The conservative remnant on marriage equality: two possible outcomes

Maggie Gallagher hopes that opposition to gay marriage will go the way of opposition to premarital sex: unusual, but quaint and tolerated. Unfortunately for her, it’s more like opposition to interracial marriage: in a generation, it will scan as simple bigotry.

I’ve been thinking, since he posted it, about Jonathan Chait’s piece several days back regarding the anti-marriage-equality movement’s swan song. Alertly noting the tone of elegy and self-pity in Maggie Gallagher’s latest musings on her political activity, Chait wrote:

The surest sign of resignation is that Gallagher has redirected her focus from stopping gay marriage to preserving the dignity of her reputation and those of her fellow believers. She now presents her cause as a kind of civil rights movement to protect her fellow believers from the stigma of advocating bigotry and discrimination. “I worry when I get an email from a woman who’s a nurse in a hospital,” she told NPR, “who wrote a letter to the editor opposing gay marriage, and finds that she fears her job is in jeopardy.”

Jumping off of this: I can imagine two models for how opponents of gay marriage might be regarded in several years—say ten to thirty, depending on whether public opinion on this issue shifts as fast as it has recently or whether it hits a wall at some point. One would be more comfortable for gay marriage opponents. The other is more apt and more likely.

The first model would be that of sexual prudes: those who, consistent with (for instance) orthodox Catholicism, opine that premarital sex is wrong—or, yet a bit more ridiculously, that masturbation is wrong. (As I’ve blogged before, the former opinion is uncommon among the public but common among old Republicans; the latter is now pretty much restricted to comical Senate candidates and one noisy Supreme Court justice.) A belief that certain sexual practices (“sodomy”) are wrong, whatever the orientation of those practicing them, is, I guess, somewhere in between. Given that such prudery is unlikely, and decreasingly likely, to have much effect on law and policy, people who quietly hold such beliefs are pretty much tolerated, even in company where they’re considered eccentric, as long as they express those beliefs fairly quietly and respectfully. Their prudery is considered the natural result of being unusually religious and, probably, somewhat older. People who think this way are considered relatively unthreatening—and, crucially, relatively unbigoted in that their beliefs commit them, at least in theory, to placing constraints on themselves and people like themselves, not just on others. (Hypocrisy on this score is, rightly, socially censured.) And the lack of social support for their views has a salutary knock-on effect: outside backward areas of the South and Midwest—which I realize means about forty senators, but still—the sexual prudes pretty much resign themselves to private persuasion among those already sympathetic, rather than obtruding their opinions on those who have no interest in them.

A second model would be people morally opposed to so-called miscegenation: sexual relations or marriage between people of different “races.” That opinion, once dominant, is now marginal, and no more likely to result in legal penalties than sexual prudery is. Yet it’s not considered harmless or amusing. One reason is the persistence of non-legal penalties: in less enlightened parts of the country, as well as in the wrong neighborhoods in the enlightened parts, couples who scan as interracial are still met with taunts, or scowls, or sometimes violence. That’s not true of unmarried heterosexuals seen kissing too avidly, but it is still true of gay couples. Another is the inherent hatred involved. Thinking sex outside of marriage is icky makes you quaint and old-fashioned. Thinking sex across your favorite color boundary involves some sort of contamination makes you a racist.

Clearly, Gallagher et al. are hoping that opposition to gay marriage will end up like the first model, i.e. a minority opinion but one that the majority culture regards as outdated and silly rather than morally loathsome. But I think Andrew Sullivan has been right all along: it’s much more like the second model. While I grant that for people of a certain generation gay marriage was long unthinkable, the same used to be true of interracial marriage—and we don’t forgive people who continue to openly and aggressively flaunt their old prejudices on that. In a generation or so, people who think that their gay friends’ marriages are disgusting and that the children of those marriages will be scarred and tainted by them will be considered akin to those who think the same about marriages between whites and nonwhites.

