Sunday, November 24, 2013

We Will All Be Gay-Married

Rod Dreher has also been working the religious-freedom aspects of the question of same-sex marriage.  Mostly it's the same old stuff, with new examples culled from the Gay-Marriage Panic Department of the Right's propaganda mills.  On Friday he linked to an article by one Jim Antle at The National Interest, who wailed:
A viewpoint that was once acceptably held by the President of the United States—indeed, a viewpoint one had to hold to be elected president in the first place—is now considered rude to express in public. The Mary Cheneys who once allowed people to simultaneously support traditional marriage and avoid charges of bigotry against gays and lesbians have revoked that protection.
So many openings here.  For one thing, when the President of the United States declared his personal belief that marriage should be limited to one man and one woman -- as he and his main competitor had also declared during the 2008 campaign -- many people did object, but most of them were just homosexuals and didn't count.  Most Obama supporters didn't even notice it, and excused his statement as a political necessity if he was to be elected.  When he changed his mind a few years later, any suggestion that he did so as a political necessity to be re-elected was dismissed as callous cynicism.   But I don't recall anyone objecting because he was "rude" (though I don't doubt that some fools did).  I objected because he was trying to impose his personal religious beliefs on the secular institution of civil marriage, flouting the First Amendment.  He was and is entitled to his personal religious beliefs (just as I'm entitled to criticize and mock them), but they aren't and shouldn't be law.

For another thing, what does it mean to "support traditional marriage"?  Antle seems to believe that it means denying civil marriage to anyone who isn't "traditional."  And that's not rude either; other words apply.  Consider the ultra-orthodox Jewish men in Israel who, when they get into trouble for harassing and spitting on young girls they consider immodestly dressed, complain that "we feel we are being prevented from observing the Torah in the manner in which we wish" and compare their Jewish critics to Nazis and themselves to victims of the Holocaust. "They hate us because we’re going the Jewish way.  And there’s only one Jewish way."  Just as there's only one form of "traditional marriage," if we can just figure out which one it is.

The haredi also protest that "We do not hate the secular people, but rather love them, we bring them closer."   Sound familiar?  But 1) the little girls assaulted by haredi men on their way to school weren't "secular," they were Orthodox; and 2) the secular people might well suspect that "we bring them closer" only so that "we" can more easily spit on them.

On the other hand, no one seems to be trying to prevent the ultra-orthodox from observing Torah as they wish, in Israel or in the US; they are only prevented from attacking other Jews who observe it differently.  Likewise, no advocate of same-sex marriage is saying that men and women should not marry legally -- at least, Dreher and his allies haven't quoted anyone who is.  "Traditional marriage" (which the conservatives interpret very elastically when it suits them, including even heterosexual marriage by atheists with no religious dimension) is not under attack, only the attempt to forbid marriage to "non-traditional," same-sex couples.

So it seems that by "traditional marriage" Dreher means not the marriage of one man to one woman, non-traditional though that is, but the heterosexual monopoly on marriage, civil as well as religious.  Being prevented from imposing their particular sectarian doctrines and practices on everyone -- religious and secular alike -- is exactly what religious reactionaries everywhere decry as a violation of their religious freedom, "the dictatorship of relativism" as Pope Rat called it.  They must even be exempt from any criticism or disagreement whatsoever, or they'll cry intolerance.  Let them cry.

But I want to pursue the word "rude."  We've been through that one too, and I've often attacked liberals for their refusal to debate ideas, their taking refuge behind emotive wails of Oh, how could you say such an awful thing?  It's likely that opponents of same-sex marriage will be called rude for expressing their views, but so far they've shown a resilient ability to steal their opponents' tactics and return accusations of rudeness for accusations of rudeness.  It's entertaining to imagine a traditionalist Christian like Dreher facing a Roman governor's order to burn incense before an image of the Emperor.  If he can't even stand up to being called rude for "defending traditional marriage," it's a safe bet he'd have apostatized under real persecution in a New York minute.)  It's so much easier than discussing the issues.  A rational person -- at least the kind of rational person I respect -- will respond to accusations of rudeness by taking the high road and defending his or her views with evidence and good reasons, challenging his or her opponents to refute them.  Our corporate media aren't interested in evidence or reason: they prefer the diversionary tactics of name-calling followed by insincere apologies.  But those people who care about the issues shouldn't let themselves be deterred, and will try to focus on the issues.  Digging through the muck and obfuscation to try to get at what is important in a disagreement.  But as Dreher's citation of Antle shows, the conservatives are just as invested in muddying the issues as liberals are.  Sometimes indeed, liberals and conservatives join hands in the struggle against rational thought.

