Changing the Rules

The ruling earlier this week by a Canadian appeals court that legalized same-sex marriages in Canada is only the beginning. In one sense, it's no surprise: Public acceptance of homosexual behavior has been growing. A majority of Canadians favor the court's decision. Well, can't happen here, you say. But indeed, it can if public pressure demands it. And support for homosexual rights is growing in the United States just like Canada. Between 1973 and 1993, the percentage of Americans saying that homosexual relations were "always wrong" ranged between 66 and 70 percent. But by 2000, only 54 percent said that these relations were "always wrong." And a 2001 Gallup poll showed the scales have tipped the other way. A majority today -- 54 percent -- characterized homosexuality as an acceptable "alternative lifestyle." And just this year Gallup discovered that 62 percent of Americans believe homosexual relations should be legalized. While there are several reasons for our changing attitudes, the most important is the legacy of the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies. That phrase brings to mind terms like 'promiscuity' and 'sexual experimentation.' But these are only symptoms. The sexual revolution's most profound impact wasn't on our practices but on our attitudes. Prior to the revolution, sex was not regarded as an end in itself. Rather, it was most often understood as serving two vital goals: procreation and what Christians call the "unitive" purpose, strengthening the bonds of marital love. It was against these ends that the morality or immorality of any practice was measured. The sexual revolution, however, denied that sex was ordered to some higher and nobler end. Sex became a merely physical and biological act, an expression of our animal -- not divine -- nature. The old morality was dismissed as "unnatural," and sex became recreation. In this worldview, the pleasure derived from a consensual sexual act is all the "justification" needed. And by now, even people whose own conduct conforms to the traditional morality have internalized this attitude. Thus, as the polls show us, they are unwilling to deny anyone's right to recreation. And if sex is merely that, why would you not grant it to gays? There's no basis to consider homosexual sex or, for that matter, sex outside marriage as wrong. And because the terms of the debate have changed, gay activists are now winning the political battle as we can see so clearly in the Canadian decision. Their right to recreation will quite logically be a protected "civil right." The only way to stop this -- to defend marriage -- is to reject the view of sex that we inherited from the sexual revolution. It's our job to teach people that sex is not an end in itself -- it is more than recreation. It is an act infused with great moral significance. Now, I admit it is going to be tough to teach this to people who have come to think of sex on any terms as their civil right -- an attitude affirmed in court decisions in the United States as well as Canada -- but teach it we must, for the alternative is social chaos. For further information: BreakPoint Commentary No. 030612, "Oh, Canada!: Marriage Gets a New Definition." The spring 2003 issue of "InSight," the newsletter of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, includes findings from a study revealing America's attitudes toward sexuality. (Free Adobe Acrobat Reader required.) Frank Newport, "American Attitudes Toward Homosexuality Continue to Become More Tolerant," Gallup News Service, 4 June 2001. Roberto Rivera, "Changing Hearts: Dealing with a New Context," BreakPoint Online, 1 May 2003. Robert P. George, "Rick Santorum Is Right," National Review Online, 27 May 2003.


Chuck Colson


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