Ms. Gallagher and those who think like her cannot be forced to give up their personal, private aversion to certain other people’s love and attachment. But they’ll eventually have to learn to keep their unwelcome and offensive opinions to themselves. I realize that this will be a slow and difficult process, but they’ve still got a little time before the norms change completely. So I advise them to start now.


Author: Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.

59 thoughts on “The conservative remnant on marriage equality: two possible outcomes”

  1. In the land of the free, it’s funny how the issue of human rights has been so often cast as a zero-sum game: if some individual or group is finally able to enjoy the same rights wealthy white make property owners have enjoyed since the founding of the republic, many people think this can only come about at the cost of someone else’s rights.

    Freedom is an expansive concept. But many Americans often treat human rights like property, something that must be bought, earned or inherited, but never simply accepted as the universal inheritance of all Americans no matter what their situation in life is.

    I really don’t see giving such credence to the complaints of those like Ms. Gallagher (hmmm, does she split watermelons before a live audience? That at least would make her more interesting than the usual conservative drone.) Folks like her want to live in the past and hope they can make the rest of us do so, too. That’s obviously no longer possible even from her own point of view. If she wants to be so ignorant and petty about human rights, OK, but to represent her position as politically reasonable, as if we should hold our tongues until she has passed into history, doesn’t work for me. No need to be gentle with the rearguard of reaction, just show ’em the door.

    The universal human rights of all, including Ms. Gallagher, are advanced when they are recognized even as long histories of repression and contempt of those like her are thrown aside without cost to her.

    1. Part of the issue here is that there’s something that, for a lack of a better term, is called “polite society”, which is the consensus of elites on what particular issues are in-bounds and out-of-bounds in terms of discussion in polite company. At one time, all sorts of racist and sexist and anti-Semitic views were perfectly tolerated and even endorsed in polite society. Now, they aren’t, and if someone, say, publicly asserts that black people are shiftless and lazy, that person won’t be able to hold a major job as a corporate executive or run for office or get financing for his movie or whatever. This change has correlated with the legal changes, but it’s a separate issue. As Sobl indicates, this is NOT the case with people who think various forms of sex are sinful and wrong even though there has been a change in the legal status of fornication and sodomy as well. You can publicly espouse very conservative Catholic views and get a seat on the Supreme Court, for instance.

      But outside of polite society, there’s plenty of people who still believe and espouse the old stuff. There are plenty of old-style racists, old-style sexists, whatever. We just don’t hear so much of them, because we don’t allow them to enter into the national conversation, which is governed by the rules of polite society.

      1. Good point about discourse allowed in polite society, which may be correlated with the development of coded communications in which a polite form of language is code for a less polite form.
        Hey! Maybe we could get those Mississippi Republicans on board with same sex marriage if we framed it as a matter of saying that people ought to marry their own kind, without specifying what we mean by “own kind.”

      2. America still has a polite society? I thought that went to the grave with Edith Wharton.
        As far as I can tell the kids of the rich listen to rap and paint in graffiti script too.
        Both the upper and lower classes go apeshit crazy over football.
        Both the rich, the middle remnant, and the poor do tattoos.

        I’d like to think there was still some cultured rich in American holding back the crudities, but I see this equally: barking pitbulls leashed to trailers and barking pitbulls running free on the rich man’s compound. It’s all noise to me. The difference between upper, middle, and lower Americans is one of pure money not sensitivities. Hell with all that money, the gauche rich might just as well be happy poor…

        1. These are delightful observations to read, because it means that (snark, vulgarity, and selfishness being the accepted norm), it will soon be thought “transgressive” and “edgy” to reply without sarcasm or irony to sincere questions, to cultivate a refined taste for art and music, and to avoid abusing one’s social and economic inferiors. Won’t that be outlandish! And trendy! I can’t wait til it becomes au courant.

