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Monthly Archives: October 2020

The Atlantic Wonders, “What If Friendship, Not Marriage, Was at the Center of Life?”

A Catholic priest once shared with me an insight he’d gleaned during years of preparing engaged couples for marriage. Whether the insight was his own, or something he’d picked up from reading or listening somewhere, I don’t know. I just remember the phrase and how it stuck in my mind. Increasingly, he said, he’d found that couples showed a tendency to “want to spend a lot more time and effort preparing for the wedding, which lasts a day, than they do preparing for the marriage, which lasts a lifetime. ”

It’s a pithy statement; and it rings true. As divorce rates have risen dramatically in the course of the last several decades, surely the question of preparedness for marriage must be part of any analysis of the trend. On the other end of the question is the matter of marriage being delayed for many couples until later in life, if not foregone entirely—replaced by years-long, live-in relationships with no legal (but no fewer emotional and psychological) strings attached. It’s gotten to the point that, in the rare instance of a couple getting engaged in their early twenties, the reaction of society is such that one would think the young lovers had expressed their intention to fly to and colonize one of Jupiter’s moons. 

A piece published this week at The Atlantic provides some insight into at least one aspect of how young people may be ill-prepared to enter the marriage contract, lacking the affective maturity necessary and also having wrong-headed ideas about what makes marriage the special relationship that it is. The piece, by writer Rhaina Cohen, is entitled, “What If Friendship, Not Marriage, Was at the Center of Life? ” and it details the experience of many people who have faced a particular dilemma in their romantic relationships: they are uncomfortable with the idea that such a relationship can in any way supplant or supersede their existing friendships. In the first paragraph, Cohen illustrated the case-in-point by way of quoting the experience of one young woman named Kami West, who after “a distressing experience in her mid-20s” with a boyfriend who seemed jealous of her best friend, a woman named Kate Tillotson, henceforth took pains to make sure the confusion that had distressed her would never be allowed to arise again. With her latest boyfriend, West explains, she laid it all out for him:

“‘I need you to know that [Tillotson’s] not going anywhere. She is my No. 1,'” Cohen quotes West as telling her boyfriend. Cohen goes on: “Tillotson was there before him, and, West told him, ‘she will be there after you. And if you think at any point that this isn’t going to be my No. 1, you’re wrong.'”

“She will be there after you. ” This single phrase sums up one aspect of how West’s view of her romantic relationship is out of step with conventional and traditional understandings of marriage. For, after all, if West is planning—or at least open—to marrying her boyfriend one day, then it seems odd to speak of a relationship coming “after” her relationship with her boyfriend: because marriage is a life-long commitment, ‘until death do us part.’

Cohen details the experience of many other individuals in her story in order to illustrate her point. More on these later. But first, what is that point Cohen is seeking to demonstrate? She writes [emphasis added]:

In the past few decades, Americans have broadened their image of what constitutes a legitimate romantic relationship: Courthouses now issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Americans are getting married later in life than ever before, and more and more young adults are opting to share a home rather than a marriage license with a partner. Despite these transformations, what hasn’t shifted much is the expectation that a monogamous romantic relationship is the planet around which all other relationships should orbit .

By placing a friendship at the center of their lives, people such as West and Tillotson unsettle this norm. Friends of their kind sweep into territory typically reserved for romantic partners : They live in houses they purchased together, raise each other’s children, use joint credit cards, and hold medical and legal powers of attorney for each other. These friendships have many of the trappings of romantic relationships, minus the sex.

It is telling that it is Cohen herself that connects the emergence of such trends around friendship with the rise of same-sex ‘marriage.’ One of the sets of friends whose experience she covers is two gay men named Joe Rivera and John Carroll, who “met at a gay bar in Austin, Texas [where] Rivera was the emcee for a strip competition, and Carroll won the $250 cash prize.” The men live together, and Cohen describes their relationship as being “like brothers,” though Cohen quotes Carroll as describing their situation thus: “we have a little married-couple thing going on even though we’re not married.” Cohen calls this one of many typical “mixed analogies” that describes the new phenomena of intimate friendships she is investigating. She later details more about the men’s relationship, wherein she seems to make clear that their living situation is platonic and non-sexual. But at the same time, she quotes Carroll in a telling passage where he explains his view of his relationship with Rivera in contrast to “expectations” about romantic relationships and friendship more generally:

Carroll, who met his platonic partner, Joe Rivera, at a gay bar, describes [the] type of romantic relationship [where people ‘rely… on their spouses for social and emotional support’] as “one-stop shopping.” People expect to pile emotional support, sexual satisfaction, shared hobbies, intellectual stimulation, and harmonious co-parenting all into the same cart. Carroll, 52, thinks this is an impossible ask; experts share his concern.

