James Matthew Wilson at Crisis Magazine has penned an excellent piece on the strange phenomenon of sentiment and emotion trumping reason as activist judges impose a redefinition of marriage on millions of people.
The modern division between reason and appetite, knowledge and sentiment, is an inheritance that Americans have accepted to their great cost. We think it beneficial, because it constrains the rational arguments conducted in the public sphere to matters knowable to anyone who can count, and it leaves us a maximal latitude to pursue feelings of happiness without having to demonstrate them as being genuinely good.
This division is not one we ought to accept. Lin’s article inadvertently suggests as much. Human beings want to be happy; because politics and ethics alike are concerned with human beings, all political and ethical questions, including those concerned with positive law, are intrinsically concerned with our happiness.
We see this in the decision itself that occasions Lin’s article. At the close of U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III’s opinion, we are instructed with the following august sentiments:
We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.
Jones appeals to our understanding of the finality or purpose, the goodness, of the American people and their laws. What Pennsylvania law “represents,” or did until he ruined it, was a rational definition of marriage. He replaced a definition that could account for itself with rational argument with one rooted entirely in sentiment: because two people of the same sex feel strongly for one another, they must be granted access to the name of marriage, even if in giving them access the word “marriage” loses all meaning except as a union of sentiments.
No one, having admitted reason’s capacity to answer such questions, could rationally conclude that homosexual acts, much less the denomination of those who engage in them on an ongoing basis as “married,” could be included in that definition. Unless, that is, we commit ourselves to the following premises: 1) We do not think that the differences between men and women have any positive value and they should be concealed or eliminated. 2) We do not think that the differences between men’s and women’s bodies should in any way determine or limit the acts in which they may properly engage. 3) We do not think the conceiving and rearing of children a normal constituent of human happiness. 4) We do not, finally, think that anything other than whatever present feelings we happen to have ought to guide our actions.
We cannot rationally so commit ourselves. The differences between men and women are vital, rather than incidental, to the life of the family; the specific instances of complementarity between husband and wife begin with how they respond to an infant’s cry and how they play with that same infant, and go on from there pretty much ad infinitum. Those differences are visible in their bodies and in fact their bodily difference is the condition of possibility for their having children; their bodily differences are essential to their constitution as a family. The good of a family—its purpose, whose attainment constitutes its happiness—is just that union of opposites whose goodness is intrinsically self-diffusive, self-giving and, therefore, accidental impediments notwithstanding, leads to the having and rearing of children.
...the inscription in law of homosexual couplings as “marriages” does not make them so and cannot not change in any fundamental way how most persons will pursue the happiness to which they are by nature ordered. Jones’ judgment may however help such persons, and our society as a whole, discover sooner rather than later that one cannot substitute sentiments for reason or redefine reality to conform to our wills’ desires. But, in the short term, both these things constitute obstacles; they obscure reality. They try to make many of us feel what we do not feel, and they attempt to inhibit the capacity of reason to instruct our feelings. We have good reason to feel bad about that.
Wilson hits the nail on the head with his observations about the intrinsic differences between men and women and the mutual complementarity of the sexes, which is naturally ordered toward producing and raising children.
Mere "feelings" about what marriage is do not change the truth about what marriage actually is, the union of one man and one woman; nor about its conjugal purpose, the creating and nurturing of children, who benefit from having both a mother and a father. Feelings and emotions may be difficult to argue against, especially when they hit close to home, and when they are so powerfully aided by sympathetic forces in the media... but they do not, they cannot, change fundamental truths about this issue.