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Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote, “The whole pleasure of marriage is that it is a perpetual crisis.” Nowadays, there is a new crisis in the crisis of marriage that is hardly a source of pleasure because it is an identity crisis. The challenge is to refrain from despairing over the institution of marriage by remembering, with Chestertonian optimism, that marriage cannot be destroyed. Though marriage can be called gay, it cannot make marriage any less gay (in the true sense of the word). Marriage is perpetual, even if it is a perpetual crisis, and that is something to take pleasure in. What God has enjoined, no man can put asunder. And though days are dark, Catholics must arm themselves with that joy Chesterton called, “the joy of giants, the joy without a cause.”
“Marriage is a fact,” writes G. K. Chesterton, “an actual human relation like that of motherhood, which has certain habits and loyalties, except for a few monstrous cases where it is turned to torture by insanity or sin.” The monstrous cases of marriage that Chesterton mentions have, unfortunately, become the modern cases of marriage. On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, legally allowing homosexual couples to receive the same benefits of married heterosexual couples. On June 26, 2015, two years later to the day, the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for states to ban same-sex “marriage,” making the USA the 21st of the 21st century countries to legalize same-sex unions. Though acclaimed as a victory for love, the embrace of impotence in love will only render love impotent. This is one of the dangerous illusions of our time, “the illusion of familiarity” as Chesterton put it in The Everlasting Man, when perversion becomes convention. Making homosexual “marriage” legal does not make it natural, even if it is to become normal.
In a statement after the SCOTUS ruling, President Obama said, “Our nation was founded on a bedrock principle that we all are created equal.” Mr. Chesterton would probably find it amusing to hear the President speak of bedrock when all is a landslide of change (as he promised). If Mr. Chesterton could debate Mr. Obama over mugs of ale, it is possible that the former would mention the irony of the latter mentioning the immutability of God’s creating human beings and not the immutability of God’s creating human institutions. Mr. Chesterton might then find Mr. Obama’s intertwining the ideas of equality and equivalency alarming, while certainly agreeing that all are created equal but certainly not the same. Equality does not mean equivalence. Distinction is important in order to retain importance. Finally, GKC might declare that, as human beings, all should love each other equally while following the natural law of our Creator who created us man and woman to be fruitful and multiply. In this are truth and happiness and freedom.
“This ruling is a victory for America,” says Mr. Obama. “This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.” To rule against truth is not a victory, Mr. Chesterton interjects. It is a failure. If truth is disposable, then what worth is there in the world? Only truth will make Americans more free—not nihilism. The President smiles politely and resumes. “We are people who believe every child is entitled to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is so much more work to be done to extend the full promise of America to every American. But today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we’ve made our union a little more perfect. That’s the consequence of a decision from the Supreme Court, but more importantly, it is a consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up… and came to believe in themselves and who they were. And slowly made an entire country realize that love is love.”
Love is love. Mr. Chesterton thumps his mug and wipes his whiskers emphatically. That much is absolute. But, to be clear, a man is not necessarily a man or a woman necessarily a woman, nor an unborn baby necessarily a child entitled to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It all depends on how people feel, and how “courageous” they are willing to be in denying the truth. President Obama is wrong, Mr. Chesterton declares. The relativism at the helm of America is not a herald of perfection. It is jazz. It is Jezebel. It is a harbinger of disintegration. Love is love, however, and love leads to newness of life. Love advances life. Sterility, death, and court rulings over divine decrees do not. Love is love, and it is unchanging because it is a reflection of God Himself. Love has established His order. Let no man put it asunder.
Mr. Chesterton lights a cigar.
Marriage is the sacramental union between a man and a woman that allows for procreation. With the SCOTUS ruling, this foundation of civilization has taken a further tumble, but it will never crumble. As Chesterton put it, “This triangle of truisms, of father, mother and child, cannot be destroyed; it can only destroy those civilizations which disregard it.” The United States Supreme Court has made a mockery of marriage and of family by paving the way for homosexual unions. But it was a general and gradual capitulation to darkness, and even death, that first paved the way to this insanity. Fornication. Divorce. Contraception. Abortion. Pornography. Homosexuality. “The next great heresy,” Chesterton prophesied, “will be an attack on morality, especially sexual morality.” That great heresy hangs over us like the sky. But marriage cannot die. Marital love is a force for fertility, one that seeks to give and grow continually, and will continue.