Note how casually “sexual satisfaction” and “harmonious co-parenting” are thrown together as mere items in a list, clearly suggesting that they have nothing to do with one another and are easily extricable from one another.

Cohen is right in one respect: experts are concerned about this. But it is a different set of experts, and a different manner of concern, than what she chooses to focus on in her piece. She quotes “sexologists” and psychotherapists who all seem to think the traditional idea of all-encompassing conjugal union unhealthy and outdated; for example, a philosopher named Elizabeth Brake who “takes issue… with the special status that governments confer on romantic relationships” and the fact that “access to marriage currently hinges on (assumed) sexual activity.” All over this piece is the implicit challenge: What does marriage have to do with sex? Why should it have anything to do with sex?

This is precisely the challenge that the other experts mentioned above—the ones left outside Cohen’s research—have been preoccupied with for many years. In their 2012 book What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense , authors Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George foresaw how this problem is tied up directly with proposals to grant same-sex couples the privilege of ‘marriage.’ In a section of their book headed “Undermining Friendship,” the authors explain how changes to views about friendship and the “revisionist view” of marriage go hand-in-hand:

Revisionists cannot define marriage in terms of real bodily union or family life, so they tend to define it instead by its degree or intensity. Marriage is simply your closest relationship, offering the most of the one basic currency of intimacy: shared emotion and experience. As a federal judge recently put it in a case striking down California’s conjugal marriage law, “ ‘marriage’ is the name that society gives to the relationship that matters most between two adults.”

The more we absorb this assumption, the less we value deep friendship in its own right. Self-disclosure, unembarrassed reliance, self-forgetfulness, extravagant expressions of affection, and other features of companionship come to seem gauche—or even feel like unwelcome impositions—outside romance and marriage.41 We come to see friendships as mere rest stops on the way back to family life. It becomes harder to share experiences with our friend that we could just as well have shared with our spouse, without seeming to detract from our marriage.

The conjugal view, by contrast, gives marriage a definite shape, as ordered to true bodily union and thus to family life. If the revisionist view sees single people as just settling for less, the conjugal view leaves room for different forms of communion, each with its own distinctive scale and form of companionship and support. It keeps from making marriage totalizing: it clarifies what we owe our spouses in marital love; what we owe it to them not to share with others; and what we could share now with them, now with others, without any compromise of our marriage.

In short, what the authors mean is simple: if you remove sex from marriage, if you make “sexual satisfaction” and “harmonious co-parenting” mere incidental list items of things two people can do with one another that have nothing to do with a life-long conjugal union of monogamous and exclusive intimacy, then marriage is just another form of friendship : and it therefore comes into conflict with and can be pitted against friendship in general, or with this or that particular friendship in the instant.

The logical end of this is the reversal that Cohen’s piece seems to push toward, quoting figures like Carroll and Blake: why shouldn’t friends be allowed to marry? If marriage is no longer conjugal, no longer tied with procreation and parenting, is just seen as being a particularly intense friendship, why do we still narrowly view marriage as having an implicit connection to sex? But of course, perhaps the crises marriage faces with respect to divorce and so much else are bound up precisely with the increasing pervasiveness of this logic. Committing to a friendship has no essential or rational demand of exclusivity, permanence, or monogamy, those characteristic features of the conjugal union.

Kami West, in explaining her friendship with Kate Tillotson, demonstrates the topsy-turvydom that comes from mixing up these categories: her friendship is the thing that’s permanent, that will last, but her relationship with her boyfriend, even if it becomes a marriage, might be a transient reality: Tillotson “was there before him,” and she would be there “after [him]. ” In West’s case, the juxtaposition has already become complete: for her, marriage has become friendship, and her friendship is like a marriage. But when marriage and friendship are blended together in this way, the result isn’t that either institution becomes stronger: it is that we lose both . And it seems that’s what Cohen would have us do.

The post The Atlantic Wonders, “What If Friendship, Not Marriage, Was at the Center of Life?” appeared first on IFN .

