Make Marriage Sexy

A friend quips on his Twitter profile: “Help, I’m being ruled by Anthony Kennedy!”

I understand the feeling. After all, Justice Kennedy is the so-called “swing vote” on the Supreme Court. And so often, it seems, on the biggest constitutional issues roiling our nation, we are forced to tread the carpet and pick at the coverlet as we anxiously await his deciding vote.

And no more so than when it comes to the Supreme Court’s current deliberations on the constitutionality of same-sex “marriage.” What will Justice Kennedy’s decision be come June? Will he join the conservative justices in refusing to make the re-definition of marriage a constitutional right? Or will he cast us further into the darkness?

Time will tell. But consider: at best, what the Supreme Court will do next month is what it didn’t do in Roe v. Wade – i.e., send the issue back to the voters in the individual states. How is that democratic process working out so far? Last time I checked, same-sex marriage was the law of the land in 37 of our 50 states.

So no matter what decision the Supreme Court makes next month, defenders of traditional marriage will have a tremendous political and cultural battle in front of them. And the bigger of the battles is the cultural one.

What do I mean by cultural battle? I mean the struggle to reform – and, for us Catholics, to evangelize – the hearts and minds, the habits and practices, of our fellow citizens.

Using a military metaphor to describe this work is inspiring, but also tricky. To speak of cultural “battles” and culture “wars” is to conjure images of protest and outrage. But while protest and outrage, prudently executed, are certainly needed in defense of traditional marriage, we have to admit that they are typically not the means by which hearts and minds are won.

That doesn’t mean the military metaphor of cultural “battle” isn’t useful. But it may be that we have to think of our cultural battlefield in a somewhat different way. Think of Pope Francis’s image of the Church as a field hospital after battle. In this take on the military metaphor, the Church plays the role of physician to the victims of our secular culture’s unremitting onslaught against anything that would resist it. Great damage has been endured, and the time has come for triage and surgery.

This is an appropriate image of our culture when it comes to homosexuality and same-sex marriage. It is a battlefield strewn with wounded souls desperate for a healing they don’t even know they need. And this is an appropriate image of the Catholic’s primary role in this aftermath: our charge is to set up a field hospital and to perform the merciful work of healing.

But how do we heal these wounds? How even begin a conversation with someone entrenched in the ideology of the gay rights movement?

This is a question we would do well to contemplate. We need to think more deeply about how we address our culture on this issue.

I do not mean that we have to develop better theological and philosophical arguments. When it comes to the major and minor premises of the arguments found in the Catechism and among those deployed by public intellectuals doing yeoman’s work defending traditional marriage on natural grounds, I don’t think much change, if any, is needed.

“Song of Solomon 1:7” by Alba Lavermicocca []
“Song of Solomon 1:7” by Alba Lavermicocca []
What I think we need to work on, rather, is what might be called the rhetorical aspect of our arguments. That is, we need to think about the persuasive “languages” we use – and not only the verbal ones – when we attempt to reach someone who doesn’t yet have the ears to hear abstract arguments.

Just think, for a moment, of some of the popular rhetoric used by defenders of gay rights, such as the slogan Love is Love, and the nearly radioactive term “bigot” now being used more and more of opponents of same-sex marriage. Think, too, of the persuasive power that beautiful or funny celebrities have, especially over the young, when they portray gays on television and in the movies, or when they simply come out in defense of the ideology. And keeping in mind again that persuasive speech is not always verbal, think of those little blue bumper stickers with the yellow equal signs that reveal the driver’s adherence to “marriage equality.”

This is rhetoric. And such persuasive speech is something that the gay rights movement does alarmingly well. So we have to ask ourselves: what’s our rhetoric? What are we doing to make our arguments not just logically compelling, but also attractive?

If you’re expecting me to deliver a brilliant response to this question, I am sorry to disappoint. It is a question I’ve just begun to think about, and it calls for much more careful thought.

