Towards A Good Samaritan World

Thursday, November 04, 2004


Poor Andrew Sullivan.

Glenn's post is a good answer to claims that this election was mainly a repudiation of gay marriage. Arnold Kling figures the Massachusetts Supreme Court gave the election to Bush. We'll never know for sure how big a role gay marriage played in Bush's re-election. But it's clear the voters don't want it.

I've heard the stories about a gay AIDS victim dying, and having his homophobic parents show up to his and his parents' flat to take away all the property and evict him. I've heard about gays being shut out of the hospital room where their partner was sick or dying. I think that's wrong. But we can doubtless devise ways to apply commonsense to these rare situations without an unprecedented and unwanted cultural revolution.

But there's a lot of dishonesty about the way this argument is conducted. For example, gay marriage advocates regularly make an analogy to inter-racial marriage. This analogy is invalid. If you don't understand why it's invalid, leave a comment and I'll explain it in another post. But I think most everyone understands that it's invalid and why. You might be able to use the claim to embarass a bad arguer. But you'll never convince them. They'll feel condescended to and manipulated, and they'll be right.

Tom Friedman frames the question as follows:

Is [America] a country that does not intrude into people's sexual preferences and the marriage unions they want to make?

This is another spin: non-intrusion. If a guy marries another guy, it's none of anyone's business. Baloney. Marriage is all about getting recognition of a relationship from the public. It begins with a ceremony, and it is acknowledge with not just with the words "marriage," "husband," "wife," and so on, but with the concepts and norms that lie behind these words. To allow gay marriage is to change the phrase "his husband" from an amusing slip-of-the-tongue to a description of a certain type of homosexual relationship. And that's the whole point. Gay people want to be approved of, and marriage is a way of helping them to get that approval. Maybe that's a good thing. But to justify it from a principle of non-intrusion is either dishonest or preternaturally simple-minded. (Or perhaps preternaturally simple-minded as a result of habitual dishonesty, likely a particular kind of dishonesty called political correctness.)

This blogger claims that civil unions enjoy majority support nationally. They also have a highly influential supporter in President Bush, whose endorsement of gay marriage Sullivan disdained.

I think it's plausible that gay marriage will be a reality someday because there's a historical precedent for a societal transformation of the meaning of marriage, namely, the shift from polygyny to monogamy. It's also plausible that human behavior and the human psyche are such that the phenomenon we view as marriage is fundamentally linked to the possibility of childrearing, and that homosexual marriage can never become acceptable and generalized. I think the latter is a bit more likely, but I don't know. This is a question deeper than politics, lying in who humans are and how we behave and how we speak. To try to force changes in people's everyday thoughts and concepts through a political process is quintessentially totalitarian.

If a majority of Americans really do support civil unions, I find this to be highly open-minded. I agree with them. If we're going to try this social experiment, this is definitely the way to go about it. Andrew calls it discrimination in words. That's the beauty of it: make a similar institution, use different words, and see the trajectories of the words' meanings. Maybe in a hundred years people will say, "Hey, why do we keep using these different words. 'Marriage,' 'civil union,' what's the difference?" Let's just call them by the same name. Or maybe in a hundred years people will have half forgotten, and will regard it as a historical oddity, like polygamy, that men could once marry only women, and people will refer to man-woman matches as 'marriages' and man-man or woman-woman matches as 'civil unions' just as they refer to good-looking men as 'handsome' and good-looking women as 'beautiful'; it will be an arbitrary linguistic distinction of no importance.

Or maybe gay couples will never behave all that much like straight couples, and civil unions will either never become prevalent or will develop as an institution quite distinct from marriage.

We just don't know.

That Bush and (apparently) a majority of Americans are willing to embark on this experiment is very open-minded by any historical or international standards. And yet we get no credit. Sullivan and the MSM now have the gall to act as if it is the other side that are the extremists.

If Bush's election was a backlash against the Massachusetts Supreme Court's decision, the punishment was well-deserved. I oppose a traditional-marriage constitutional amendment unless DOMA is overturned; but if some renegade judge overturns it and thus imposes gay marriage by judicial fiat on the whole country against its will, popular sovereignty must be asserted. America is a consensual and democratic culture. Cultural revolutions from above by judicial fiat have no place here. If we changed our minds later, we can make another constitutional amendment. No shame in that. On the contrary, the rather difficult process of constitutional amendment is quite appropriate a way to implement a cultural change of this magnitude.

And how could the Democrats have getting nailed by the moral values issue? Simple. Kerry could have said, "I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. It's possible that this will change in the future, though I doubt it and certainly have no intention of bringing that about myself. But right now we're faced with a more specific question. What the Massachusetts Supreme Court did was wrong. To claim that their decision was in any sense constitutional interpretation is absurd. If the Massachusetts people fail to reverse the decision with a constitutional amendment, this may be taken as an indirect form of popular consent, though this is far from an ideal way to make the change. That's Massachusetts' business and as president I won't interfere. But I hope that other judges will show a more genuine respect for the law. If gay marriage is ever established in this country, that should happen only one way: by the will of the people."

Maybe if Kerry had said that, he would even have won!


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