of the Supreme Court case because our public discourse on homosexual marriage already determined the outcome of the case before it was even debated. It turns out, quite predictably in retrospect, that we lost the battle for homosexual marriage when social conservatives accepted homosexual conduct as something morally neutral, even harmless, and homosexual inclinations as something natural.

This came to a head when Republicans pivoted to civil unions, and is undeniable since 2013 when civil unions became the basis for the Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. Yet, some social conservatives still argue that the debate about marriage has nothing to do with homosexuality per se.

The Wages of Self-Censorship

Conservative members of the academy, churchmen and even standard bearing conservative organizations do not dare venture into moral arguments against homosexual conduct, or challenge the pervasive deluge of grotesquely false and misleading homoerotic propaganda that bombards us every day, or even hint at the sordid aspects of the gay lifestyle and its unpleasant health consequences. Almost no one dares speak against homosexual conduct per se.

This self-censorship has acted as a moral palliative on our collective conscience and has helped consolidate the destructive gains of the sexual revolution in the wider culture. Opting for political correctness and compromise, we chose to ignore what should have been evident to all from the beginning of the homosexual marriage debate.

No rational, legal or philosophic distinction about the nature of marriage from homosexual relations can hold if sodomy is accepted as wholly and equivalently good as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. This is a logical axiom that has to do with human nature. It has to do with the very nature of sex, marriage and the family.

In 2003, Justice Antonin Scalia [RIP] understood as much when he predicted in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas that manipulating the Constitution to eliminate the “moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct” would inevitably lead to a judicially imposed right to homosexual marriage. Justice Anthony Kennedy denied this at the time in his opinion, but then turned around in Obergefell and fulfilled Scalia’s prophecy to a tee.

The Wounds of the Sexual Revolution

Humans are not merely rationalistic beings. Our sense of what is good, true and beautiful cannot be reduced to abstract rational distinctions. It comes back to human experience as a whole. And our common experience of sex, marriage and the family over the last half-century is fraught with confusion and contradiction.

The pervasive and deep wounds inflicted on our society by the sexual revolution — whose central tenet is that sex has nothing to do with marriage or children — necessarily affect our collective understanding of what is good, true and beautiful about marriage and the family.

It is no surprise then, in the midst of widespread sexual confusion, that our collective conscience is dulled enough to accept homosexual behavior as something morally neutral and even wholly good, as was reported by a recent study.

It is also no surprise that the response to the Supreme Court’s usurpation of public sovereignty in Obergefell has been lackadaisical, notwithstanding the many victories against a redefinition of marriage in the years immediately preceding the case.

It should be no surprise when the government wants to take away the freedom of churches on the issue of homosexual marriage and homosexual conduct more broadly. And it will be no surprise if they manage to do it.

A Culture of Deprivation

Entire generations of our fellow citizens are growing up deprived of their family. Nearly half of all children in our country are born outside of wedlock. This does not necessarily include all children whose parents divorce or separate. Not to mention the thousands of children deprived of their father and mother by their homosexual “parents.”

These “irregular” situations — as Catholics would traditionally have described them — perpetuate the confusion sowed in earlier generations by the sexual revolution. They are the foundation of the increasing marginalization of those who hold on to Biblical tenets about sex, marriage and the family, and may yet result in their full-blown censure and persecution. This is not hyperbolic alarmism.

The entire public square in the United States is already subject to a speech code thanks to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Pre-school children must be taught about gay “families” with two moms and two dads and about their gender identity, and heaven knows what other weird and wonderful things. No one can even challenge or say anything about it, because according to Justice Kennedy, the U.S. Constitution sanctions homosexual marriage.

In the last week, Anderson Cooper and the media elite have blamed the Orlando massacre on opponents of homosexual marriage and Christians faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Tomorrow, saying anything against homosexuality will be considered equivalent to sedition and treason. Religious freedom will be no defense by then. We will have crashed at the bottom of the slippery slope.

Religious Freedom: Use It or Lose It

In this context, it is paramount to speak the truth about marriage and the family, including the truth about sex, love and responsibility, even if it means taking a beating from Anderson Cooper and the mainstream media. Correction, especially if it means taking a beating on CNN. That is precisely the place where the debate should take place, so that it can influence our public discourse, the decisions people make, their personal lives and society more widely.

The debate about homosexual marriage has to return to basics while we still have the freedom to speak our minds and practice our faith in the public square.

Religious freedom cannot continue to be a refuge to withdraw from our country’s public life. It must return to the place the founders’ recognized as its rightful place, that is, as the foundation and springboard for cultural, social and political action.

“Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

As Cardinal Robert Sarah told the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast this year, unless we make use of our religious freedom it will be taken away from us. Unless churches, civil society and individuals speak up for the truth of marriage and the family now, they won’t be able to do so again, perhaps for a very long time.


Stefano Gennarini is the Director of Legal Studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) in New York. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of C-Fam.

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