But for one thing, I’m skeptical that the phrase “traditional marriage” is a winner, at least when addressed to young people, who usually aren’t looking for ways to become “traditional.”

How to speak pithily and persuasively that marriage is about complementarity, that sex is about kids and flourishes with gender difference, that kids need both a mommy and daddy, that the social fabric frays when marriage becomes an “open concept”? These are the rhetorical challenges we need to work on.

In talking about NFP to couples in our diocese, my wife takes the angle that NFP is the “natural,” call it the “granola” approach to having kids. It’s an attempt to lure unformed young people toward the truth of Catholic teaching by way of something – “getting back to nature” – that they’re already probably attracted to. If I may express pride in my spouse, that’s a great use of rhetoric.

And that’s exactly the kind of speech we need to develop more of when it comes to homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

So I put the question, which will require the work of many minds, to everyone concerned: What are your ideas?

Daniel McInerny

Daniel McInerny is a philosopher and author of fiction for both children and adults. You can find out more about him and his work at

  • givelifeachance2

    Best defense is reflecting the term bigot. is the homosexual couple who is denting the child a mother or a father. Marriage diversity is the true value.

  • grzybowskib

    Send everyone a copy of Anthony Esolen’s book Defending Marriage: 12 Arguments for Sanity. The depictions he has in there of a society founded on strong marriages between men and women are absolutely beautiful. They really give people a strong vision of what we’re missing out on when we endorse the sexual revolution wholesale.

  • wordonfire1

    At times like this I want to break out into “Show Me!” from My Fair Lady – especially the opening… “Words, Words, Words, I’m so sick of words”! How about “Living our Lives Together Gracefully” or LLTG?

  • grzybowskib

    Send everyone you know a copy of Anthony Esolen’s book Defending Marriage: 12 Arguments for Sanity. The book as a whole is a beautiful description of what a society founded on strong marriages between men and women looks like. It’s not a perfect society, mind you, but gives us a great glimpse into what our country might have looked like had we not bought into the sexual revolution hook, line, and sinker. That’s a start. 🙂

  • Rich in MN

    There is a human propensity to canonize our allies and to demonize our opponents, and that is really what we are up against. Any new rhetorical devise or slogan, no matter how well done and accurate, will be ignored or met with derision. I remember a few years ago when there was a thought-provoking ad (that is, thought-provoking for those who had eyes to see and ears to hear) in which several individuals warned how gay “marriage” would impact their freedoms, their families, and their professional lives. The “hook” of the ad was the rhetorically powerful statement, “A Storm is Coming.” Well, that thoughtful, well-presented ad was apparently mocked on the long-running popular comedy show, Saturday Night Live. Meanwhile, videos such as Macklemore’s “Same Love,” with its demonizing and simplistic caricaturing of the Catholic Church, was viewed as gospel truth by millions of young people.
    We have lost the floor, we’ve been pushed away from the microphone. While I wholeheartedly agree that we have to continue to try new ways of communicating the truth — I personally like Jennifer Roback Morse’s “Ruth Institute” and the work they have done — I fear that the message will not appeal en masse until the wheels have fallen off the cultural wagon, when society no longer functions because it has devolved into incoherency, and our ideological opponents have run out of viable scapegoats. What was the final part of Cardinal George’s famous remark, that his successor’s successor’s successor would be helping pick up the pieces as we rebuild our collapsed civilization?

  • Rich in MN

    Oh, and one more thing: I agree that “traditional marriage” might not market well in the 15-39 demographic. How about George Weigel’s “marriage rightly understood”? I realize it is a mouthful, but it is rhetorically strong.

  • Arthur

    The “opposition” uses cleverly chosen words to mask the truth of what they seek, as “choice”–who can be against THAT?–is the preferred euphemism for dismembering a pain hyper-sensitive human; the “right to die” (we all actually find it inescapable!) is the term for euthanizing “useless eaters” as the Germans at least expressed their intentions. I guess then, without spelling it out here–and in the context of the natural/granola example offered, we might do well to describe from time to time the actual physical processes we are expected to celebrate in gay-sex; it is indeed “gross” by any standards and it should be so spoken.