The crisis of marriage goes on, and Catholics must bear the truth on high as a banner, undaunted and with joy. A work that colors the collapse and call-to-arms of our times is Mr. Chesterton’s “The Ballad of the White Horse,” in which a conquered king fearlessly wages war again against his conquers. So long as he fights for the right reason, he will fight. The words from his vision of the Mother of God should serve as the marching refrain for Catholic America as it is hurled somewhere over the rainbow:
The men of the East may spell the stars,
And times and triumphs mark,
But the men signed of the cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark.
Though “the sky grows darker yet and the sea rises higher,” go gaily in the dark. Take heart. They are more tired of what Mr. Obama calls “victory,” than we are tired of shame, to paraphrase the Ballad. Marriage will not lose its meaning nor its fruitfulness so long as some are willing to hold true to the course. “Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honor should decline,” wrote Gilbert Keith Chesterton, and the same can be said for the duel for marriage.
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One of the pressing issues of Chesterton’s time was “birth control.” He not only objected to the idea, he objected to the very term because it meant the opposite of what it said. It meant no birth and no control. I can only imagine he would have the same objections about “gay marriage.” The idea is wrong, but so is the name. It is not gay and it is not marriage.
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Chesterton was so consistently right in his pronouncements and prophecies because he understood that anything that attacked the family was bad for society. That is why he spoke out against eugenics and contraception, against divorce and “free love” (another term he disliked because of its dishonesty), but also against wage slavery and compulsory state-sponsored education and mothers hiring other people to do what mothers were designed to do themselves. It is safe to say that Chesterton stood up against every trend and fad that plagues us today because every one of those trends and fads undermines the family. Big Government tries to replace the family’s authority, and Big Business tries to replace the family’s autonomy. There is a constant commercial and cultural pressure on father, mother, and child. They are minimized and marginalized and, yes, mocked. But as Chesterton says, “This triangle of truisms, of father, mother and child, cannot be destroyed; it can only destroy those civilizations which disregard it.”
This latest attack on the family is neither the latest nor the worst. But it has a shock value to it, in spite of the process of de-sensitization that the information and entertainment industries have been putting us through the past several years. Those who have tried to speak out against the normalization of the abnormal have been met with “either slanging or silence,” as Chesterton was when he attempted to argue against the faddish philosophies that were promoted by the major newspapers in his day. In 1926, he warned, “The next great heresy will be an attack on morality, especially sexual morality.” His warning has gone unheeded, and sexual morality has decayed progressively. But let us remember that it began with birth control, which is an attempt to create sex for sex’s sake, changing the act of love into an act of selfishness. The promotion and acceptance of lifeless, barren, selfish sex has logically progressed to homosexuality.
Chesterton shows that the problem of homosexuality as an enemy of civilization is quite old. In The Everlasting Man, he describes the nature-worship and “mere mythology” that produced a perversion among the Greeks. “Just as they became unnatural by worshipping nature, so they actually became unmanly by worshipping man.” Any young man, he says, “who has the luck to grow up sane and simple” is naturally repulsed by homosexuality because “it is not true to human nature or to common sense.” He argues that if we attempt to act indifferent about it, we are fooling ourselves. It is “the illusion of familiarity,” when “a perversion become[s] a convention.”
In Heretics, Chesterton almost makes a prophecy of the misuse of the word “gay.” He writes of “the very powerful and very desolate philosophy of Oscar Wilde. It is the carpe diem religion.” Carpe diemmeans “seize the day,” do whatever you want and don’t think about the consequences, live only for the moment. “But the carpe diem religion is not the religion of happy people, but of very unhappy people.” There is a hopelessness as well as a haplessness to it. When sex is only a momentary pleasure, when it offers nothing beyond itself, it brings no fulfillment. It is literally lifeless. And as Chesterton writes in his book St. Francis of Assisi, the minute sex ceases to be a servant, it becomes a tyrant. This is perhaps the most profound analysis of the problem of homosexuals: they are slaves to sex. They are trying to “pervert the future and unmake the past.” They need to be set free.
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Sin has consequences. Yet Chesterton always maintains that we must condemn the sin and not the sinner. And no one shows more compassion for the fallen than G.K. Chesterton. Of Oscar Wilde, whom he calls “the Chief of the Decadents,” he says that Wilde committed “a monstrous wrong” but also suffered monstrously for it, going to an awful prison, where he was forgotten by all the people who had earlier toasted his cavalier rebelliousness. “His was a complete life, in that awful sense in which your life and mine are incomplete; since we have not yet paid for our sins. In that sense one might call it a perfect life, as one speaks of a perfect equation; it cancels out. On the one hand we have the healthy horror of the evil; on the other the healthy horror of the punishment.”