  2. Note that Andrew’s pruderies are the dogma of respectable religions, and his bigotries are not. If opposition to same-sex marriage continues to remain the dogma of Catholicism, Modern Orthodox Judaism, many mainline Protestants, and most Muslims, I think it will stay on the prudery side of the divide.

    And how does abortion fit Andrew’s interesting schema?

    1. Many of the (official) dogmas of respectable religions have been risible among an overwhelming majority of Americans, including adherents of the religions in question, for some time. The way religions stay respectable is by winking at that. (As one of my previous posts noted, Catholics are actually *more* likely than the general population to think nonmarital sex is fine.) If the question is whether churches will remain officially opposed to same-sex marriage while conniving at a supermajority of their congregations thinking it’s just fine, in fact a right—as with contraception—my answer is “maybe!” But it’s harder to imagine this in the case of same-sex marriage because legal prohibitions on such are a live issue and will be for some time, as is not the case with contraception.

      As for abortion: it doesn’t fit at all. Opinions on sexual morality and gay rights are shifting year-by-year in the same direction, but public opinion on abortion has hardly changed at all for decades. There are many possible explanations, but my favorite one is that the orthodox side simply has more of a real argument available on that issue than when it comes to allegedly unnatural sex.

    2. The prohibition against interracial marriage was religious dogma too. They changed the dogma.

      And before you say, “well that’s Protestants”, even top-down religions do this. I think the Catholic Church would have faced a VERY hard time had they not changed the doctrine that the Jews killed Jesus, and Mitt Romney would not have been a Republican nominee for President if the Mormons still endorsed discrimination against blacks.

      As for abortion, opposition to abortion is about sexual prudery, and it fits very well into Andrew’s schema. (Not that it could never flip to the other side of it– Roe is extremely popular, people who seriously want to outlaw abortion are a pretty small number of people, and pro-choicers do see this as an issue of gender equality. If that frame ever did take hold with most Americans, opposition to legal abortion could pretty quickly become a very costly position to hold.

      1. Dilan: As for abortion, opposition to abortion is about sexual prudery, and it fits very well into Andrew’s schema.

        I’ll have to disagree with that. Opposition to abortion is very multi-faceted. Yes, part of it is prudery, i.e. principal opposition to sex for fun; there’s also a religious component: some religions considered and consider early-term abortions to be a violation of the commandment to procreate; but the biggest opposition that I’m seeing these days arises out of principal disagreement about the beginning of human life. Few people will argue that human life has begun one minute after conception; few will argue that you don’t have human life one minute before birth. In between these extremes, there’s no real consensus to be found. This is also why conservatives can drum up support for late-term abortion bans even among those who are fine with first trimester abortions.

        1. “Few people will argue that human life has begun one minute after conception”

          Recent Republican legislative attempts suggest that this is too optimistic a reading of the situation. Nor do I think it is likely to get better in the short term.

        2. Kristin Luker showed 30 years ago that opposition to Roe correlated strongly with a set of views about female sexuality. And the actions of modern pro-lifers show that– they oppose reducing the abortion rate through means thst allow unmarried women to have sex without fearing a pregnancy.

          1. Kristin Luker wrote primarily about people at the ends of the spectrum; after all, she specifically interviewed self-identified pro-choice and pro-life activists. It’s really not anymore surprising that you will find such views among self-identified pro-lifers, especially given that she identified the early pro-life movement having a disproportionate number of Catholic men, joined (after Roe v. Wade) by many mothers who saw their traditional role threatened; I also seem to remember that you summarize her findings somewhat inaccurately. As I recall, she also said that the medical profession trying to establish itself during the 19th century and thus claiming a major role in setting the beginning of life at birth (contra many major religions, who had held that life didn’t begin until after 40-80 days) and having a role in judging the legality of abortions based on health reasons played a major role in how the anti-abortion laws of the 20th century came about.

            I don’t doubt that you will find many pro-lifers who also have antiquated views about sexuality (female or otherwise) but I’d need to see more actual data to support a claim that this is a universal position held by all people who aren’t fully pro-choice.

