Skip to comments.Same-sex marriage and social change: exceeding the speed of thought
Posted on 01/12/2013 5:05:48 AM PST by IbJensen
It is remarkable that the idea of same-sex marriage has gained ground so rapidly. Those most quick to accept the idea have been elite liberals, with ordinary Americans lagging behind but becoming more accepting of the idea. In the thick of the struggle over the law and politics of marriage, we can easily forget how novel is the idea of two men or two women marrying each other.
This fact came home to me when I participated in a forum on the subject at Princeton University last spring. Present in the room were two lions of the liberal academy, each past the threescore years and ten of which the Psalmist speaks, each a distinguished scholar with many publications to his credit, each known for his devotion to liberal causes. Both gentlemen expressed the opinion that the cause of same-sex marriage was obviously just, that opponents of the cause were obviously reactionary and benighted, and that this was plainly the new civil rights struggle of our time.
If preventing gays from "marrying" is so obviously unjust, why didn't anyone, including leading liberals, think of it until relatively recently?
Yet it struck me that if denying same-sex couples the right to marry was such an obvious and gross injustice as to merit such energetic claims today, why had it never occurred to either of these august scholars decades ago, at the beginning or the middle of their careers? In the books of proud advocacy each had published, say, twenty or thirty years ago, there was not the slightest hint that American public life was disfigured by this particular injustice.
Redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships simply didnt occur to them, because it didnt occur to anyone. Yet that day they espoused that view with the fervor of men who had always thought so, and for whom it was unthinkable to believe otherwise. If they reflected on this change in their own thinking, would they conclude that their reasoning powers had been deficient years ago, or their moral sympathies inadequate?
It is, of course, possible for people to evolve in their thinking, and to come to views that werent on their radar in earlier days. But this seems to be a special case, not accounted for by the emergence of a genuinely new issue, nor by new knowledge, nor by a change of heart or of mind about something basic. The scholars of whom I speak, for instance, have been liberal in their attitudes toward homosexuality for many decades. One could well believe that mistreatment of homosexuals was wrong, without believing it was even possible for two persons of the same sex to marry.
If we compare the issue of same-sex marriage to an issue with which it is often equated, that of interracial marriage, we find that it stands out as unusual yet again. Like slavery itself, the now-discredited ban on interracial marriage was never without critics who complained of its injustice. Only racists thought such a ban was just, and Americans were not universally racist.
By contrast, no advocates of justice in human history, prior to the modern sexual revolution in the West, ever thought of same-sex marriage, whatever their views on societys treatment of homosexual persons. This historical reality brings us to Michael J. Klarmans new book, From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage. Klarman, a Harvard law professor whose very large book on the struggle for African-American civil rights won the prestigious Bancroft prize in history, has written a much shorter book this time around because all the history he relates is so very recent. Every significant element of the story has occurred in just the last twenty years. And the overwhelming impression one gets, in the pages of From the Closet to the Altar, is of social change taking place at dizzying speed, with very little thought about where we are going.
Strictly a legal-political history in its first eight chapters, Klarmans book is a thorough and instructive tour of the last few decades, but only on a very narrow subject. The authors tight focus on the marriage issue makes the book unsuitable as a history of American sexual attitudes and mores, of homosexuality generally, or of other gay rights issues; all these subjects tangentially appear only in connection with the marriage question. The spotlight is on activists, lawyers, judges, politicians, and public officials as they battle over whether marriage will be redefined to include same-sex relationships; in the background are voters and the general public as the terrain of the contest among elites.
But here is perhaps the useful reminder provided by Klarmans book. Not only did no one ever believe, before the last few decades, that justice required us to redefine marriage as the solution to some problem. Among gays and lesbians themselves, it remained highly contentious, until still more recently, whether marriage was even something they wanted. They universally desired better treatment from the larger society, but it was by no means universal among them to desire marriage as the mark of that better treatment. And it was not just a question of whether they wanted to press for marriage now or later, as a tactical matter; it was an open question whether they wanted it at all. In the memory of any of us of middle age who have known gays and lesbians all our lives, we quite vividly recall the commonly expressed view among them, not long ago, that marriage was for straights, or for breeders, in the patois of the gay subculture.
