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Authority, not bigotry

Yesterday afternoon, Andrew Sullivan wrote:

It’s time to realize that social conservatives who oppose equality in marriage, who defend the closet, and whose main response to emerging gay identity is to block its integration into the family are actually fostering divorce, disease, distrust and social disintegration. If it’s not merely driven by bigotry and discomfort, why?

This bothered me quite a bit – of course there are reasons why people oppose gay rights (or “rights”, depending on where you stand) that go beyond “bigotry and discomfort”. I had originally written an angry post to this effect, but I decided to take it down. Now I see that James Poulos has more than done the trick, albeit inadvertently:

“Mine” or “Ours” are two answers to the question “By what authority?” that a strong concept of the sacred renders inadequate — not necessarily unnecessary; merely, or certainly, insufficient. Indeed the authority of the sacred is at its strongest when the authority of the self and the authority of a sacred union and the authority of a community of the sacred are asserted — as incarnations of divine authority.

So I myself am short of strong arguments as to why gay unions should be understood as sacred, but I am full of strong arguments as to why I or anyone else is disentitled to make that argument on anything other than the internal terms of one or another sacred authority.

Now, Poulos goes on to point out that such appeals to divine or sacred authority are very often problematic, and can easily be called into question. Having chosen to submit oneself to a certain authority is a far cry from being in a position appropriately to demand that our communal and social traditions be made to square with it. This seems quite right to me, and it is why I don’t, at the end of the day, fashion myself to be much of an opponent of gay marriage and the like. But if I were one, or were more of one than I am, it certainly wouldn’t be because of “bigotry and discomfort”.

Put another way: while there is no doubt that the kinds of motives and goals that Sullivan attributes to the anti-gay-rights movement are shared by many partisans of it, it’s also obvious as day that they’re not had by all of them. To hind behind a rhetorical question as a way of pretending that one doesn’t know this, and so to paint huge numbers of thoughtful, well-meaning people with the same brush as a bunch of knee-jerk fag-haters, is irresponsibility of the worst sort, and is exactly the sort of thing that keeps our political discourse stuck in neutral.

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