I believe in the “dead-end rule.” This rule states that if you go down a dead-end road and ignore the signs that say it is a dead-end, you will soon learn by personal experience that it is a dead-end.
I have invoked this rule many times in my worldwide teaching and preaching against abortion.
For millennia, the church – and many others too – have been holding up the signs saying that abortion is a dead-end. Those individuals, families, and nations that have ignored these signs are now reaping the fruit of the bitter experience that abortion does not solve any problems but only creates new ones.
Because of the growing voices of those who have been devastated by abortion — and here I speak not only of the mothers but of the fathers, siblings, and the entire family, as well as the abortionists themselves — more and more people are coming to the conclusion that abortion is wrong, even though it remains legal. The number of abortion facilities is only a fraction of what it was 20 years ago, and public opinion as well as state law continue to move in our direction. Although Roe vs. Wade has not been reversed in legal fact, it has become more and more irrelevant and disconnected from the conclusions people are reaching because of experience.
The dead-end rule is alive and well. And I am convinced that it will also determine the fate of gay marriage in America.
The court has ruled. In a way that far transcends the authority given to it in the original intention of our founders, it has changed public policy on marriage. But it has not changed human nature, and there’s the rub. Those who have advocated for the legality of same-sex marriage can celebrate all they want. But their joy will be turned into tears, not because of any hatred or intolerance – both of which should be rejected – but simply by the dead-end rule. When you contradict nature, it ultimately rebels. As the old saying goes, God always forgives, people sometimes forgive, but nature never forgives.
This conviction, of course, only provides limited consolation, because in the process of running up against the brick wall we create for ourselves when we contradict nature, many people get hurt and will continue to get hurt. But there are three ways that we can minimize the damage and hasten the day when we again embrace in public policy the authentic good of marriage.
- First, we have to call people to honesty. Again, I draw on my experience in the fight against abortion. Studies beyond counting have been conducted on the negative impact of abortion on the health of women and families. Yet when researchers, using the same standards of objectivity as their peers use, try to get those studies published more widely or discussed in the media, so many journals and media outlets reject them, simply because they are saying something bad about abortion. Here’s where honesty comes in. If we are going to say we truly care about the health of women and families, then we will look honestly at the impact abortion has on women and families, putting ideology aside.
Is it too much to hope that our fellow citizens will rise to the occasion and deal with gay marriage honestly? The question is not who hates whom or who loves whom. The question is what impact same-sex marriage has on the partners and the family. And there will be numerous studies as our nation wades deeper into the waters of this experience. We have a choice to make. We will either listen to the voices of experience as we take this journey, and adjust our policies accordingly, or we will dismiss any voices that have anything bad to say about same-sex marriage and let people we claim to care about pay the price.
- Second, we have to let democracy work. The Court made multiple mistakes in its gay marriage ruling, one of which was to deprive the people of self-governance on this issue. The decision reflects the thinking of five people, not of 319 million. The only reason people would be afraid of letting the process the Founders established work to develop public policy on this issue is if they think their position is wrong; then they seek to impose it by judicial fiat instead.
We have to insist on the right to govern ourselves. We need to have legislative bodies take votes — even if from a legal viewpoint they are only symbolic. The symbolism matters, the message matters, and the voice of the people must be heard. And the voices of the other two branches of government must be heard. In the minds of the Founders, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches all interpret the Constitution. “Each of the three departments has equally the right to decide for itself what is its duty under the Constitution, without any regard to what the others may have decided for themselves under a similar question” (Thomas Jefferson; see Bergh, Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. XV, p.215). In other words, the President and members of Congress pledge to uphold the Constitution, not the Court’s opinion of the Constitution.
- Finally, we have to embrace freedom in its totality, not just that aspect of it which pleases us. We have to challenge our fellow citizens to respect, in practice and in policy, the freedom of the countless Americans who disagree with this decision and to embrace the understanding of marriage that began in the Garden of Eden. And we have to defend vigorously our right to conduct our lives, our worship, and our businesses in line with our beliefs, not with somebody else’s.
So much of the post-Obergefell rhetoric is about showing love and acceptance, rather than hatred and intolerance, to the LGBT community, and so much of the response of the Church has been to bend over backwards to say, “We love you.”
If this were really the issue, and if this were the goal of the LGBT activists, there would not have been a Supreme Court case. It’s not about love, it’s about public policy. And the wonderful thing about public policy in America is that no change is final, just as no election is final. Forces within our system change things, and then new forces arise and change them again. As the Obergefell decision was approaching, I reminded advised many people to read the dissents once the decision was issued. Having read them, I now advise that even more strongly, because it is in the minority dissents of court decisions that we find the seed of future majority opinions.
And if you want to know what will shape those opinions most powerfully, just take a drive down a dead-end road.
Fr. Frank Pavone is National Director of Priests for Life