Confessions of a Millennial Marriage Apologist
by PETER JESSERER SMITH
The Heritage Foundation’s authority on marriage and religious liberty, Ryan Anderson pushes against the headwinds on marriage that have swept up his fellow Millennials.
As a Catholic Millennial and Princeton graduate, Ryan Anderson finds himself on the opposite spectrum of many of his peers when it comes to marriage. At a time when many in his generation are embracing the redefinition of marriage, Anderson has emerged as one of the leading voices arguing with dispassionate spirit for marriage as a permanent, inseparable union of man and woman.
Steeped in the natural-law tradition, Anderson researches, writes and speaks on marriage and religious liberty as the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.
Originally, Anderson arrived at Heritage to pursue further work on a dissertation that grappled with natural law, social justice and economic rights. But as the Supreme Court began to address cases that asked the justices to incorporate same-sex couples into legal marriage, Anderson was drawn into the increasingly fractious and lopsided debate.
During an April 21 interview with the Register, Anderson discusses the forces that have put Catholics on the defensive in the debate on marriage. He also explains why marriage needs to be comprehensively addressed beyond same-sex unions and how he remains hopeful with the conviction that history will ultimately bear out the truth of marriage.
On April 28, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in key cases that involve the redefinition of marriage. What do we know about the mind of the court at the present time and about the mind of the American people?
Right now, we know the court is split roughly 50-50, and the American people are split roughly 50-50.
Why are cultural elites, corporate America and other elite institutions running from traditional marriage and supporting its redefinition to include same-sex couples so strongly?
I think the left has been pretty successful at stigmatizing anyone who stands for the truth about marriage as if they are today’s equivalent of a racist bigot. So, largely, this has not been through a dispassionate analysis of reasons and arguments and dispassionate evaluation of the evidence. Largely, this has been through a campaign of intimidation and silencing.
You’ve been debating on marriage: How has the cultural tone changed over the last few years — and why?
Ever since the Windsor decision — the Supreme Court decision on the federal Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] case — that gave a permission slip to many people on the left to be quite nasty on this issue. If you look prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling on that decision, no one knew how Justice [Anthony] Kennedy was going to come down. No one knew what the Supreme Court was going to do. Most people were doing a wait-and-see attitude. President Obama only evolves on marriage a couple of months before the decision. Once he evolves, that gave permission to people on the left to evolve. Once the Supreme Court rules, that gave people on the left permission to be quite mean about it. There’s a lot of bullying going on from the left.
Lately, we’ve seen more people being marginalized for their traditional beliefs on marriage, and the pace seems to be picking up. Have you experienced this personally?
I don’t know if I’ve been marginalized. I spoke at Harvard Law School a couple of weeks ago, and I’m speaking at Yale Law School tomorrow. I was profiled in The Washington Post last week, and I had an op-ed this week — I don’t think they’ve been successful at marginalizing me, and it hasn’t gotten me discouraged. I think that, ultimately, the tactics they’re using are to try to intimidate people into silence. The response needs to be of people being resolute in bearing witness to the truth.
What do you make of your own alma mater, the Quaker Friends School in Baltimore, distancing itself from you over the profile in The Washington Post of you and your views?
The worst part of what took place with my grade-school alma mater — it was the school I went to from first to 12th grade — is the signal and precedent it sets. It sends the signal to conservative students at that school that their viewpoints will not be validated; that the school is not a place where people on both sides of this issue will be giving a fair hearing and a fair chance. It sends the signal that if you are in favor of the historic definition of marriage — the union of male and female — that that viewpoint is unacceptable.
So if anything created a hostile environment … merely sharing a link on a Facebook page of a Washington Post story about me — if simply doing that created such a bad environment — taking it down sent the signal that anyone who thinks the way I think is not welcomed as a full member of that community.
What lessons have you learned about what is helpful to advance the cause of marriage in the public square? What are the most effective arguments and the least effective arguments in making the case in the current cultural context?
Here, most people can’t understand why people who believe the truth about marriage believe what we believe. Here, we need to find ways to explain the rational basis for more or less a historical consensus that marriage unites the two halves of humanity, male and female. We see this more or less all across the globe and all throughout human history: that marriage was about bringing together man and woman, husband and wife, mother and father. We need to find ways to embody that and express that to people who don’t seem to see the truth in it.
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