An Evans-Manning Award to Edward Hamilton for this thoughtful post challenging another reader’s idea that opponents of same-sex marriage are simply going to be seen as antiques, like temperance activists would be today:
[Quoting the reader:] There is no need to restrict the liberties of those who can be completely ignored – is anyone persecuting the Temperance League or the Anti-Saloon League these days?
I think that “mocked and otherwise ignored” remains a plausible best-case scenario for the future of conservative religious movements in the new American landscape. That’s a somewhat more severe situation to be in the past, however. I think that mockery has become a more stringent exclusionary principle in modern American life than it was before. We’ve transitioned into a culture where political ideas are only widely consumed as a side-dish for satire, and there’s no longer a network media filter that enforces the unwritten standard that Romney’s positions on taxes and trade should be regarded as more important than his oddball Mormon beliefs.
But there are three deeper reasons why the homosexuality issue feels different than previous social reform movements like Prohibition:
1. The tide change on homosexuality is no a roll-back of a temporary experiment, as was the case for making alcohol a controlled substance. Instead, it has been absorbed into a powerful progressive narrative about the way that “history bends” (in Obama’s formulation), and thus has been joined strongly in Democratic rhetoric to causes (like slavery and civil rights) that don’t (and logically can’t) stop at simple mockery. Racial supremacists today aren’t just silly and ignorable; they’re evil, and need to be aggressively denied any chance to participate in public life, ever.
2. Alcohol consumption is a lifestyle choice, and no one today would argue otherwise. Criticizing someone’s decision to consume alcohol is perhaps regarded as a bit gauche, if done in excessively absolute language or for religious reasons. But it is clearly understood as a permissible attack on personal behavior, not an intolerable attack on core identity.
3. The federal government isn’t currently trying to force anyone to provide free alcohol to employees as a regulatory mandate. The libertarian solution that worked fairly well for legalizing alcohol has little chance of ever being attempted for sexual behavior, given the co-evolving entanglement of human sexuality in health care policy. A doctor today who encourages an alcoholic patient to go dry is regarded as fairly reasonable man. A doctor who recommends celibacy to a homosexual is, increasingly, not someone who will be regarded as charitably.
There’s really not much room for middle ground on sexual ethics issues. Certainly not in a political environment where there are so many rich rewards for keeping such concerns alive in the minds of young voting urban Americans — as Terry McAuliffe’s advertising campaign proved again this week.