Of this we should pause and take stock for a moment. The consensus among gays and lesbians today (with very few dissenters) is that they do indeed desire the right of civil marriage. But why do they want it? The question is seldom asked. They so plainly desire it so very much that it seems rude to ask.
Well, why have men and women throughout the ages wanted to marryto unite with each other in a private relation that is publicly recognized, honored, and commonly sanctified? The answer may be found in another recent book, by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George, titled What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. Sexual attraction and romantic love may prompt a couples desire to be together, but they marry in order to make something new that honors and ennobles that attraction and love: the nucleus of a family, in a comprehensive relation of husband and wife that points toward the future, with an openness toward making that future through procreation.
We know that marriage can take place without procreation, and most assuredly procreation can take place without marriage. But as a public institution founded on private relations, marriage would not exist were it not for the offspring that regularly result from marital acts. And so, ask the question again: why do (typically young) men and women get married? What purpose are they pursuing? In the paradigm case, the answer is: to start a family in the way all families are made possible in nature, by sexual intercourse and childbearing.
Same-sex couples can and do raise children, but in no case can a child be the offspring of both partners. The family-with-children headed by a same-sex couple, then, is by definition an exceptional case, and cannot ever be the paradigm case of a marriage-based family. In this it resembles opposite-sex couples with stepchildren or adopted children, but only superficially. The difference that still remains is that these opposite-sex couples can provide their children with both a mother and a father, which same-sex couples cannot do. Whether that is a difference that makes a difference is a fitting question, not one to be banished as invidiously discriminating before it is asked.
Where the conjugal view of marriage is concerned (as What Is Marriage? calls it), as opposed to the revisionist view, something both natural and necessary is pursued. Uniting sexually complementary persons so that new life is brought into the world, and children are provided with mothers and fathers (and this by adoption or stepparenting or the like where nature fails), is what marriage has always been about at its core. And it is in order to foster this union and its fruits that marriage is recognized and protected by the laws.
In the revisionist view, marriage comes to be about something else. Throughout Klarmans book one encounters this fact, though the author, whose prejudices are entirely in favor of this change, makes no effort to present it. For same-sex marriage advocates, marriage is about material benefits (of financial advantage, inheritance rights, control of medical care, etc.), or it is about social status and recognition (the attainment of equality under the law for a relationship hitherto left out of its ambit), or it is about a liberationist ideological project (the normalization and acceptance of homosexuality by the heteronormative larger society), or it is about some transgressive project (to transform our understanding of marriage because its traditional norms are thought to be unjust, or part of a larger fabric of injustice).
How strange this all looks from the standpoint of the tradition these advocates presumably seek to join. Men and women too might marry for some of these reasons (e.g., for material advantage or status), but they are not why marriage exists, and we are inclined to think ill of couples whose reasons for marriage do not go to the core of its purpose and nature. A change to the definition of marriage that eliminates, among its essential features, the purpose for which it came into being in the first place, is quite a step to undertake.
Throughout From the Closet, we find leading figures in the fight for same-sex marriage trying to divert the attention of voters, legislators, and judges away from the very unorthodox nature of the claim they are making on marriage as an institution. Again and again they are portrayed as pressing on accepted precepts of equalitythe condemnation of discrimination, the application of rigorous scrutiny by judges to claims on behalf of tradition, and so onas though the thing they so ardently desire were simply an extension of marital norms on which all agree.
Yet this is an astounding case of misdirection. The truth is that they wish to redefine a foundation stone of human society in such a way that it will no longer bear the weight we put on it. As others have observed, redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships completes the separation of marriage from its true nature, already begun by modern divorce law and other social changes, by making it about adult desires rather than the formation of families and the welfare of children.
Klarman turns, in the final three chapters of his book, to the correlation of forces that, in his view, will inevitably result in the establishment of same-sex marriage in the whole United States, probably as a result of a Supreme Court ruling in the near future. Here the most striking thing, coming from the pen of a law professor and constitutional historian, is how little interest he takes in the legal arguments and their persuasive connection to constitutional principles. Klarman seems to regard the Supreme Court justices as life-tenured Solons, lawgivers for the nation who act on their own moral convictions, and a rough sense of public opinion, rather than on legal principles discernibly present in the supreme law of the land to which the people have consented.
