Stand Firm

Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom

  • Ryan T. Anderson
  • Regnery Publishing, 2015; 256 pages, $16.99

On June 26, 2015, by a slim, one-vote majority, the Supreme Court redefined marriage to be the affirmation of an intense romantic relationship between any two people. With this momentous step of judicial activism, the Court turned the page on human history. Until just a few short years ago, marriage was universally understood to be a relationship between a man and a woman; this was not simply a romantic relationship, but a special relationship which was permanent, exclusive, and ordained for the possibility of creating and nurturing new life. Going forward, however, marriage is merely an affirmation of romantic love, at least in the eyes of the state.

This is the latest development in the cultural struggle taking place in our country today. The advocates of sexual liberty have been chipping away at the societal constraints of America, a nation whose culture is rooted in a religious tradition dating back 150 years before its founding in 1776. Since the sexual revolution in the 1960s, there has been a steady change in societal norms, as sexual liberty overwhelmed the constraints still upheld by churches and synagogues in their respective religious beliefs. Will the ideologues of the liberal elite push on from this victory in the Supreme Court to attempt to marginalize religious freedom in America? How should those who hold to the traditional view of marriage and those who are faithful to the free exercise of their religion respond to the Supreme Court decision?

In his new book, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, Ryan T. Anderson explains what just happened, the potential adverse effects of the decision, and what must be done to limit the damage to marriage and to religious freedom from this judicial act. Anderson, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, is already a leading voice in this debate. He is well prepared for such a time as this with mentors who are leading scholars, and with a degree from Princeton and a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Notre Dame. He is also the editor of Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute. In a clear and level-headed exposition, Anderson remains optimistic as he rationally presents a path forward to rebuild a culture of true marriage. He steadfastly maintains that there is a way to achieve a peaceful coexistence between the advocates for sexual liberty and those faithful in their exercise of religious freedom. Peaceful coexistence is not a program of “go along to get along,” however. Anderson’s path to peaceful coexistence involves a determination to defend marriage and religious freedom, based on a sound understanding of why what we believe is worth defending, while at the same time respecting the equal rights of all Americans.

Anderson’s goal is to equip the faithful for the arduous and long-term task ahead. He starts with a strong defense of traditional marriage (calling it “comprehensive” marriage). Truth is above politics. It is searchable, and Anderson searches for truth in natural law and in the findings of social science. He deliberately does not base his arguments on Scripture, since the other side in this cultural struggle does not acknowledge the authority of Scripture. Nonetheless, the truth of Scripture will be evident in natural law and in the real world around us.

Truth Overruled is more than a defense of the comprehensive view of marriage. Anderson is a realist, and he presents the outline of a plan for the next phase of the culture war. Ideologues on the side of sexual liberty will continue to push their agenda ahead. The next battles will occur as advocates for homosexual rights strive to elevate sexual orientation to a protected status under law, just as race is a protected class, backed by the force of the state. If they are successful in this attempt, then inevitably the explicit Constitutional right to the free exercise of religion will clash with newly instituted special privileges for those who claim to belong to the newly designated protected class.  

Anderson equips the reader to head off this potential conflict. The first order of business is to protect the free exercise of religion. The sorry spectacle of the Indiana Restoration of Religious Freedom Act this past spring shows how much work lies ahead in this regard. Anderson shows that the right to free exercise of religion is a basic human right, worthy of its place of honor as America’s first freedom enumerated in the Bill of Rights. It should be defended by all Americans, regardless of their religious beliefs. If the elites care about human rights, then there should be common ground with the religious faithful in preserving the right to the free exercise of religion.

Anderson moves on to thoroughly refute the case that special privileges should be granted to individuals who claim to have a different sexual orientation than the majority heterosexual population. He presents a strong case that such privileges are neither necessary nor warranted, and if we are to achieve a peaceful coexistence, it is essential that special privileges based on sexual orientation be defeated. The argument for special privileges is based on a claim that sexual orientation is analogous to race. Therefore, individuals who have non-heterosexual preferences need special legal protections against discrimination. Anderson makes the case that sexual orientation is not analogous to race. Racial discrimination was politically entrenched, a state-supported system of laws to help the white majority suppress the black minority. Such discrimination ultimately was defeated by the moral authority of leaders from churches and synagogues, before the laws were changed by political authorities.

Another reason not to grant special privileges on the basis of sexual orientation is that such privileges are unnecessary. No business would long survive today which discriminated against homosexuals. Anderson makes an important distinction here. Declining to provide goods or services to enable a same-sex marriage is not the same thing as declining to provide goods or services to homosexuals in general. The latter situation is discrimination and is clearly wrong. By contrast, providing goods or services to enable a same-sex wedding is to participate in that wedding. Some people feel that their participation in such a wedding is a violation of their conscience before God. In that case, forced participation violates that person’s right to the free exercise of their religion. They cannot and should not provide those services. This is not discrimination, argues Anderson. It is also not a problem in society that demands a solution involving the police power of the state. There are plenty of businesses happy and eager to provide those wedding services.  

The reason for the intense interest of advocates for gay rights to secure special recognition under the law has nothing to do with any need for special protection. Rather, such interest is all about getting the power and authority of the state on their side in an effort to make their sexual activities respectable, or, as one homosexual-rights activist says, “church leaders must be made ‘to take homosexuality off the sin list.’” This is the point where Anderson’s optimism may run up against the determination of the other side to push their activist agenda. Perhaps the homosexual community will accept a “live and let live” pluralism, as Anderson aspires to achieve. But it will take a strong show of equal determination on the side of the church to encourage activists to back off their ambitious agenda. And this is the point of Anderson’s book. To reach a point of peaceful coexistence, the churches must actively organize to make this outcome more likely. Based on the experience of the long struggle against abortion, Anderson offers insight into how to build a movement to restore marriage and preserve religious freedom.  

The church is again the countercultural voice, and the faithful need to express themselves with thoughtful, quality presentations of the truth in as many venues as possible. Anderson emphasizes the need to present carefully reasoned arguments to defend marriage and religious freedom. Truth Overruled exemplifies high-quality reasoning. As Anderson writes, bad philosophy must be answered with good philosophy. Finally, he acknowledges that the movement must be built with the grace of God. While the other side may not recognize God’s authority, the essence of the motivation of the faithful is to do God’s will.  

The years ahead will be times of testing for the church and for religious freedom. Courage and fortitude to stand firm for what we believe will be necessary, as we already see in Kentucky in the case of Kim Davis. Let us be found faithful. Reading Truth Overruled is a good place to start.

Gordon C. Boronow, FSA, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Economics at Nyack College in New York.