Yesterday I responded to Patrick Appel’s claim that Maggie Gallagher is a “fundamentalist” in her view of same-sex marriage, because there is no evidence that would persuade her that it was morally acceptable. I think this is an unfortunate way to characterize Gallagher’s view. I argued that we are all “fundamentalists” about the things we most care about, in the sense that there is nothing, or almost nothing, that would cause us to change our minds. I suggested that neither Patrick nor his boss, Andrew Sullivan, would change their minds about same-sex marriage, no matter what. He responds, in part:
If there were real evidence that marriage equality made gay couples unhappy, if the children of gay parents were severely damaged due to their upbringings, and if same-sex marriage truly were a grave threat to straight marriage, I’d reconsider my views.
I don’t think this is true. I don’t know Patrick, so I can’t say for sure, but I’m fairly certain he believes same-sex marriage to be a “right.” A right is something that is not up for negotiation. It exists prior to the state, and cannot be taken away. If social science were able to show, for example, that racial integration made black Americans unhappy, severely damaged their children, and was a grave threat to the social order, that would not matter. Black folks would still have the inalienable right to equal treatment under the law. Nobody would consider eliminating the right of straight people to marry simply because they make such a hash of marriage these days. If Patrick really has concluded that same-sex marriage is a right, then I would expect him to stand by that view even if evidence demonstrated that same-sex marriage was socially deleterious. Rights don’t exist only when they make people happy and prosperous. To say something is a “right” is to make an absolute moral claim on it — a claim that is not negated by instrumental reasoning.
Similarly, for the religiously orthodox people like Maggie Gallagher, same-sex marriage runs deeply against what they believe to be absolutely true. There is no way to convince them that it is morally right, no matter how many social-science statistics, or anecdotes of happy gay families you produce. Data can convince people who may come to realize that their views against same-sex marriage were based on an irrational prejudice, but that is not the case with a thoughtful and convinced orthodox Christian, Jew, or Muslim, who may take his or her stand on a clear and firm idea, derived from religion and/or tradition, of what a human being is, what truth is, what sex is, and what freedom is. They conclude that same-sex marriage cannot be reconciled with those principles. You may disagree with their first principles, but you cannot call their conclusion from those principles irrational.
My point here is, in part, that people who believe in same-sex marriage also operate from a set of strong first principles about what a human being is, what truth is, what sex is, and what freedom is. It all seems natural to them, and obvious, because that is the world they operate within. A Catholic friend who is a chaste gay man was visiting me recently, and lamented that it’s impossible to make a case against same-sex marriage because so few people share the same first principles that, say, religious Catholics do. The problem is that cultural liberals who support SSM tend to believe that their viewpoints are neutral. They aren’t. Nobody has a neutral viewpoint. Our real problem here is what Robbie George terms “a clash of orthodoxies.” Excerpt:
The secularist orthodoxy also rejects the Judeo-Christian understanding of marriage as a bodily, emotional, and spiritual union of one man and one woman, ordered to the generating, nurturing, and educating of children, marked by exclusivity and permanence, and consummated and actualized by acts that are reproductive in type, even if not, in every case, in fact. Marriage, for secularists, is a legal convention whose goal is to support a merely emotional union-which may or may not, depending upon the subjective preferences of the partners, be marked by commitments of exclusivity and permanence, which may or may not be open to children depending on whether partners want children, and in which sexual acts of any type mutually agreeable to the partners are perfectly acceptable.
As any type of mutually agreeable consensual sexual act is considered as good as any other, secularist orthodoxy rejects the idea, common not only to Judaism and Christianity but to the world’s other great cultures and religious traditions, that marriage is an inherently heterosexual institution. According to secularist orthodoxy, same-sex “marriages” are no less truly marriages than those between partners of opposite sexes who happen to be infertile.
Justice Kennedy infamously wrote in his majority opinion in the Supreme Court’s Casey decision: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.” Within that philosophically loosey-goosey framework, the orthodoxies clash. Prof. George believes that there can be a rational comparison of the orthodoxies, and that the religiously orthodox position can be shown by reason to be superior (read deep into his article for a taste of this). For my purposes, there’s no need to go into this here. The point I wish to convey is simply that the same-sex marriage case is based just as much on fundamental convictions about the meaning of life and the human person. There is no neutral ground, as Justice Kennedy imagines there to be. We are all fundamentalists about those things for which we care the most. When Maggie Gallagher appears to some to have closed her mind — this, because she attempts to respond rationally, not emotionally, to the thought of a happy gay family — she is actually thinking, insofar as thinking involves judging things based on logic and first principles. Of course either her premises or her logic may be wrong. But so too may yours.
And please don’t deceive yourself: If you believe that same-sex marriage is a right, as distinct from merely a good idea, then you have by definition closed your mind to evidence that would cause you to withdraw support from it.