It is best not to be too confident of the success of a movement that has existed for so short a time, is so unsure of its arguments, and is so heavily reliant on a cynical view of constitutional government. With two cases on the Supreme Courts docket, we will find out very soon how well moral and legal incoherence hold up, in the court of law and the court of public opinion.
They will. Adults having sex with children is the next item on their agenda. But they will get to polygamy before very long.
This is a well-written article.
“If preventing gays from “marrying” is so obviously unjust, why didn’t anyone, including leading liberals, think of it until relatively recently?”
Well, first they had to wait until it was “removed” from “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” as an aberrant paraphilia.
[you know, like pedophilia, necrophilia and zoophilia]
Because the "speed of thought" is slower than the speed of common sense.
Maybe it’s advanced so fast because people are stupider, or at least more ignorant. I cannot convince one young person who isn’t already wholly on my side that it has nothing to do with equality, or at least individual equality, or that “discriminating” between homo- and heterosexual couples isn’t naziesque. It always goes ne saying “Single gays are just like any other single person.” Then they say but they can’t get married, and I say, “They can marry whomever they want, so long as they’re the opposite sex.”
This will not stand in their minds. They say but gays don’t wanna marry people of the opposite sex. “So what?” I’ll try explaining the difference between status and contrast, the legitimate state interest in various forms of discrimination, etc. Nothing could be falser than the myth that everyone is equal before the law. Are men and women? Try walking into a ladies room, or harassing a male as opposed to female coworker. Are the young and old? Obviously not. Are murderers and nonmurderers. Now you’re comparing homosexuality to murder? “No, you ignoramus.”
It doesn’t work. If being gay isn’t bad, not necessarily good but unbad, then there must be gay “marriage.” It has so been decreed.
I always wondered, did they give a reason, or did it just poof away (pun intended)? Either they were wrong then or they’re wrong now. Have they said which?
Not that there are standards for what’s a disorder and what’s not. Everyone, or nearly so, wants to have sex occasionally. What makes for nymphomania or satyriasis? I think they say it comes down to whether or not it adversely affects your life. So if gayness suddenly becomes socially acceptable I guess it stops adversely affecting your life, and isn’t a disorder.
What kinda science is this?
Also, polygamy can result in the procreation of a child. By not allowing it, the state is discriminating against a child’s right to have his father married in the eyes of the law to his mother. Homosexual relations never result in procreation of another human being a/k/a a future taxpayer.
It got lobbied out.
“Maybe its advanced so fast because people are stupider, or at least more ignorant.”
Indeed. The leftists have done a great job of dumbing down a whole generation of people. Just take a look at how many voted for Obama. They’ll be paying for that decision for decades.
JMHO but I believe homosexualism and socialism are God’s judgment upon our nation much like ancient Israel demanding a king so they could be like other nations. They got Saul just like we got Obama.
It’s a good question. I have read a lot of pre-80’s sci-fi, mostly from the 50s and 60s. Never read anyone come up with ‘gay marriage,’ lots of polymorous relationship grouping, never ‘gay marriage.’
If you would have told someone in the 60’s that something called ‘gay marriage’ would be recognized by the state before polygamy, they would have thought you were wacked.
Of course for the state, the definition it uses to recognize the institution is simply whatever judges, pols, or 51% of the voting public think it should be at any one time. Many have been conditioned to think that marriage comes from and is defined by the state, as little pieces of paper. The paper denotes a contract between any parties the state approves, and brings strictures and benefits that can be broken and resumed as long as the state again approves. The state says ‘gay marriage’ is possible; therefore ‘gay marriage’ can exist and is possible for many.
Makes you wonder what the state will consider marriage in another 50 years. The answer is whatever judges, pols, or the majority think it should include in 50 years.
I always thought the reason for homosexuals wanted gay marriage was due to the financial differences between single and married. However, I found out that they can’t even file married on the federal tax forms so that cannot be the reason. I do agree that they should be able to go to the hospital to say goodbye to their loved one...that was so stupid of the hospital to not allow that which was the beginning of the initial call for gay marriage. I 100 percent blame the hospitals that gay marriage is even a thought in our country! I could have cared less if they got visitation...why was that such a problem! Stupid hospitals ruined our culture by being selfish! I think if you guys think about it, I am 100 percent correct!
