If you plan on supporting the concept of traditional marriage — members of the opposite sex with a bare minimum of common ancestors¹ — in the public square debate, for God’s sake be careful [looking around as I type]. Please keep the following in mind:
- Defeat is assured in this particular battle of the culture wars. Defeat not being the same as a lost cause, as defined by T.S. Eliot.
- The defeat itself will be a drawn out affair, as our opponents keep us marginally alive for the sake of vengeance, not unlike how how certain species of ants keep flocks of plant lice as slaves to milk them for droplets of sugar. [See above and @ 4 minute mark of Werner Herzog’s wonderful documentary, Encounters at the End of the World].²
- Unique opportunity to hone your debating skills in a zero expectations environment.
- Experience will look good on your resume, but poorly in your NSA file.
- Brendan Eich might be out, but Reihan Salam points out how his integrity is in.
So, how did we get here? Well as you can imagine, we came up against a powerful opponent: heterosexuals. Stay with me, or better said, stay with me as I attempt to stay with the columnist Ross Douthat and Ramesh Ponnuru from National Review.
Here’s Ponnuru way back in a 2003 National Review article describing the problems encountered by those making the arguments for traditional marriage:
… people continue to agree with social conservatives that marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples. But they do not agree with the premises that underlie that conclusion. The traditional moral argument against homosexual sex has been part of a larger critique of non-marital sex — and, classically, of sex that is not oriented toward procreation within marriage….
The logic of the argument against homosexuality now implicates the behavior of a lot of heterosexuals. If the argument is made openly, and cast as a case for traditional sexual morals in general, a large part of the public will flinch. If the argument is made so as to single out gays, the logic vanishes. Social conservatives begin to look as though they are motivated not by principle but by the desire to persecute a minority. If no effective public argument can be made, the prohibition on gay marriage must survive based on tradition and unarticulated reasons. These are weak defenses in a rationalistic and sexually liberated era.
So basically ‘da people’ were with us, until they realized it might lead to unwanted attention to their own moral choices. As such, one of the first casualties in the debate was the premise that marriage was linked to procreation. Douthat answers that in a way that really should embarrass those who would continue to question the connection:
… that essential connection was assumed in Western law and culture long before gay marriage emerged as a controversy or a cause. You don’t have to look very hard to find quotes from jurists, scholars, anthropologists and others, writing in historical contexts entirely removed from the gay marriage debate, making the case that “the first purpose of matrimony, by the laws of nature and society, is procreation” (that’s a California Supreme Court ruling in 1859), describing the institution of marriage as one “founded in nature, but modified by civil society: the one directing man to continue and multiply his species, the other prescribing the manner in which that natural impulse must be confined and regulated” (that’s William Blackstone), and acknowledging that “it is through children alone that sexual relations become important to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution” (that’s the well-known reactionary Bertrand Russell).
The most interesting strategic argument advanced in the debate, is the concept of whether homosexuality is genetic or a choice. Ponnuru again:
Homosexual groups also embraced the quintessential conservative idea of a fixed human nature. Indeed, they pushed an exaggerated form of that idea: genetic determinism. Many people who would otherwise be disposed to object to homosexuality came to believe that gays and lesbians were “born that way.” Gay activists had to be ambivalent about this development, given the subtext: Who would choose to be that way? A mildly “homophobic” sentiment was recruited to the side of gay rights.
It has been a powerful ally. Genetic determinism has erased the distinction between being and doing — between, that is, identity and behavior. No space has been left in which to love the sinner and hate the sin; objection is discrimination.
While there must be an element in the gay community which see themselves making a conscious choice, when was the last time you heard that articulated? The ‘one voice,’ regarding genetic determinism, is an impressive discipline by our opponents.
OK, so here’s where the ‘careful where you pilita’ moment comes into play. The institution of marriage is experiencing a fairly obvious demographic decline, if not collapse. In the public forum, the gay communty is now its most vocal critic and advocate for change.
So after impressively winning acceptance in the public debate, albeit due to the genetic determinism argument, the gay community has chosen to press its current political advantage to redefine an institution whose purpose is rooted in encouraging procreation, a topic on which they will not soon be called upon as expert witnesses. What could go wrong for a community concerned about persecution?
The scenario reminds me of Jeff Stilson’s joke about the guy whose girlfriend breaks up with him because he lacks confidence. His response, delivered with a perfect lack of confidence, “yeah, like this is gonna help.”
Finally, here’s Douthat, a practicing Catholic, responding to a lapsed Catholic who is gay, about his views on the subject:
… As a matter of public policy, I’m skeptical of same-sex marriage because I think it instantiates (or ratifies, since obviously we’ve been headed down this road for a while) a public meaning of marriage that’s too formless and open-ended to do the very specific job that the institution evolved to do: To bind and channel heterosexual desire in ways that are specific to the nature of procreation, and that aim to offer as many children as possible the opportunity to grow up in an intimate community with their mother and their father…. But saying “we should maintain a distinctive public institution designed to specifically encourage lifelong heterosexual monogamy” — which is basically the traditional-marriage argument, in a phrase — doesn’t preclude making legal accommodations for same-sex relationships, and it certainly doesn’t require gay people to disappear back into the closet or all take vows of celibacy.
I think it’s possible, in other words, for the law to treat different kinds of relationships fairly without always treating them identically. Obviously that isn’t where American society is going on this question….
I hate to sound like the Planet Patrol, but deviate from Douthat’s carefully crafted arguments at your own risk. I do want to sound like Hill Street Blues Sgt. Phil Esterhaus, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”
1- This sentence would have been so much simpler in the 20th century.
2- Or how the drug addict’s [sloth] life was extended for a year in the movie Seven.