Voice of Love, Hand of Repression

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Election night: a good night for the conservative party, with the voters in Virginia and New Jersey evidently registering a rejection of the Obama Administration and its works. But one could watch even FOX News all night, as I did, without learning that something momentous was taking place in Maine. By a margin of 53-47 percent, the voters in this now most liberal of states, would overturn a law passed by the legislature to authorize same-sex marriage. Homoerotic marriage has been imposed now in several states through the judgments handed down by courts. Only in three states – Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine – have legislatures voted to make same-sex marriage legal. This was the first time that a decision of that kind could be submitted to the voters, and once again the people at large weighed in to preserve the institution of marriage.

And once again, the comments of despair in the aftermath of the vote revealed the depths of incomprehension. One woman, barred now from marrying her companion, expressed her anger mixed with puzzlement: It hurts. It hurts personally, she said. It’s a personal rejection of us and our relationship, and I don’t understand what the fear is. The theme was sounded once again that this was a matter of love, of fairness, of “equality.” But no, it was not so simply a matter of love or equality. It was not a matter of love because no one doubts the love that men may have for men or women for women. Nor can one doubt the genuine love that subsists between parents and children or brothers and sisters. But in the very nature of things nothing in those loves can be diminished as loves because they are not attended by penetration or expressed in marriage.

Fathers and daughters are not demeaned, their equality is not rejected, their love not denied, when they are barred from marrying one another. And it is telling – is it not? – that we never hear Rep. Barney Frank asking, “How does it threaten anyone’s marriage that a mother and son who love one another may live as husband and wife?” Apparently, when people regard the marriage as simply wrong in principle, they stop asking the question of just how it would hurt anyone else if the law permitted a mother and son to marry.

The irony here is that the people who have argued for years that we should not legislate morality now make the most strenuous use of the law, when the “logic of morals” is attached to their own policy. Lincoln, grasping that logic, conceded that “if slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away.”And in that case, he could grant the demand that the abolitionist literature be barred from the mails. If, that is, slavery were right, and opposition to it then were wrong. With this very logic in hand, various authorities in Massachusetts have pointed out that same-sex marriage is legitimate now under the laws of the state. And therefore: Justices of the Peace who refuse to perform the marriage may lose their license. Catholic adoption services, which will not place children for adoption with gay or lesbian couples, will now be compelled to cease their operation. In other states, photographers and caterers who do not wish to offer their services for same-sex marriages have been hit with penalties, newly legislated. And most recently, in Massachusetts, Peter Vadala, working for Brookstone, the retailer, lost his job when he would not chirp up his celebration when told by a woman from another store that she was about to marry a woman.

The woman, eager to announce that news, detected the discomfort in his silence. She kept pressing him. Finally, he told her that his Christian convictions could not really accept same-sex marriage. With that admission she filed a complaint, and two days later he was fired. Responding to her prodding, he was accused of “harassment.” Pleading, in effect, for his right to a discreet silence, he was accused of “imposing” his religious views on someone not under his authority. Where, in all of this, is the love, the equality, the respect for persons and their ways of life?

It is a fable drugging the mind to suggest that the activists are seeking simply to be left alone in their “personal” relations. When they seek the levers of the law, they are moving beyond things merely “personal.”

They are seeking the public and moral approval that the law bestows, along with the moral condemnation of those who will not share their views. The purpose now is to use the law to withdraw that freedom of others to object; to punish people who would dare speak or act in ways that honor a moral understanding at odds with same-sex marriage or the homosexual life; and to make it finally unrespectable, even legally perilous, to express certain moral sentiments, in settings public or private. For the media, the story line is of people in love, now hurt and bewildered. But serenely unnoticed are the accounts of the repression, in things large and small, all offered in the cause of “love.” Surely it is 1984 once more with the inversion of words: Under the banner of love there is loosed a barrage of hatred, and in the name of freedom, repression.


Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College.

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  • Ars Artium

    Profoundly orphaned
    At the most basic level, this horrific confusion negates the significance of our life-transmitting power. The biological material of fatherhood and motherhood can be donated or sold. What are the consequences to children born of such abandonment? At the very first moment of their lives, they are profoundly orphaned by those who people from whose bodily integrity and ancestry they came.

  • Willie

    Death of Virtue
    Professor so aptly noted 1984, big brother, hate crimes etc. Forget those Judeo-Christian principles of male and female union and the abomination of homosexuality. Such principles are now hateful and a punishable offense. Never before in this Republic has morality been dictated by so few. How did we get to the point that all that is unholy has become all that is holy? Well we have chased God out of school, the courts and the public square. Aristotle noted that the state needs virtue to exist!

  • Maggie

    Look north, Professor
    I wish Prof. Arkes would write for the small city newspaper 50 miles up the road. Please, Professor Arkes. We need your voice up here.

