Systemic Racism vs. Systematically Undermining Marriage: Why the Difference, Progressives?

By Tom Gilson Published on January 31, 2019

Progressives aren’t famous for being consistent in their thinking. Here’s an example: “systemic” issues. They’re all over it when it comes to racism. Marriage, though? You won’t hear a word from them. Not even crickets. And this inconsistency makes all the difference when talking about marriage.

Racism isn’t just a matter of individual opinion or experience, say progressives (and many conservatives as well). It can be built into the very structures of society, they say. African Americans face great challenges that have very little to do with the individuals they work with or the neighborhoods they live in, for obstacles to their success are built into the system.

You can’t get anywhere talking with progressives about racism without systemic racism getting a mention. Whether that view on race is right or wrong, I have no need to get into here. Debating that point would distract from my real one, which is this: Progressives care about systems and institutions. Except when it doesn’t suit their agenda.

Progressives care about systems and institutions. Except not so much when it doesn’t suit their agenda.

If structural, institutional issues mattered so much to them, you’d think they’d be all over the institutional effects of so-called same-sex marriage. No such luck, though.

“That Gay Couple Down the Street Doesn’t Hurt You Any”

Remember these talking points from before the Obergefell decision?

  • “That gay couple down the street isn’t hurting your marriage one bit.”
  • “How can you tell those nice men they shouldn’t experience the joys of marriage?”
  • “Do you have proof it’ll harm those two if they marry each other?”

Notice how particular that all is, how individual. Even when enlarged to a broader scale, it’s just individual situations added together: “How can you deny gay couples the right to make medical decisions for each other?” Try to find any awareness of systemic effects in a statement like that, and you’ll be looking in vain.

Trying to Preserve Marriage Systemically

Conservatives have answered revisionists repeatedly along these lines:

Marriage is an institution whose purpose extends far beyond the couple. It’s essential to us all, for raising children, building communities, stabilizing societies. It’s not the easiest commitment to sustain, though. It flourishes best by far when society supports it comprehensively. Such support has been waning badly enough among straight couples, but same-sex marriage puts a huge smiley sticker of endorsement on top of that failing support.

Honestly, it seems like every time I’ve said something like this, the answer’s been, “Really? Tell me how the gay couple down the street hurts your marriage.” It’s back to the individual.

Not Getting the Point

An Australian writer wants to know, “Will gay marriage make my marriage less sacred?” Translated: Hey, if it doesn’t hurt me, it doesn’t hurt anybody, right? Nobody I care about, anyway.

The late Elizabeth Edwards, former wife of John Edwards, said it the same self-focused way: “I don’t know why gay marriage challenges my marriage in any way.” Good for you Mrs. Edwards. And the loss of systemic support for marriage certainly had no influence on your husband’s fathering a child by his mistress.

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Another Australian writer apparently takes the view that every marriage is an island entire of itself:

No one else’s marriage has any impact on mine, and if I thought that it did or that it would, that speaks more of the insecurities and concerns I should have with myself rather than with others. How does gay marriage affect my traditional marriage? It doesn’t. It’s really that simple.

Actually, no, it’s not that simple. As John Donne might have put it, any marriage’s dissolution diminishes hers, for she is involved in all humanity. And therefore she should never send to know for whom the divorce papers have been filed. …

A writer at proved just how badly a person could miss this point:

I’d worried that gay marriage would harm the institution, but a year after [my niece’s lesbian] wedding, nothing changed. My marriage and those of my straight friends didn’t fall apart because my niece got hitched. I didn’t see the decline of Western civilization.

Not even in one year? Don’t be so impatient! Give it another six or eight weeks, at least.

Donuts and Diets?

The best progressive response I’ve run across was a comment on my own blog:

You really believe that allowing gays to get married somehow undermines your marriage and/or family structure – or at least the institution of marriage and family.

If that’s the case, we’re at an impasse. Have you seen the quote about “Being upset over gay marriage is like getting mad at someone for eating a donut when you’re on a diet”? That’s basically this claim. You said it undermines the institution of marriage. I say it strengthens it.

That’s really the best I can recall. Donuts and diets — yeah, that answers it! At least he seemed to care about the institution as such.

But then he went on to describe the institution as he saw it: a mere “social and legal construct,” an “emotional bond” that’s “also” (almost parenthetically?) a commitment. Not a word about children, community or culture. Nothing about maintaining social support for any of the above.

Shouldn’t the Institution of Marriage Matter, Too?

Then he adds, “Saying ‘my wife’ says we are more dedicated to each other as compared to ‘my girlfriend.'”

Maybe he thought that helped his case. Sorry, but no. More dedicated as compared to “my girlfriend” isn’t how real husbands stay married for the long haul. With such a diseased view of the institution, how could this commenter hope to know what would strengthen it?

So here’s my question for progressives. Do you really believe social systems and institutions have an impact on people? Do you believe that impact matters? If so, then why shouldn’t it matter with marriage, too?


Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ. Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor.

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