            It is, in general, also arguable whether she was even right. As Ross Douthat pointed out, relying on a piece by Jon Shields, positions on abortion don’t break down along neatly along the usual political lines and the moderate pro-lifers these days are considerably more egalitarian these days than even the pro-choice advocates of the early 1984s, and that even among pro-life advocates, a preference for traditional gender roles were a minority view. Yes, Ross Douthat and Jon Shields are dyed-in-the-wool conservatives and that colors the arguments they make, but the National Election Studies and the Pew Survey they rely on are not.

            Consider for a moment that according to that Pew Survey, 39% of Democrats consider that abortion is morally wrong and that 25% of Republicans think that abortion is either morally acceptable or not a moral issue. I.e., while there is a correlation between general political views and views on abortion, are you really prepared to argue that 39% of Democrats think that a woman’s place is barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen? Or that maybe their reasoning is perhaps a bit more complex than you think?

          2. Katja, very few people actually want abortion outlawed. Most people who identify as pro-life actually do not- they just want to morally preen against it. Saying you are pro-life is meaningless if you also say you don’t want to make it illegal, as Douthat well knows.

            Thus, the people who do actually want abortion illegal are, basically, the activists. At any rate, no poll has ever found that people who want abortion illegal have healthy and liberal views on female sexuality. If such a poll existed, the pro-life movement would publicize it with the anti-Luker talking points you repeated. They don’t, because no such poll exists and they know if they commissioned one, it would duplicate Luker’s findings.

          3. Few people want abortion categorically outlawed, I agree with that. On the other hand, there are plenty of self-identified pro-choicers who think late-term abortions or abortions that occur because the woman or her family cannot afford to raise a child should be illegal (source, see p. 3). A majority of Americans think that abortion should not be legal under all circumstances.

            That would seem to directly contradict your claim.

          4. Katja:

            Seriously, Roe always polls well, and everyone knows that Roe creates a constitutional right to abortion.

            I don’t think you should pay much attention to polls that ask “should abortion be legal in this circumstance?”. For all sorts of reasons, people answer those polls as if they ask “is abortion moral in this circumstance”.

            Political professionals believe the right to abortion is extremely popular. This is why in national races, Democrats trumpet how pro-choice they are and Republicans never mention abortion in their stump speeches and try and duck any questions they get on the issue. I would trust THEIR readings of the polls over the readings of activists who have no experience with statistics or public opinion polling.

            In saying all this, I am not saying that there aren’t some minor restrictions on abortion that can peel off pro-choicers. There are. But the narrative of pro-lifers– that this is a 50-50 country and Americans are closely divided on this issue, is BS. Americans strongly support the actual legal right to abortion and a substantial majority of Americans would be extremely upset if abortion became widely criminalized. Only a small percentage actually wants it illegal and yes, they are the mostly-religious dissenters from the sexual revolution.

          5. Dilan: I don’t think you should pay much attention to polls that ask “should abortion be legal in this circumstance?”. For all sorts of reasons, people answer those polls as if they ask “is abortion moral in this circumstance”.

            No offense, but I’d like to see evidence for this assertion. I assume that you have a study or something else to base this claim on?

        3. “Few people would argue…”

          I wish that were the case. Unfortunately, we live in a society where a non-negligible number of people who adhere to a Manichaean view of the world. They insist on bright lines being drawn in issues like abortion, and consequently they do argue that human life begins at conception.

          We would benefit from a more nuanced view. Douglas Hofstadter considers these matters indirectly in I Am A Strange Loop.

          1. I’m not making a point about the exact popularity of these views among conservative Republicans. I was making a point that there is a continuum of beliefs about the ethics of abortion, involving a variety of factors, not just, as Dilan claimed, “sexual prudery”.