  • slainte

    “Organic Marriage” perhaps?

    • Marps

      How about “True Marriage”?

      • Slainte

        In an age of relativism “Holy Matrimony” might be the truest expression of marriage.

    • Tamsin

      I think “natural marriage” may hit the mark.

      • Jill Dembroff

        Agree! I heard Trent Horn make this suggestion, primarily because the opposite of “traditional” marriage is “non-traditional” and that is something that many young people want. (Remember the 60s?) But “unnatural” marriage? That sounds bad, something no one should want to pursue.

      • Janet

        I thought of it as green marriage until I googled that and hit some rotten spots. But still I think this is our best shot. Everything they want–liberals– is against nature. But of course we might have expected moral law to parallel natural law. If it wouldn’t, we’d have the wrong moral law. But it does. And I have found, btw, mentioning it in charity, that getting out of the city brings one to a world of obedience, the clouds obeying the wind, the green world following the sun. “Natural marriage.” I’m going with that. Thanks!

  • Stanley Anderson

    It’s definitely important to engage in persuasive and appealing and jaw-dropping — and beautiful — rhetoric (grzybowskip mentions Anthony Esolen who is a master at these approaches generally all in the same piece). And, like Daniel McInerny above, I have also been thinking for some time now about how “to make our arguments not just logically compelling, but also attractive”. It is a real challenge and a holy effort, I think.

    But we must remember also that there is a part to be played by the ear that is able or not to even listen to the rhetoric. Jesus in his ministry gave vivid and arresting — and yes, appealing as well as shudderingly alarming — parables and descriptors (e.g., the lost sheep carried on the shoulders or “whited sepulchers”). And the apostles and disciples in Acts put forth what are described as unassailable arguments. In both cases many were convinced by Jesus’ and the Apostles’ rhetoric to follow and join them. But there were many others who heard the rhetoric and could not refute them, and that only induced hatred and a desire to kill the apostles.

    So, not to suggest that it is pointless to look for those logically compelling and attractive arguments — for those who have ears to hear will respond to such — a blessing indeed. But we must also not determine that a particular approach “failed” because it was not attractive enough if it is not received by a large portion of the audience. Ironically, a fierce reception resulting in persecution may be a good indicator that the target was hit (the Apostles seemed to rejoice at persecution as a result of their being allowed to suffer for the name of Christ.)

    I confess that I type the above paragraphs with some anxiety, wondering how bold and joyful or retiring and fearful I might be when the hard times for Faith comes personally to me, but I certainly hope for the former.

  • Matt Franck

    The author poses some good questions, but begins with a grievous error–grievous because it is needlessly demoralizing. He says that “the democratic process” has given us 37 states out of 50 with same-sex “marriage.” Not so. Only 11 states have redefined marriage by legislative or popular vote. Five others have had it imposed on them by state courts. Fully 19 states, and parts of two others (at the federal district level) have had it imposed on them by the federal courts. If the Supreme Court does the right thing in June, the number of states with same-sex “marriage” will immediately drop to 16, and we will get 21 states back. Then whose view will actually be in the ascendant, democratically?

    • didymus46

      Thank you for that correction, Mr. Franck. I did a double-take when I saw that.

    • Daniel McInerny

      Correction noted, Mr. Franck. Thank you!

    • givelifeachance2

      The problem is that, like slavery, homosex marriage is not something that any state should have a right to accept. It is an oxymoron and a violation of natural law and exploits children every bit as much as slaveowners exploited slaves.

      The failure of “our side” to go on the offensive and argue the fundamental inalienable right of a child to the mother and father who begat him, or a couple who images that original relationship (ie, male-female couple) is what will have lost the game.

