I wrote earlier about how useful it is to humble yourself and try to see what the world looks like through the eyes of your opponents. Jonathan Rauch, the gay journalist and same-sex marriage backer, does an exemplary job of that in a recent speech. Excerpts:
Contrary to what some of my friends in the gay-marriage movement believe, however, homophobia is far from the only reason for opposition. Another group, which I think is at least equally large, feels threatened–less by the normalization of homosexuality than by the abnormalization, so to speak, of the conventionally defined family. “Nothing personal, do what you want,” they tell us, “but leave the definition of family–of marriage–alone!”
One way to see that more is going on than homophobia is to reflect, for a moment, on a peculiar fact: gay marriage is far more controversial in America than either same-sex adoption or same-sex child custody.
Think about that. Isn’t it odd? The care of children, by definition, involves third parties who often have little or no choice about their situation. If there is a case for harm, one would think it would be strongest here–not in the union of two mutually consenting adults. In fact, the other side has a very hard time articulating any concrete harm at all that gay marriage would do. Yet efforts to make a political issue of gay adoption have consistently failed, while, wherever it appears, gay marriage finds it cannot not be a political issue.
What is behind the alarm raised by gay marriage?
To answer this question, I think one must widen the aperture and look at same-sex marriage in the context of a much larger cultural battle over the nature of family, of marriage, and even of adulthood: a debate over what it is that constitutes, and should constitute, the template for “normal” in all of those areas.
Rauch says that his side often likes to point out that the states that are most anti-SSM are those with the highest level of divorce and family dysfunction. But the pro-SSM side, says Rauch, takes the wrong lesson from that fact. The truth is, people in these states are worried about the failure of the family system to civilize young people. Excerpt:
That is what “families form adults” means. Many teenagers and young adults formed families before they reached maturity, and came to maturity precisely by shouldering family responsibilities. Immature choices and what were once called, euphemistically, “accidents” were a fact of life; but the unity of sex, marriage, and procreation, combined with the pressure not to divorce, turned childish errors into adult vocations.
This paradigm is a traditional norm-set, well rooted in the human condition for untold generations. What the traditional norms say is: keep sex, marriage, and kids linked and more or less synchronized, and things are basically okay. Disassemble the package and you get social chaos.
Rauch goes on, in ways impossible to summarize here — I strongly encourage you to read the essay — to explain why “Red America” sees the marriage issue so differently, in ways that have nothing whatsoever to do with bigotry. Here’s the killer graf:
Same-sex marriage, in this view, is in some sense the ultimate symbolic assault on what is left of the unity of sex, marriage, and procreation. “Ultimate,” I might add, in both senses of the word: “extreme,” but also “last,” the blow that completes the most destructive demolition work of the sexual revolution. After gay marriage, in the Red view of things, how can sex, marriage, and procreation ever be put back together again?
Exactly. This point, and the religious freedom question, are why I am so concerned about SSM. Gay marriage is the final act of the Sexual Revolution, the thing that institutionalizes it. If you think the Sexual Revolution (which Rauch cannily defines as global information culture + birth control) was on balance a good thing, you’re happy with this; if not, not. What’s so insightful about Rauch’s analysis — and he’s quite clear which side he’s on — is that he explains why conservative first principles on the meaning of family in society lead logically to opposing gay marriage. I have never read a more clear, cogent, fair-minded explanation of why social conservatives oppose gay marriage. Here’s more (this gets long, so I’ll put it below the jump, but it’s very good):
It is not that I think same-sex marriage opponents are right. Even within their own traditionalist framework, gay marriage makes sense, or at least more sense than the alternatives. But that is a case I will save for another day.
Today I would merely point out a kind of integrity in their position. If it were all about animus against homosexuals, or if it all stemmed from lies about a gay menace to children, the custody and adoption issues would be paramount. The deeper arguments here are over what constitutes family normalcy, and how we structure the transition to adulthood, and who is entitled to set up a family at a time when many American families are under all too much stress.
I believe that, slowly but surely, family values are renormalizing and will continue to renormalize around later family formation and an ethic which stresses responsible childbearing over abstinence from sex–if only because economic and cultural forces are pulling so hard in that direction. At a time when even many young traditionalists (evangelicals, for example) take contraception for granted, are unable to abstain from sex until marriage, and are unwilling to accept shotgun weddings, it is hard to see how the old unity of sex, marriage, and procreation can be sustained. In today’s world, progress has got to lie in the direction of discouraging early family formation and encouraging (and improving) education.
Therefore it is hard to see how limiting marriage to heterosexual couples can continue to make much sense even in Red America.
You will not be surprised — or maybe you will — to learn that I agree with him. Given how much heterosexual mores have changed with regard to sex and family, even within Evangelical circles, I don’t see how we traditionalists are going to win this battle. We might, somehow, but I don’t understand how. Rauch is correct to point out that the moral shift that has already taken place in America makes gay marriage inevitable, because logical. I’m not going to open up the comments on this one, because I’m only hours away from closing all comments on this blog as it wraps up, and I don’t want another bonfire of the comboxes to start. I just wanted to bring to your attention a superb analysis, and to praise Rauch for his fair-mindedness and charity towards his opponents.
(Via Andrew Sullivan).