            My biggest concern is that the debate about abortion has calcified and turned into a dangerous dualism, pro-choice vs. pro-life, where both sides are more interested in pushing the Overton window in their preferred direction as hard as they can rather than trying to establish a sustainable policy position that is acceptable to a large majority.

            Now, it so happens that I think that the policy that we have as a result is largely a good one; regardless of what one thinks about the morality of abortion: practically any non-religious country has at the very least either completely decriminalized first trimester abortion or made it easy and accepted that on average the personal decisions of women minimize overall harm better than any given set of criminal laws ever has. But as a result of this polarization, we keep getting inhuman laws and attempts to deny women in need abortion by making it inaccessible (multi-hour drives to find the only licensed abortion provider in a state, or making abortion unaffordable). Worse, we’re probably just one conservative Supreme Court justice away from the legal situation turning around again by Roe v. Wade being overturned. The political situation with respect to abortion is still very volatile.

            Basing your policy-making on manipulating the Overton window can have its time and place for activists, but in the long term it can also mean playing with fire when you are dealing with a genuinely controversial problem.

          2. Katja, we have the sustainable position. It’s Roe. Liberals get the correct abortion policy, and conservatives grt to whine about how women are Godless sluts and doctors are murderers.

            We’ve sustained it 40 years, and it can easily last 40 more. All we need is to keep a majority on the Supreme Court, which should be doable if current electoral trends hold up.

          3. Dilan, I wouldn’t be so sanguine. Not if I lived in North Dakota, for example.

            You are also incorrect if you include me in your camp, I’m sorry to say. Which is not to say that I want to criminalize abortion (nor that abortion is an unqualified right); I think that the current American policies regarding everything surrounding pregnancy, beginning with attempts to restrict the access to even contraceptives and ending with women who have an abortion because they can’t afford the baby they want is fundamentally and thoroughly screwed up and hurts countless people. You may be fine with sustaining it indefinitely; I’m not.

          4. Katja, North Dakota’s dumb law is going to be struck down. There’s just a lot of moral preening on this issue, but the fundamentals of the issue favor abortion rights.

            As long as Republicans don’t win a presidential election (and that is seen as unlikely by political experts) and get to replace a pro-Roe Supreme Court justice, Roe will remain the law of the land.

          5. Dilan: Katja, North Dakota’s dumb law is going to be struck down.

            And until then, what are women in North Dakota going to do? Not to mention that even without it, North Dakota has just one abortion provider, which already has made it very difficult for low-income women to get an abortion even in cases where the vast majority of Americans would agree that there’s nothing wrong with it. This kind of chopping away at access to abortion by making it hard to get in practice is typical for red states.

            This, to be blunt, is also where activists and I part ways even where they and I agree on a goal. They are too interested in their cause in the abstract; I’m more interested in what difference it makes for real people in the real world.

      2. Katja and Prof. Sabl are right, abortion is different and is an extremely difficult topic. There is an inherent problem in pretending that human life is sacred (which we all do) and being pro-choice, except when there is an extraordinary threat to the safety of the mother. I am only able to reconcile this tension by rejecting the notion of absolute morality, which is to say, rejecting the idea that human life is sacred. I don’t know how you guys, who presumably do believe in absolute morality, are able to be pro-choice without feeling like you are being bludgeoned over the head every time you consider the issue. Must be some kind of a culture war thing. Of course, it is difficult to take pro-lifers seriously because so many of them would also try to block access to condoms. Anyone who holds both of those positions at the same time is comically evil in my book.

        1. And let us not forget the culture of life that supports allowing lunatics access to extreme firepower while suggesting that we teach six year olds to rush assault-rifle toting maniacs as a means of saving their lives.

        2. The problem is the opposition to condoms among pro-lifers swallows your entire point. The vast majority of people who actually want abortion illegal (a far smaller number than who label themselves pro-life) are Rick Santorums, not C. Everett Koops.