U.S. Supreme Court Justices Signal Willingness to Reverse Ruling Imposing Gay ‘Marriage’

In a surprising and virtually unprecedented commentary issued on Monday, two US Supreme Court justices publicly signaled that they are willing to reverse the Court’s narrow 5-4 ruling in 2015 imposing same-sex ‘marriage’ on the nation in the Obergefell v Hodges case. In a procedural opinion issued this week in a different case, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for himself and Justice Samuel Alito that the “right to same-sex marriage…is found nowhere in the text [of the Constitution].” He called it “an alteration to the Constitution” and said that the decision whether or not to change the definition of marriage should be left up to the states.

The declaration sent shock waves throughout the homosexual community. A pro-gay writer at Slate magazine minced no words about the importance of this development: “If Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed [same-sex marriage] is likely doomed.”

The news was welcomed by pro-family groups such as the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). NOM’s president, Brian Brown (who also is the publisher of iFamNews.com) said, “For many months, NOM has pointed out that we are approaching – if not already at – the point where the Supreme Court’s illegitimate, anti-constitutional imposition of gay ‘marriage’ on the nation in the Obergefell ruling could be reversed. Now two Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, have given voice to that very point. Make no mistake about it – the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court is essential to our continuing efforts to overturn Obergefell and restore marriage to our nation’s laws.”

It would be one thing if recognition for same-sex marriage had been debated and adopted through the democratic process…it is quite another when the Court forces that choice upon society…

Justice Clarence Thomas

Here’s what went down this past Monday: In a written explanation of their decision in a procedural ruling on a case, Justice Clarence Thomas took the highly unusual step of issuing a statement on behalf of himself and Justice Alito that by improperly reading a right to same-sex ‘marriage’ into the US Constitution, the Supreme Court “threaten[s] the religious liberty of the many Americans who believe that marriage is a sacred institution between one man and one woman.” The Obergefell decision, Justice Thomas wrote, casts people of faith as “bigots,” “demeaning to gays and lesbians,” “imposing stigma and injury” and “disrespectful to gays and lesbians.” But none of those things are true, he said. Instead, the issue of same-sex ‘marriage’ is one that properly belongs to the states, where policymakers could debate the matter including any accommodations they might wish to afford people of faith. That debate was short-circuited, Justice Thomas lamented, by the ill-advised, narrow 5-4 majority that decided Obergefell , Justice Thomas said “It would be one thing if recognition for same-sex marriage had been debated and adopted through the democratic process…[b]ut it is quite another when the Court forces that choice upon society through its creation of atextual constitutional rights and its ungenerous interpretation of the Free Exercise Clause, leaving those with religious objections in the lurch.”

It is highly unusual for Supreme Court justices to make any comments on a procedural ruling, let alone signal their desire to overturn a major decision such as Obergefell . So where do pro-family advocates stand in terms of being able to secure a majority of votes on the Court to overturn the illegitimate, anti-constitutional Obergefell ruling?

It’s always speculation to predict how a justice might vote on a future case, but here’s how things line up to me:

It takes five votes to secure a majority on the Supreme Court. So we start with Thomas + Alito = 2.

Fellow conservatives Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh both strongly believe that the Constitution should be interpreted as written and, thus, are thought to be reliable votes against the imposition of same-sex marriage. That results in Thomas + Alito + Gorsuch + Kavanaugh = 4.

Chief Justice John Roberts strongly objected to the majority ruling in Obergefell, but he can be fickle and certainly cannot be counted on to cast the deciding vote to reverse Obergefel l. So, that leaves us still at 4 votes to reverse Obergefell , with a question mark, among the current justices.

This brings us to Judge Amy Coney Barrett who has a long record of personal support for traditional marriage and has been sharply critical of Supreme Court rulings that articulate so-called “rights” that are found nowhere in the text of the Constitution. If past is prelude, then we have Thomas + Alito + Gorsuch + Kavanaugh + Barrett = 5. With Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court, her deciding vote to restore marriage could well be enough to persuade Chief Justice Roberts to stick with his original opinion and vote to overturn Obergefell as well.

Add this all together and you get a formula that, regardless of Justice Roberts’ vote, would spell the end of court-imposed same-sex marriage, and return the issue to the states where over 50 million Americans have already cast ballots to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Now, there are a lot of ‘ifs’ in this scenario and admittedly it involves a good deal of speculation. Still, it seems clear to me that the issue of the imposition of same-sex ‘marriage’ on this nation is now front and center once again, a development that makes the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett all the more important for conservatives and pro-family advocates.

On this, I am in complete agreement with pro-gay advocates and leftist publications like Slate magazine.

The post U.S. Supreme Court Justices Signal Willingness to Reverse Ruling Imposing Gay ‘Marriage’ appeared first on IFN .