Years of propaganda on TV and in the movies. Spineless politicians who are deathly afraid of raging fang-toothed feminazis. Normal people afraid of being called bigoted. No surprise that it happened so fast.
My liberation ideological brother Philip, married his homosexual lover at my liberal father’s house, in Mexico, prior to Philip’s terminal years fighting for his life in St. Louis. HIV went to full blown Aids in a very few years.
HIV caused illnesses including severe neuropathy from the chemo cocktail, then in full blown AIDS,renal destruction and failure, advanced pneumonia, near complte optical nerve destruction and blindness, paralyzing brain lymphoma, and ultimately death by brain seizure from lymphoma—on January 9, 2006! Just past a seven year death anniversary for his short life, Age 42.
These are the fruits of an homosexual lifestyle and gay marriage. The liberal propagandists do not tell you about the illness. They do not tell you about the heart crushing multiple symptoms of Aids and the unhealthy personal relationships in a gay marriage, they do not tell you the “marriage equality “ means almost certain death by Aids.
In the end, a certain Rabbi in St Louis made a spiritual breakthrough with my brother Philip. Rabbi Randy explained to Philip that God had invited him to dance, to dance a final dance with God, of joy and acceptance of terminal illness and going into a final resting place under the protection of God. We rent our clothing, and then sang Ode to Joy at the funeral. It was a beautiful loving end, to a life cut short, by cultural relativism, abominable behavior, a false sacrament of man to man marriage, a preverted view of the validity of homosexual marriage, illicit dangerous disease ridden sex practices, many painful and blining illnesses, death from cancer caused by Aids, and ultimately, I pray, redemption and forgiveness, justicemwith mercy for Philip having chosen to dance finally with God in seeking eternal rest.
Fruits of gay marriage, in my family, are perversion, illness, blindness, death and sorrow. Thei is why I support Life, Freedom, and Marriage. This is my experience.
I miss Philip and love him: Philip, i love you, rest in Peace.
I think several acts have driven this issue home. Calif. voted against gay marriage and San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsome preformed them anyway. This made an across the nation defiance arise.
Try finding TV that does not have the “usual” lifestyle by having a gay/gay couple actor. Personally this is why I watch very little TV as I cannot stand men talking and acting like women.
When I grew up I don’t care what I did on Saturday but I was expected to be in church on Sunday morning. Most parents are too tired from all day of Saturday sports to get the kids and themselves to church on Sunday.
Tweeting and texting and other self absorbed efforts turn one from everyone and everything else to self. I am very disappointed in several youth I know who didn’t have time to vote but cannot resist their iPhone telling them something boring someone else is doing that minute in their life.
Life IS different in a short time as we are too spoiled.
Homosexuals have never been denied the right to marry; what they have been denied (at least until now) is the right to change the definition of marriage.
Vita Sackville-West (same sex lover of Virginia Woolf) was married to Harold Nicolson, well-known as a homosexual. Woolf herself - an icon of female homooerotic literature - was married. Apparently both Sackville-West and Nicholson had active sex lives, mostly not with each other, yet maintained a continual relationship and raised at least one child, as I recall.
We as a culture are sadly reaping what we’ve been sowing for decades.
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx says that he not only wants to abolish private property, but also family, morals and religion. He’s very clear about it.
Marriage is about a billion things other than hospital visitation policy. I realize that comes up a lot, and presumably matters to those involved. But is it really driving gay “marriage”s whirlwind acceptance? Doubtful. You wouldn’t need the state to intrude to change that policy, and doing so is like killing a gnat with a cruise missle.
The same thing faces unmarried heterosexual couples, friends, and all relationships against which visitation policy discriminates. I see no compelling state interest in stepping in on their behalf, nor on behalf of gay couples. Methinks they stress this particular narrow issue, in addition to how it pulls on heartstrings, in order to highlight what it shares with actual marriage. That is, people who love eachother and vow to stay together ‘tip death. There’s also the sex, of course, but we don’t wanna hear about that.
But of course gay people staying together doesn’t interest the state. What do we care? That’s not why man-woman marriage has special status. If they want to stay together for life, that’s none of my business. If theyget sick if eachother after a week, let em split. Marriage is about love, support, sticktoitivness, for eachother. But that’s not why we bind them together. It certainly isn’t so they can commiserate over deathbeds.