    Wouldn’t it be nice, however, if we could retire the word “gay” in this context (which it isn’t) and use the word “homosexual” or “same sex” (which it is). Let’s not try to make it fun when there is nothing fun about it..

  • Joseph

    Democracy in action?
    53-47 isn’t very comforting and you know that it will be back on the ballot again some day, and eventually pass. Or some judge will rule the vote illegal on a technicality. Likewise in Wisconsin, where same-sex marriage was narrowly defeated, legal challenges are under way.

    The propagandized masses always yield mixed results at the polls. The Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday lost soundly in Arizona but eventually prevailed. Unrelenting media pressure sways voters in the name of “tolerance.”

  • Marriage Defender

    Fine Point on Hypocrisy
    Prof. Arkes:
    An excellent column all-around, and an especially fine point on the hypocrisy of same-sex marriage advocates who profess bewilderment and indignation at the position of those who defend marriage but who apparently take no offense at our laws against sibling marriages or parent-child marriages.

    Then again, there are already growing numbers of same-sex marriage advocates who advocate doing away with all such laws and stamping every erotic connection with the name of marriage.

  • Bradley

    Fire them both
    Presumably Brookstone’s employment policy not only covered harassment, but also had some vague mention that employees are actually paid to do work, not discuss someone’s wedding or to debate the social issues of the day in front of retail customers. So, as a business person, I would have fired them both. I did see a picture of Mr. Vadala on the web protesting in front of the store after his firing, so despite Professor Arkes’ concern, the First Amendment is alive and well.

  • Jeremy

    well said Bradley
    As a small business owner I have my employees wear blank masks and refer to each other by their payroll numbers. Just to make sure I fine them $2 for every word uttered in the store. I won’t have any idle prattling in MY used car lot! By the way, we haven’t had a sale in ten years. This is clearly Obama’s fault

  • Brad Miner

    To Bradley
    What does “presumably” mean? That if Brookstone had some bizarre set of rules that they would justifiably trump commonsense? That any company may establish rules that not only squash dissent but punish even uncomfortable silences? That unless an employee tacitly embraces any and all personal decisions made by other employees he may be fired? So much for liberty and conscience.

  • Bradley

    Yes companies, and for that matter, churches can set their own policies within the boundaries of the law, even if they trump common sense. We associate with them of our own free will and are free to leave them too. This year, the archbishop of Cincinnati fired a nun from a 40-year teaching career for publicly supporting women’s ordination. Where is the room for common sense and her liberty/conscience?

  • Pilar Royo

    No so big a rejection
    I am delighted that sense has prevailed and that now those unions are not legal in Maine, but the gap it is too little, it seems to me. Just an 8% more on the rejection side when something like this, if society is sane, should reach a 90% of no voters, at least. We can breathe now but I would be very worried that the chance exists that the next time the question is posed the yes may be majoritary. Something is very wrong when so may people is in favour.

  • Marriage Defender

    Bradley’s Right
    The right to run a private business or organization entails the right to hire or fire employees for one’s own reasons.

  • peregrinus septrionalis

    love and hate
    The forces of same-sexedness in Maine have behaved like totalitarians: before the vote they demonstrated at our churches in bizarre and mocking costumes (an attempt to intimidate, not to persuade), and afterwards with taped mouths (as if losing a free vote violates their free speech); they actually drove across my lawn to run over a sign favoring traditional marriage; in the past week there have been death threats phoned in to marriage supporters. And they accuse us of being “hateful.”!

  • John

    Same-sex \\\"marriage\\\&qu
    Since a same-sex “marriage” is not in fact a marriage, whenever the adjective “same-sex” is followed by the word “marriage,” the word “marriage” should be in quotation marks.

  • kal

    You are first to acknowledge Peter’s intent;he said “I couldn’t be happy for her.” Peter is a devout Catholic and you narrate the event as if you were there or know him well. I further suspect the event was orchestrated, because I question the discrepancy in the dates between the event and release of story. The other party in the story has not been seen or heard from since. Hopefully, Peter will move forward in his chosen career without excess residual damage to his reputation Great Insight.

  • Vincent McCarthy

    If you think this form of oppression is bad wait until military chaplains try to give Biblical sermons on anything having to do with same-sex sex. They will be given dishonorable discharges or forced to affirm that which they believe God teaches is wrong.

  • Steven

    Thank God(!) Hadley Arkes has tenure. Writing or speaking out against gay marriage in the Happy Valley of western Massachusetts is a FIREABLE offense with prejudice; no pun intended. Now that he’s converted to Catholicism, one can imagine how precious his tenure must be. This is what it’s intended for, not as a guarantee of x number of decades one can teach for sans fears of bad economic times leading to layoffs. Rather it’s intended to protect teachers from ideological bullying; a practice which the so-called “progressives” in ultra-liberal New England college towns are known to use with rapid and delightful vigor.