Given the unprecedented peace and prosperity currently enjoyed by nearly all Americans, it’s hardly surprising that a symbolic issue such as Gay Marriage has now moved to the forefront of the public debate, not least among the contributors to my own magazine.
Personally, it’s not the sort of issue that keeps me in a state of great ideological agitation, but since everyone else seems to be sharing his opinion, I might as well do the same, if only by pointing to the column I’d written on the subject back in the late 1990s. I can’t say that any of my views have much changed, unlike those of a vast number of American politicians and pundits.
For me, the more important aspect of this current controversy is the insight it provides into the nature of America’s “conservative movement” and the so-called Christian Right. Some of the top leaders of the conservative anti-Gay Marriage organizations of the 2000s have now switched sides and fully endorsed the very practice they had long denounced as a social monstrosity, which is certainly a bit odd from a theological or philosophical perspective. Have the world’s “eternal verities” suddenly been reversed in just six or seven years, or might the cause of their U-turns instead be found in the opinions of their DC cocktail-party friends or the views of the plutocrats who sign their paychecks?
Above all, the transformative power of the American media is once again revealed. Some time back I joked with a conservative friend that after a few years of relentless media pressure the very same preachers then denouncing Gay Marriage as the “sin of Satan” would probably be uniting same-sex couples in holy matrimony at their own churches, and so far the social trend lines seem to be supporting my prediction. After all, in modern American society the Word of the Almighty and His Holy Book may have a powerful influence, but they are regularly trumped by whatever our electronic media tells us to believe. Perhaps churches should just install television sets in front of their pews and cut out the middle man.
Meanwhile, the ideological libertarians who constitute such an important part of our conservative intellectual elite make the powerful argument that if two men—or perhaps five—want to marry each other, there is no reasonable ground to deny them that right. After all, their personal happiness is obviously enhanced and it is difficult to see how any reasonable individual outside that blissful union could claim to be harmed as a consequence. Some gain, no one loses, and American law should endorse practices that allow such a maximization of America’s total social utility value-function.
This argument seems irrefutable to me, at least given the framework of libertarian theory, today widely accepted by so many of our prominent thinkers on the right and even the left. But as an obvious corollary, I would suggest that once Gay Marriage has been fully allowed in all fifty states, whether by Supreme Court writ or otherwise, we would still remain very far from the full implementation of the individual freedoms originally promised by our Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.
I refer, of course, to the burning issue of “Sidewalk Marriage.” Consider a man who wants to marry his local sidewalk. What argument could possibly be advanced against such a union? The man certainly gains, both in happiness and self-respect, while not even the most benighted naysayer could advance any plausible argument that the sidewalk is injured by the process. Certainly the nuptials would provide a financial boost to our struggling economy, especially given the number of construction workers who would necessarily be employed when man and sidewalk go off on their honeymoon. Dutiful individuals would surely spend their own money to keep their beloved spouses neat and tidy, immediately repairing any cracks the moment they appear, and thereby saving our over-burdened taxpayers all sorts of local maintenance expense. A win-win proposition all around, and even more importantly the moral position for society.
On an entirely different matter, someone I know sent me the following description of his son’s recent college admission outcome, and later authorized me to publish his note so long as I very slightly modified the text so as to maintain anonymity:
He is a National Merit Scholar, works at a major museum conducting science experiments for kids, works as a volunteer at a drop-in center for the homeless, is the editor of his school’s literary journal, acts in plays, is on the “Quiz Bowl” team, swims and dives, has a Black Belt, 1st Degree and is a good student.
Cumulative GPA: 4.38,
5 on US History
5 on European History
5 on AP English Language and Composition
He is on the wait lists at Harvard, Brown and Columbia and not likely to be admitted. So it goes…
The individual is white, lives on the East Coast, and has a very Anglo-Saxon name.
Some of my Meritocracy critics have suggested that the ridiculous skew of Ivy League enrollments exists because few of the capable students from most of our major ethnic groups bother applying. Without detailed data I obviously can neither confirm nor deny this speculative excuse, but examples such as this one leave me quite skeptical of such an explanatory cause.
And the general topic does have deep resonance. Although my article ran almost five months ago, right now it ranks #2 in current traffic on the TAC website, just below my recent “Mickey Mouse” column on copyrights.