          1. I do not think it swallows my entire point at all, really all you are doing is agreeing with me that many pro-lifers are feckless reactionaries. My parents are both vegans, and while they are intolerable to be around and say some truly stupid shit sometimes, I still cannot help but feel that they are almost certainly right and I am almost certainly wrong. Many abolitionists were also in favor of prohibition of alcohol and must have been horrible dinner companions… does that mean chattel slavery must therefore be acceptable?

          2. Abortion isn’t slavery and it isn’t meat eating, because gender equality is just about the most important possible countervailing interest. It easily outweighs the interest of an embryo in its life.

            (Vegans who think everyone has to be a vegan are wrong too, though. There’s nothing unethical at all abput consuming animal products that don’t harm the animal, and many people would starve without meat.)

          3. Starve without meat? Interesting. My recollection from every biology class I have ever taken is that animal calorie is much less efficient to produce than plant calorie. I further recall that if grazing land was instead given over to plant agriculture that the net amount of calorie produced by human beings would skyrocket. Doubtless you have thought of a situation I have missed, but the general truth is that we feed animals many more calories than they produce in order to get the more desirable animal calorie. I was not saying that abortion is slavery or meat eating, I was clearly saying that just because the proponents of a position commonly make some sort of mistake or seem undesirable does not mean that every single one of their points should be dismissed. I am glad you are so sure of what is at stake in the continuation of the life of an embryo, that sort of knowledge is way out of the dimensions I live in. As for gender equality, it isn’t the fault of men that women are the ones that get pregnant. I do not recall imposing that reality on women. Men do not claim the right to terminate pregnancies in general, using the word equality in this context seems bizarre to me. I understand that pregnancy is itself physically dangerous and yes, the burdens do almost completely fall on the woman. In no other situation is the imposition of a foreseeable burden used as grounds to terminate a life. I support a woman’s right to choose, but not because anything clearly outweighs anything. This is the stuff of metaphysics and unless you are in possession of revealed knowledge I would have to insist that you do not know what outweighs what either.

          4. Hunter-gatherer societies in severe climates (think the Inuit on the Bering Sea) have no possibility of an effective agricultural system. It’s meat (seal and whale and fish) or die.

            Herdsman societies (think the Masai in East Africa, or the Mongols on the Gobi) live off the production of their animals as well.

            Grass is a terrific ground cover, but unless you can harvest and eat its seeds it sucks as nutrition. We need animals (preferably ruminants) to preprocess it for us.

          5. Probably most vegans would choose to starve these people rather than give ground because, as seems to be the destiny of recently-birthed ideological movements, they can hardly hear anything over the sound of their own screaming. I did not bring up veganity to argue that it is absolutely superior in every case, I brought it up to reinforce my point that the absurdity of what vegans often say (“there is nothing natural about eating rotting flesh!!!”) does not mean they do not have legitimate points (“animal agriculture as practiced in the first and second world is totally unnecessary and is extremely damaging to the environment”). If you look above, Dilan wrote that the absurdity of pro-life advocates also condemning condoms swallows any point that could be made about abortion itself. This argument does not seem logically sound to me.

          6. Student, sometimes gender equality requires gender specific rules. For instance, we just had the Women’s Final Four.

            Nature is unequal on the burdens of pregnancy. Legal abortion equalizes it and allows women to avoid pregnancy just like men can.

        3. How do I avoid feeling like I’m bludgeoned over the head when I consider the issue?

          First, by taking a nuanced view of what it means to be human. A first-trimester fetus doesn’t quite make the cut, for me. There is the potential for the fetus to become human, and that requires care and respect.

          Second, by not insisting that my moral judgements should be the law. I try to adhere to the golden rule: I try to treat others as I would like to be treated. Because I value my autonomy, I must grant others the right to make their decisions. That especially includes briar patches like abortion.

          So for me, the bottom line is this: if you believe abortion is immoral and the taking of a human life, then you should not get one.

          The only restrictions I would place on the matter are that it be done early and safely. As the fetus develops, society’s interest in the matter increases.

