Americans of every race, creed, sex, and sexuality were brought to tears last Sunday while watching the 2014 Grammy Awards on CBS, but not all of them cried for the same reasons.
Queen Latifah officiated the marriages of 33 couples on live television. Macklemore, Mary Lambert, and Madonna provided the background music, which included Macklemore’s hit song, “Same Love,” written to support same-sex marriage.
“I expect that people with all kinds of opinions might voice them, and that’s healthy,” said National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences president Neil Portnow. “We don’t need to stoop to the level of trying to find gimmicks and sensationalistic approaches to what we do.”
Putting aside Portnow’s impressive lack of self-awareness, it’s clear producers of the Grammys engaged in blatant sensationalism by luring 33 couples, some same-sex, into becoming part of a larger agenda to cheapen and trivialize marriage by attaching to it the misleading label of “equality.”
Producer Ryan Lewis said that the Grammy wedding “will be, in our minds, the ultimate statement of equality, that all the couples are entitled to the same exact thing.” But what does equality for marriage really mean, and how, if at all, does it apply to the modern debate around the institution?
Alexis de Tocqueville observed that early 19th-century Europeans had already begun confusing the “diverse attributes of the sexes” so that man and woman could not only be “equal, but alike.” The problem with this method of cultural restructuring, as Tocqueville points out, is that “in thus striving to equalize one sex with the other, one degrades them both.”
Men and women are alike in many ways—both can enjoy good pop music, for example—but, according to Tocqueville, they also have differences. By removing their uniqueness as man and woman and trying to force conformity to one societal norm that we deem to be acceptable, we prevent them from expressing their individuality. This travesty rejects the notion of individuality and empowerment—things we all seem to hold dear.
If we accept Tocqueville’s observations as true, the equality terminology surrounding marriage is not applicable. It becomes less a question of right or equality and more a question of nature. One side argues that it is natural for only heterosexual marriages to be recognized, while the other side argues that the feelings of attraction between members of the same sex are also natural, giving them a valid reason to marry.
That battle wages on; it is not, however, a battle for or against equality. All people are created equal in their personhood, but all people are not created equal by sex and personality traits, as Tocqueville observed. Members of both sides of the American marriage debate are asking the wrong questions. It’s not about equality; it’s about determining what is and isn’t best for a society of free people governed by the laws of nature.
One could observe the intense emotions at the Grammy Awards last week, but marriage is about more than just an intense emotional relationship. Marriage is about a deep commitment to one another, to society, to any children the couple may bear, and to God. Emotions flare for many reasons, but it takes true sacrifice and commitment to enter into a marriage that fulfills its lofty purpose.
So, what did the producers of the 2014 Grammy Awards actually accomplish with this marriage stunt?
They succeeded in feeding the sloppy use of the word equality in the great American marriage battle being waged today. They also succeeded in reducing a beautiful societal and historically religious institution to a mere entertainment spectacle.
The 33 couples receiving nuptials were not the focus of the show’s producers. The artists involved were held up to the public light as examples of what “good” people are and what “good” people do. The newlyweds fed these superstars’ images, getting nothing in return but a marriage ceremony that was over faster than a Vegas chapel wedding; they were cheated out of something beautiful that could have been done in the presence of God, family, and a supportive community.
Some of the couples married at the Grammy Awards may be very active in their respective faiths—and they may have long, fruitful marriages—but that does not change the reality that they collectively allowed themselves to become a public attraction that will fuel monetary gains for the artists and producers while degrading the quality of debate in this country.
A statement was made to all who watched the show that marriage is about feelings instead of some truth about the human condition. An outright rejection of what really makes us human – our ability to reflectively reject our own selfish desires in pursuit of something greater – is the most tragic effect of all.
We must, of course, hope that these 33 marriages are fruitful and life-giving for the couples, allowing them an opportunity to contribute to the betterment of society, but the reality is that this rocky start does not bode well for these marriages to be successful.