Gay Marriage & the Totalitarian State

by Dr. Gene Edward Veith
April 29, 2010

Prior to coming to PHC, at which he served briefly as Dean of Academic Affairs before becoming Provost, Dr. Gene Edward Veith was the Culture Editor of World Magazine. He is well-known in Christian, conservative, and homeschooling circles through his writing books and speaking on various aspects of Christianity and culture. Read full bio.

For some people, gay marriage is strictly a civil liberties issue. Even many conservatives support legalizing homosexual marriage because they believe that the state has no business restricting what people do in their personal lives. But actually, for the state to claim an authority to change the very definition of marriage is a totalitarian action, a case of a government claiming authority over all of life.

According to classical conservativism, as Edmund Burke explains it, the government of a nation must always defer to and support other institutions that have their own authority.  These include the family, the church, and the moral traditions of the culture as a whole.  When the government claims all authority for itself—to the point of contradicting and usurping these other institutions—the nation has ceded its liberties. 

A totalitarian state may permit a measure of personal freedom, but rarely as a right, only as its token gift.  In principle, when the state assumes all authority, individuals lose their authority and thus, ultimately, their personal liberty.

Marriage is not a mere romantic attachment between two people.  Rather, marriage creates a new family.  The purpose of that institution is both social and natural:  providing a context for engendering children and caring for them. 

As such, marriage has a religious dimension.  Our moral codes protect marriage.  The family, as created by marriage, is the basic unit of the culture.  In that sense, families are the foundation of the nation.  

Governments thus do have an interest in marriage and so pass laws for its regulation and protection.  But governments do not have the ability to usurp or override what religions, morality, culture, and nature itself say about marriage.

To say that men may marry men and women may marry women changes the very essence of marriage.  A government that takes upon itself the power to redefine the historic understanding of what marriage is, and has always been, has taken upon itself the power to do anything. 

Such a government is, literally, asserting itself over God Himself and taking His place.   Now the government becomes the arbiter of morality, able to change what is right and wrong by legislation.   Now the government asserts an authority over nature itself, turning marriage into a social construction and denying its very biological purpose.  Now the government takes over culture, presuming to replace previous customs and traditions.

The totalitarian governments of the past—that of the French Revolution against which Burke was writing, the Fascists, the Communists—all undermined traditional marriage by promoting sexual immorality, experimenting with communal families, and even setting children against their parents.  But none of them went so far as to change what marriage is.  None of them went so far as to establish homosexual marriage. 

Right now, legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States has been the work of a few state and local governments, though many national governments in other countries have already taken that step.  These hardly seem totalitarian.  But the mindset that accepts it is, perhaps unwittingly, accepting a role for government that is unprecedented in its scope and magnitude.  Once something as basic as the family is turned into something the state can alter and shape to its will, it may be just a matter of time before we see the rise of a more overt form of totalitarianism.

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