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Gay Marriage Canards

A couple of things same-sex marriage proponents often say strike me as thoroughly disingenuous. The second one bothers me more than the first one. But here’s the first one:

1. “If you really cared about traditional marriage, you would be trying to crack down on divorce.” 

There is a lot to that, it must be said. The reason gay marriage is so widely accepted among the young is that it makes intuitive sense, given everything else this culture teaches them about the meaning of marriage and procreation. That is, widespread divorce, in vitro fertilization, and related phenomena have reshaped marriage and family formation into a consumer good — that is, into something defined by contracts and the limits of desire. Gay marriage proponents raise the divorce point to accuse marriage trads of hypocrisy; that is, we don’t really care about the sanctity of marriage, but are just using that as an excuse to exercise unwarranted prejudice against same-sex couples.

But this is not an argument against trying to stop same-sex marriage; it’s an argument for marriage trads to be more comprehensive in their marriage activism. The thing marriage trads understand is that once the Rubicon is crossed to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, there will be no going back. It is a radical (= at the roots) change in the meaning of marriage, and the opportunity to reform a marriage culture badly disfigured by divorce will have been lost. Perhaps marriage trads realized that only too late, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Besides which, SSM advocates who allude to the hypocrisy, or at least the illogicality, of permitting widespread hetero divorce but denying SSM based on “sanctity of marriage” arguments don’t allow for a parallel argument from the trad side. Namely, if marriage can be redefined to include SSM couples, by what logical principle should it be limited to two people? Who are we to tell the polyamorous that a nontraditional family they might wish to form is not entitled to formal recognition by the state? If desire, consent, and autonomy are the bases for justifying SSM, then why draw the line there?  How can SSM advocates accuse trads of hypocrisy for holding a double standard on marriage sanctity re: divorce, but hold a double standard themselves on polygamy?

The second one is, to me, far more irritating:

2. “You can’t demonstrate any harm from same-sex marriage, so how can you deny marriage rights to same-sex couples based on a supposed harm for which there is no evidence?”

Leaving aside whether or not one can draw firm conclusions about such sweeping social change so early in the experiment, this strikes me as a straw man. Why? Because I don’t believe a single SSM proponent would abandon his or her support for SSM no matter how much harm could putatively be demonstrated from the practice.

Fundamental rights aren’t contingent on harm. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it could be demonstrated that allowing black and white children to attend the same schools caused measurable harm to either or both white kids and black kids. Would anybody support legal resegregation of schools? Of course not. The question is absurd. Some principles you live with even though they may cause harm, because they are taken to be fundamentally and inalienably right.

Besides, the social science data on the harm divorce does to children is quite strong, yet I do not hear, at least not from the left, calls to restrict personal autonomy by reining in divorce laws.

My point is simply that the idea that any SSM proponent who suggests, if only by implication, that he would be willing to change his mind if harm could be demonstrated is not being honest with his interlocutor, or perhaps even himself. If there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, then that right exists whether or not there is a real risk for damage to children and to the fabric of society. That’s what a “right” means. Right?

I would add that it’s deeply irritating when SSM proponents consider themselves to be the perfectly reasonable ones, and their opponents driven by irrational animus. A reader wrote me this morning saying that he and his 18 year old daughter discussed SSM the other night, and immediately she became emotional and tearful over the issue, and accused him of prejudice. They are both Christians, he said, and he simply wanted to discuss the issue in a theological and philosophical way. But she was incapable of even holding the discussion. He said that it wasn’t that she was unwilling to do it, but that she seemed literally incapable of talking about it in a rational way. Her reaction was based entirely on emotion. I have had that experience a number of times, and find it so common that I have pretty much given up on the conversation. Of course there are many, many people on my side of the issue who react that way. But I don’t for a minute believe that they are alone in this. Aside from the intellectual class, most people, I think, no matter which side they come down on, are motivated by unthinking prejudice and high emotion.


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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