          1. Right, you reconcile the tension by rejecting moral absolutism, this makes perfect sense. As soon as you start developing nuanced views on moral issues, you have taken a step that cannot be walked back. You have shut the door on the concept of absolute right and absolute wrong and decided that your intellect shall be the measure and in doing so you must realize that another intellect may produce different results. Anyway, all I have really been trying to say is that I believe wanting to ban abortion while doing everything possible to increase access to truly preventive contraception is a morally compelling position that is worthy of respect. It is thus possible to be pro-life without being silly (even if evangelicals choose not to avail themselves of this option) and therefore it does not easily fit into the schema that Prof. Sabl has developed in this post (Ebeneezer’s question). Unlike bans on gay marriage, consensual age-appropriate sodomy and pre-marital sex, abortion truly is a briar patch.

  3. ” .. does she split watermelons before a live audience?” Do I detect a Mrs Grundy spellchecker?

    There’s an (Oxford) urban legend that candidates for a fellowship at All Souls are given a good dinner finishing with cherry pie. If they spit out the pits, they are uncultured slobs. If they swallow them, they are insensitive, anal-retentive types. If they dibble the flesh away from the pits on the plate, they are boring nitpickers. My father was one such (unsuccessful) candidate when he got his First in the 1930s; he told me that the story is a myth. The optimum strategy is presumably to claim an allergy or religious objection to cherries.

      1. Since you said “please,” I won’t. But will you at least tell me whether it means what people are likely to suspect it means?

  4. This is extraordinarily delicate territory, and so while I appreciate the views of Andrew and the commentors, I wade in with some trepidation. I only suggest to Mr Sabl and to readers that to me at least, the language so far is problematic. “Prudery” may be a purely objective term, but many–including me–hear it as judgmental.

    My experience in college, FWIW, was, back in the day (the late 80s), that people trying to wait for marriage a) never suggested that those who did not wait were in any way pursuing a problematic course; b) were regarded as quaint, harmless, but basically misguided. The closest I ever got to hearing acceptance on the point from someone who thought differently was “that might work for people like you.” Someone losing his/her virginity was always to be cheered; someone choosing to keep it was always to be regarded as vaguely humorous.


    It should go without saying that couples should do what they and their tradition think works best to produce the most life and love. And that the people in the form of the government, should stay out of it / treat all couples the same.

    I have to say that I read this post and its views as not actually neutral, but (perhaps unintentionally), at best not in favor of neutrality, and at worst condescending to a set of choices that work incredibly well for some, and, when freely chosen, harm no one.

    1. I didn’t mean to be particularly hostile to people who have conservative views on sexuality–who are, I agree, harmless if they all they want to do is cultivate such practices among themselves and those who think like them. But I’ll agree that I didn’t sound neutral; indeed, I wasn’t trying to sound neutral. I don’t mind saying it: the idea that premarital sex among people who are deeply in love is immoral, I regard as silly. The same goes for some of the other sexual opinions I canvass.

      I would be reluctant to express such opinions if I thought that religious opinions (and such opinions on sexuality are usually religious in origin) deserved special deference. But I deny that. (That *government* shouldn’t favor one sexual choice over others is of course true, but not relevant.)

      I’m sorry if people you knew in college were rude or mocking regarding your values because being rude or mocking–except towards cruelty or injustice–is bad in itself (though forgivable in the young). But if they merely, politely, expressed the opinion that your values were naïve or quaint, I think, frankly, that they were entitled to do so and that you both probably learned something from the discussions that resulted. Such benign cultural clashes are what college is for. Like Chait, I find it odd that religious people are starting to recommend what they would once have mocked–rightly!–as political correctness.

      1. Andrew,

        We’re probably not king to settle this in a series of comment replies, but allow me to respond to two bits:

        1. “religious people are starting to recommend PCness”: IMHO, too many people move carelessly between “1 Leave me alone, 2 Endorse my choice and 3 Do what I do.”

