The Roots of the SCOTUS Decision on Same-Sex ‘Marriage’
In Why You Think the Way You Do, I argued that cultures have worldviews just like people do. When a new worldview is adopted it takes time for it to work its way through the culture, as older ideas continue to hold within the culture for a time until the logical ramifications of the new worldview have a chance to develop and spread. Further, if the worldview is dominant for long enough, the culture will eventually adopt all of the logical implications of the worldview even if those were not apparent when the worldview was first adopted.
As an example, the Declaration of Independence says that the equality of all people is a self-evident truth, and that people have an unalienable right to liberty; nonetheless, it took nearly a century before the Civil War abolished slavery, and another near century before the Civil Rights movement. It took time for the ideas to embed themselves firmly enough into the culture that the country was willing to pay the price to move toward consistency with our own first principles.
Given these realities, the best way to understand the Supreme Court decision mandating that all states allow same sex couples to marry is to examine the ideas that led to the decision and their gradual propagation through the culture. This will also help identify the inevitable next steps in the evolution of American ideas about sexuality and marriage. Barring, that is, a change in worldview in the culture.
The Freudian Revolution
The ideas begin with Sigmund Freud. Freud’s ideas are much more complex than we can deal with here, but for present purposes the core of his thinking is that mental illness is caused by a conflict between our sex drive and the restrictions society places on sexual activity. This conflict pushes our sexual desires into the unconscious to avoid the guilt associated with them, and this in turn leads to unhappiness and mental illness.
Freud’s solution was psychoanalysis, in which a psychiatrist listens to a patient’s thoughts, fears, dreams, etc., without ever passing judgment on the patient. By doing this, the patient feels safe and eventually the unconscious sexual drives will come out. When the patient realizes that the psychiatrist accepts the “dirty” thoughts and desires without passing judgment, the guilt that the patient has been feeling disappears, and with it, the patient’s mental and emotional problems.
Although Freud was quite controversial in his day, over time the ideas were adopted by the intellectual and artistic community. By the 1950s, they were a commonplace in not only elite art circles but even in popular entertainment. To pick just one example, Alfred Hitchcock’s films during this period are full of Freudian references and imagery.
It is worth noting that the church had by this time abandoned both the intellectual sphere and the entertainment industry, and so was not in a position to try to counter these changes in ideas or to promote alternatives via the media.
The Sexual Revolution
Once Freud’s ideas about sex had become part of the American psyche (whether consciously or not), the groundwork was laid for the sexual revolution. In terms of theory, the sexual revolution adopted Freud’s ideas about our mental and emotional problems being rooted in society’s suppression of our sex drive, but advocated a different solution: rather than dealing with guilt feelings through psychoanalysis, why not just eliminate the problem at its root by getting rid of sexual taboos and norms, and instead promote sexual freedom under the label of “free love”? This was essentially the idea promoted by Hugh Hefner, aided and abetted by the development of birth control pills and the widespread acceptance of contraception.
This change coincided with two significant changes in family structure. The first was the divorce revolution. Prior to this, procreation was considered an important component of marriage, so much so that unhappy marriages stayed together “for the sake of the children.” The period of the sexual revolution saw a change in the fundamental idea of marriage, so that it was about the adults’ happiness primarily, with the sop thrown in that it was better for the children for the parents to divorce than to grow up in a house where the parents were unhappy. Unfortunately, studies today show that this assumption was wrong, and that children are better off with their parents even in a bad marriage, as long as abuse is not involved.
Second, we saw the destruction of the African American family due to the Great Society programs and the War on Poverty in the Johnson administration. In an attempt to deal with the problem of poverty, there was a vast expansion of the welfare state. But to make sure that only people who needed the money got it, the rules stated that the family got less money if the fathers lived in the home, under the assumption that the fathers would have jobs and thus the families would not need as much money. But there were no jobs in the inner cities, and so to get the help offered by the government the fathers were forced from the homes. The net result has been generational fatherlessness and dependency on the government.