Dreher also linked recently to an old post on same-sex marriage by (be still my heart!) the Randite blogger Megan McArdle, in which she made this challenge to proponents of same-sex marraige:
My only request is that people try to be a leeetle more humble about their ability to imagine the subtle results of big policy changes. The argument that gay marriage will not change the institution of marriage because you can’t imagine it changing your personal reaction is pretty arrogant. It imagines, first of all, that your behavior is a guide for the behavior of everyone else in society, when in fact, as you may have noticed, all sorts of different people react to all sorts of different things in all sorts of different ways, which is why we have to have elections and stuff. And second, the unwavering belief that the only reason that marriage, always and everywhere, is a male-female institution (I exclude rare ritual behaviors), is just some sort of bizarre historical coincidence, and that you know better, needs examining. If you think you know why marriage is male-female, and why that’s either outdated because of all the ways in which reproduction has lately changed, or was a bad reason to start with, then you are in a good place to advocate reform. If you think that marriage is just that way because our ancestors were all a bunch of repressed bastards with dark Freudian complexes that made them homophobic bigots, I’m a little leery of letting you muck around with it.
The reference to "rare ritual behaviors" shows that McArdle doesn't know what she's talking about, as usual, but I think she does have a point.  The trouble (or the good news, if you prefer) is that it cuts both ways: opponents of same-sex marriage can't say what the longterm effects of same-sex marriage on society will be either, though they are quite sure they'll be cataclysmic.

And the question is more complicated than either McArdle or Dreher cares to think about.  For one thing, heterosexual marriage in the West has become increasingly degendered over the past half-century or so, with the partners formally more and more equal.  So far that is in many ways a good thing, since married women with more autonomy consistently appear to be happier than their counterparts with less autonomy; on the other hand, reactionaries are claiming that women's increased autonomy in marriage has made men unhappier, making them impotent and unwilling to work for a living, etc.  It's not easy to say what to do about that; I don't believe that all men need a woman as a footstool, and those who do might as well adjust or do without.  Anyone who wants to turn the clock back must justify why women -- half the species, after all -- should have to be miserable to boost men's egos.  Defenders of tradition have been perfectly happy to let women suffer.  If it's a zero-sum game where both can't be happy, there's no solution.

Which brings me to my next point: Whether or not same-sex marriage is legalized in the US, heterosexual marriage will continue to change, from pressures within heterosexuality.  And that's not news; heterosexual marriage has never existed in just one form.  Marriage hasn't even been the cultural ideal in Christian cultures, as an Orthodox Christian like Dreher ought to know.  There have been waves of rejection of marriage, by women and men alike, throughout Western history, and in Christian tradition that rebellion has the sanction of Scripture and practical precedent.  We're living in such a time now, in the US and elsewhere in the world, when many heterosexuals are voting against marriage with their feet.  Since gay people are a small minority, and those who will marry are a minority within a minority, those who want to play Chicken Little over marriage should worry more about the social changes being wrought by the heterosexual majority.  It's possible of course that same-sex marriage will have effects greater than the numbers suggest.  But it will be hard to distinguish those effects from those of heterosexuals choosing other options for their own reasons; it might even be that the increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage is an effect of changes in heterosexual marriage and coupling.  As I've indicated, there are reasons to think so.

People like Dreher and McArdle cultivate a blissful ignorance of larger social forces and trends, except when they endorse destructive ones.  The weakening of heterosexual marriage is arguably connected to political and economic changes whose effects have already been noticed by people who care: the destruction of America's industrial base, for example, followed by the attack on jobs with benefits and security, has devastated the nuclear family (which isn't really "traditional" anyhow) and made it impossible for most men to support a family on one paycheck.  When higher-wage jobs with benefits are eliminated, they are usually replaced with low-wage, no-benefit jobs, forcing many married couples to become two-paycheck families, or even three-paycheck since it is often necessary for at least one partner to work two jobs.  (The wife will usually work two jobs anyway, the Second Shift of housework in addition to wage work.)  If the Right wanted to worry about "traditional" marriage and families, it could focus on this trend, but if anything the Right endorses it.  The longterm effects of these and other economic changes are likely to outweigh any caused by the legalization of same-sex marriage, but the Right finds it convenient to have Teh Gay as a scapegoat while ignoring other, arguably more significant factors.

Notice that McArdle is playing the same dishonest game as many other traditionalists: "If you think you know why marriage is male/female, and is either outdated" etc.  Advocates of same-sex marriage don't think heterosexual marriage is "outdated" -- very much the opposite.  They approve of it, and they want same-sex couples to get its privileges and benefits.  (If they consider anything outdated, it's limiting marriage to mixed-sex couples.  It's a bad argument, but a popular one for many issues.)  Legalizing same-sex marriage won't stop marriage from being overwhelmingly, even primarily, male/female.  Letting a few same-sex couples marry legally won't change what marriage predominantly is.  Heterosexuals never had any difficulty in using "marriage" as a metaphor for same-sex relationships in the past, and since marriage is a metaphor, not a natural phenomenon, civil same-sex marriage isn't going to change anything that wasn't already changing.