Dear Liberals, Please Do Not Do That To My Leg
… and tell me it’s raining.
I see in the comboxes that the drubbing social conservatives and social conservatism took last night (e.g., the approval of same-sex marriage in several states), has elicited the following advice for social cons from certain liberals:
1. Stop trying to make the government enforce your moral preferences on marriage, and learn how to use moral suasion instead; and relatedly,
2. Come up with a nicer way of articulating your principles of same-sex marriage, instead of the mean and off-putting way you talk now.
These are both deeply disingenous. If the first were true, then we wouldn’t have seen same-sex marriage advocates making full-court presses in the courts for their agenda. When the same advice was given to Team SSM, the response was always the same: “Civil rights are not a matter of debate!”
Which is why the second is hopelessly naive, and therefore an impossible strategy. As far as SSM supporters are concerned, there is no nice, respectable way to be against gay marriage. To oppose gay marriage, no matter how politely and philosophically, is merely to identify yourself as a tamer kind of bigot. The defining of what has been, until the day before yesterday, an almost universal human view on the sexual complementarity of marriage as irrational and evil tells you all you need to know about the openness of the pro-SSM side to open-minded debate. The only thing they’re interested in is negotiating the terms of traditionalists’ surrender.
I agree that even if the traditionalist stance on SSM were granted legitimacy by its opponents, it would still be a difficult case to make to younger people, who have been acculturated into a libertarian stance on sexuality. They see sexuality as having no essential meaning, which means that an attempt to set traditional boundaries on sexual practice, re: marriage, will strike them as unjust and illiberal.
Still, as a tactical matter (and, I think, out of genuine conviction), proponents of SSM have demonized trads by making this about civil rights, thereby forcing this issue to be a fight to the death. Appealing to the government to enforce their moral beliefs and painting their opponents as nothing more than vicious bigots has been a successful strategy for them. But they should spare us the hypocritical lectures about how ceasing to rely on the government to enforce our preferences and using more irenic rhetoric would change social conservatives’ prospects on the issue.