  • monica

    Some kids seem to respond to “Every kid deserves a real mom and a real dad.” and “No gay man can ever be a real Mom.”

  • Chris R

    Only 11 states have decided to nonsensically redefine marriage, not 37. The courts have illegitimately imposed the nonsense on 26 states.

    • Bereishis

      And even those 11 would not have passed those “laws” had the courts in Massachusetts, Hawaii, and elsewhere not turned the issue into a cause celebre for the previous 2 decades.

  • Marie

    I worry that kids who are raised by single mothers don’t have an instinctive understanding of sexual complementarity in marriage. Maybe it would help to invite people from broken homes to spend time with our families. I know of one woman who grew up in a broken, chaotic home, and a Christian woman befriended her and had her over frequently. She says that she saw what a Christian family could be like she though “I want that.” She says it the course of her life. Obviously, that doesn’t necessarily mean that that will convince everyone that SSM is wrong, but I think it will help our case if the people we are arguing with have firsthand knowledge of what we are arguing for.

  • Marie

    Maybe talk about the yin-yang balance. Hey, if C.S. Lewis could call the natural law the Tao, why not.

    Perhaps the most persuasive method doesn’t use words. I worry that people who grow up in single parent households don’t have an instinctive understanding of the complementarity of the sexes in marriage, and so are more likely to accept SSM. I know of a woman who grew up in a broken, chaotic household, and a Christian woman befriended her and had her over to her house often. She says that when she saw what a stable Christian family could be like, she thought, “I want that.” She started making life decisions based on that desire, and she says it changed the course of her life.

    If “traditional” families can be that attractive, maybe showing people the beauty of marriage could convince people that that is the way it should be.

    A separate but related question. If the word “marriage” eventually becomes so loaded with the baggage of SSM, maybe polygamy, polygyny, temporary marriages, etc., will Christians have to adopt a new word to refer to actual marriages? If so, I wonder what word?

    • givelifeachance2

      Matrimony. ..meaning mothermaking.. Which underlines that it takes a father to make a mother.

      • Stanley Anderson

        It would be nice if “matrimony” could be expanded to the phrase “holy matrimony”, but I doubt any mainstream sources would get anywhere near that word (though I shiver to think what would happen to the phrase if they did). And of course the problem is that the term “matrimony” doesn’t directly imply (in the modern style of wringing unintended notions out of words to serve an agenda) the necessity of a father to initiate the “mothermaking”.

        But I’m suddenly wondering (not terribly seriously, but hey, just tossing out ideas to build on) if we could “repurpose” (ugh — hate that term, but I guess it works here) the word “bisexual” to add it on and make the phrase “bisexual matrimony” to mean that it takes both sexes to engage in mothermaking, as opposed to some scientific Brave New World method of generating babies apart from fathers or mothers.

        Again, all too likely to be twisted back into a twisted meaning, but maybe something like that?

  • Bereishis

    Responding to the author’s invitation to offer ideas, my suggestion is to do what the left has done: pass statutes and issue judgments that aim not merely at reflecting current opinion and sensibilities but at changing them. The left has done this over and over, in myriad ways, not only with Roe but in hundreds of decisions (e,g., the obscenity cases of the 1970’s and the women’s equality cases of the 70’s-90’s) and in hundreds of statutes (e.g., the tax deduction for day care, secretly tacked onto a statute in the early 80’s). Most, if not all, of these decisions and statutes did NOT reflect majority opinion at the time, but as those decisions/statutes remained on the books, they came to seem normal and acceptable to a majority of Americans. The left shows no compunction in “forcing us to be free,” to borrow from Rousseau, while the right bows to precedent and current opinion. We need a proud and loving and courageous restoration, not a mere preservation of a status quo that is fundamentally leftist. Let conservative judges draw on the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th amendment, to abolish abortion, refuse same-sex coupling as marriage, overturn no-fault divorce, guarantee school choice, etc. Unlike the left’s abuse of these clauses, our interpretation of them would not be groundless. (For example, as Rusty Reno has pointed out over and over, marriage equality should mean that every child has his mother and father, not to mention that “single mothers,” as we inaptly call them now, are generally much worse off than married ones.) And, of course, we need the same sort of effort when it comes to universities, news outlets, and other organs of information.

