Topic: Political theory
In today's New York Times, Ross Douthat writes an editorial that could be called "An Anti-Gay Marriage Argument for the 21st Century." In it, he first disposes of three tired, discredited, arguments against gay marriage. Good for him. Then he takes a stab at a new, more erudite argument against gay marriage. Here's the money shot:
[the idea of marriage as a soluble institution] completely vanquishes the older marital ideal, then gay marriage will become not only acceptable but morally necessary. The lifelong commitment of a gay couple is more impressive than the serial monogamy of straights. And a culture in which weddings are optional celebrations of romantic love, only tangentially connected to procreation, has no business discriminating against the love of homosexuals.
But if we just accept this shift, we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.
I have to say: this is pathetic. Here we have a leading conservative thinker attempting to provide a new intellectual foundation for the anti-gay marriage movement, and this convoluted, crappy argument is the best he could do. So let me spend three minutes shooting this down and then I'll get back to more important things, like Brickbreaker level 37.
1. The first paragraph I cited starts with an "if": if the institution of marriage has changed, then gay marriage "will become not only acceptable but morally necessary." And Douthat spent the preceding paragraphs argument that the institution of marriage has, indeed, changed. So, I guess gay marriage is morally necessary. Good point, Ross - I agree!
2. But, bucking against the trend that he himself identified earlier in the article, Douthat feels that "lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate" is still possible and desirable. And, he argues, gay marriage threatens that institution because it is "different".
How? How is it different? Well, it's not heterosexual, I'll grant you that, but why is that an important distinction? What does sexual orientation have to do with anything? Isn't every marriage different? Aren't marriages performed under different religious traditions different? Why is the presumed difference between heterosexual and homosexual marriages so important? Douthat doesn't explain.
And even there was an important difference between the two, how does one threaten the other? In this country's history, expanding rights to others has never diluted the rights of those who had them to begin with. By allowing gay marriage, we're not giving up on the institution of straight marriage. In fact, we're giving rise to an equally venerable institution. You'd think that would be something the family values crowd could get behind.
So, Ross Douthat has swung and missed. William F. Buckley is dead. David Brooks, you want to take a stab at this? I guess he could try. Or, conservative intellectuals could just stop barking at the moon and get on the right side of history.