All of these ideas and results helped shape education. Despite all evidence to the contrary, schools began to teach that all configurations of families were equivalent, that none is better than any other. Further, if Freud was right, children have sex drives, as is evident for example in his idea of the Oedipus Complex. Since the educational establishment had accepted Freudian ideas as reinterpreted by the sexual revolution, educators increasingly believed that if children were going to be psychologically and emotionally healthy, they needed to be educated in sexuality by the schools since parents could not be counted on to do it right — meaning in line with the sexual revolution’s ideas and values. Further, because all children are sexual beings, sex education has to be done at all grade levels in an age-appropriate manner, all the way down to kindergarten.
The Homosexual Revolution
Alongside of this was the recognition that if the primary source of unhappiness and mental illness is the suppression of our sex drive, then normalization of homosexuality is essential for promoting people’s mental health. Political pressure led to removing homosexuality from the list of disorders in the DSM by the American Psychiatric Association. Then, following a program laid out by Kirk and Madsen in After the Ball, the entertainment media, especially television, began promoting homosexuality as perfectly normal, and even many homosexual characters as more normal than many “straights.” And just as had happened with Freud, within a decade or so of the media beginning to advocate these ideas, opinions in America shifted on homosexuality. This was especially true among younger people, who were indoctrinated with this view in the schools as well.
Just as the first phase of the secular revolution led to legal changes with the divorce revolution, so the homosexual phase has now resulted in legal changes with the Obergefell decision. The legal “reasoning” involved in this decision was little more than window dressing for the promotion of a worldview that says that the highest good is sexual self-expression. Unfortunately, “enlightened” people see sexual freedom as trumping religious liberty, because true freedom and human flourishing depends on the triumph of this understanding of sexuality.
These ideas are deeply embedded in the progressive worldview, and like all worldviews that are dominant in a culture, the logical implications of this one will be put in place in society. We can expect the process to continue with the following:
- The transgender agenda will continue to be promoted and expanded, based on the premise that you are your feelings and desires and that who you are on the inside matters more than biological facts.
- If sexual complementarity is not necessary for marriage and family, then there is no logical reason why marriage must be limited to two people. We can expect and are already seeing a call to recognize polyamory as a legitimate form of marriage. After all, it is simply another form of sexual self-expression, and if a group of people want to have sexual relations with each other, society should not impose its arbitrary constraints on sexual behavior by insisting only two can be married to each other at a time. I suspect that this will be the next front in the battle over marriage, and I expect it to be legalized within the next few years.
- A more distant implication is the legalization of incestuous marriages. If marriage is fundamentally about the romantic attachments of the couple and not about children, there is no logical reason to prohibit incest. Should a woman in an incestuous relationship become pregnant, prenatal genetic testing and abortion can take care of any problems that might result. The “yuck” factor may delay this for a time, but apart from a change in worldview, we can expect legalization of incest to come some time after polyamory.
- Another result will be the normalization of pedophilia, which is also being advocated by some today. If children are sexual beings by nature, we can expect continuing downward pressure on the age of consent. Further, the argument is already being promoted that pedophilia is nothing more than a different sexual orientation. There will be resistance to this based on the well-known harm that comes to children from sexual abuse, but sooner or later that will begin to be de-emphasized or swept under the rug, much like the many medical problems associated with homosexuality have been. Ultimately, we can expect that the combination of reducing the age of consent and the redefinition of pedophilia as a sexual orientation will eventually lead to its normalization.
- Beyond these, it is possible that other sexual activities will be normalized as well. Wesleyan University already has on-campus housing for a wide range of sexual preferences, including sado-masochism. Bestiality is another candidate for recognition. These may be more distant prospects than some of the others, though with the success of 50 Shades of Grey normalization of sado-masochism may come sooner than we would expect.
People will accuse me of falling into the slippery slope fallacy here, but some slopes truly are slippery. There is nothing in the fundamental principles of the underlying worldview that will prevent it from following this trajectory, and history shows that worldviews will lead to their logical conclusions unless the worldview shifts again.
Christianity offers a better, more compelling vision for human flourishing, one that conforms to reality and thus actually works. The question for us is whether we understand it well enough to live it out ourselves to show others what it offers, and whether we understand it well enough to teach and promote it to others. The battle will be won or lost at the level of worldview, and unless we can effectively and winsomely present ours, the world will be progressively filled with the casualties of the sexual revolution, whose stories will be suppressed until the whole thing collapses, leaving a host of ruined lives in its wake.
Originally published by the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview on July 6, 2015.
Re-published with permission from our friends at The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.