  • TomD

    “So no matter what decision the Supreme Court makes next month, defenders of traditional marriage will have a tremendous political and cultural battle in front of them. And the bigger of the battles is the cultural one.”

    This is a key observation. Today, very few people primarily regard marriage in the sacramental sense, especially among the young and, I suspect, even among many young Catholics. Civil marriage, mixed with overly romantic notions of marriage and love, are now the dominant senses. Religious notions of marriage, such as Holy Matrimony, are now a distinctly minority view and are often, if at all, viewed in a very superficial way. This does not bode well for any future sense of the traditional view of marriage.

    Marriage has been in a state of decline in the West for 50 to 60 years. What is happening now, with the radical redefinition of marriage, is a reflection of the later stages of that decline. The decline is so entrenched and long-standing that it will require a cultural transformation to reverse. Let us pray, and act, to make it so.

  • Jacquelyn

    How about the language of human dignity? It fits gay marriage, abortion, contraception, etc., and it’s not a polarizing term. Everyone has dignity as a human person, and we are advocating for policies that best promote and protect that dignity.

  • Tamsin

    I think “natural marriage” holds some promise. In which the couple makes babies the natural way, rather than resorting to artificial reproduction technologies.

    Which also gets the Natural Law camel’s nose under the Modern Mindset tent.

    Babies should be the apotheosis of “locally sourced”. Recall that Dolce and Gabana really hit a nerve with their “synthetic children” comment. They were directly over the target.

    We are living at a prosperous, even decadent time, when even Whole Foods is spinning off an outlet of itself to sell its organic foods more cheaply and capture market share… So people are pretty concerned with what is natural. I think we can make some headway building on the aversion to the synthetic. Capture that “food purity” spirit. I believe it is already working with young women and chemical contraception.

  • Jill Dembroff

    Back in 2008 here in California, Prop 8 was on the ballot. A bunch of us stood on the busiest corner in town and my sign read “If you had a mom and a dad, vote YES on 8!” THAT is the most important argument against everything that has worked to dismantle marriage over the past many decades, from contraception down to gay ‘marriage’ today. Kids, from the unborn on, suffer while the adults roll merrily along. I’m so glad to hear that some young adults who were raised by same-sex parents are coming out and saying how much they missed having a complementary set of parents. And if any of you reading this right now are considering divorce, think of your children and get along with their other parent!

  • GrahamUSA

    The left — gay, feminist, “multicultural, cultural industry, academic et al — control the commanding heights of America. That, tragically, includes the Church in too many archdiocese and parishes. The best thing that Catholics can do is insure that those within the Church, especially the German bishops , do not change Catholic doctrine. And then to live marriage sacramentally. For those who argue “love,” I remind you that the gay left believes in divorce, abortion, promiscuity, “open marriages, ” sexual indoctrination of elementary school students etc. This isn’t really about marriage or family. Virtually every leftist victory of the last one hundred years has cascaded into social, economic, and moral disaster. I have a law degree and trust me the Church has no friends in legal education or the legal establishment. Certainly not enough to matter. “Love wins” as the millennial evangelicals like to say. True charity loses. As the left insists, “the discussion is over.” In this case they are right. We simply weren’t paying enough attention or taking things seriously. Up until the 90s, I include myself in this condemnation. You will find no pity on the left. Just ask all those Midwestern “bigots’ who have shown more decency to “the Other” than they have shown to themselves (cf. the 1980s in New York where I was living and working at the time).
    Is there any aspect of American life that isn’t in deep trouble today?