        And aside from intellectual carelessness, there’s a good reason why it’s often hard to keep those positions distinct; what society / ones peers think about a choice matters. People who start at position 1 don’t necessarily want to stay there. And even if they don’t necessarily want endorsement, they probably want to explain themselves. And it’s hard (not impossible, but challenging) to explain “I think this is the right way for me” without another hearing it as “and if you don’t do that, you’re wrong.” I think most people on all ‘sides’ try to negotiate those conversations with care, but, as I say, it’s challenging and even smart people have a hard time keeping positions 1, 2, and 3 distinct. It’s actually a little difficult for me to tell whether you are arguing for 1, 2, or 3.

        2. “I’m sorry if people you knew in college were rude or mocking.” I wasn’t mocked, but a lot of people are. Like you, I think college is a good place to have these discussions. But for discussion to be discussion and cultural clashes to be benign, there has to be a certain amount of open-mindedness. You’re absolutely correct that that open-mindedness was utterly absent for a long time on one side. I can understand your bemusement at the sight of those same people complaining now that the pendulum has swung to the other extreme / people getting a taste of their own medicine. For my part, I think it’s a problem for everyone when there’s not an atmosphere of general respect for different choices, and not only for the people on the minority side.

  5. Same-sex marriage is an injustice, a tyrannical ploy being perpetrated upon our society, the pernicious consequences of which are simply mocked and laughed at by its supporters. Ignorance and prejudice have taken the place of knowledge and reason. Caprice and passion substituted for prudence and virtue. The happiness of society, the good of all families, and the welfare of mankind fall victim to the injustice of selfish love, which calculates every thing for itself while taking no notice of a child’s best interest or the public advantage of a government promoting ONLY the traditional family unit.

    In the eyes of a child, same-sex marriage appears adulterous by nature. Someone is not present in his/her home who is his/her true mother or father. No good can come from adultery, only broken homes and broken hearts. At best, an adoptive virtuous heterosexual man and woman can soften the evil sustained by children of adultery, but same-sex proponents want their adulterous families to be considered normal and “equal” to a monogamous heterosexual marriage — which study after study has proven to be the best environment for child-rearing. There is simply no virtue in ignorance, or in denying truth.

    Here are two truths regarding marriage: (1) A man creating a family with another man is not equal to creating a family with a woman, and (2) denying children parents of both genders at home is an objective evil. Kids need and yearn for both.

    Same-sex marriage is unconformable to the state of a rational social being, it is defective in principle, and has ONLY a deceitful appearance to young and old because it defies Natural Law. All babies grow up to eventually understand that it takes a man and a woman to bring a new life into the world.

    At school, those kids who have two mothers or two fathers will be different, and the other children will notice that the child of a same-sex couple is different in many ways. Besides the obvious exclusion of either a mother or a father at home, a same-sex-marriage child is deprived of one necessary gender role model at home, and will undoubtedly interact differently than other children of his/her gender, and especially with regards to interacting with the opposite sex of his/her same-sex parents. It is without a doubt that these children will be recognized to be different by the children who have a mother and a father at home, and especially when they have both of their biological parents at home.

    In order to protect the child of a same-sex marriage from any perceived harassment, that child will become a special protected class in the eyes of the government. School officials will have to punish and “re-educate” any child who “offends” the protected-class child by simply expressing that it seems strange that the child of the same-sex marriage is missing a mother or a father, or that the child acts in a manner unusual to his gender contemporaries.

    This unjust punishment to subvert the natural sensibilities of children is evidence enough that same-sex families do not adhere to core principles of Natural Law, and because same-sex marriage defies Natural Law, pernicious consequences are inevitably. To punish a child for simply saying what he knows is true (all children have a mother and a father) is nothing less than a tyrannical oppression of children who instinctively rely upon Nature’s Laws to help them understand life and natural consequences. Children will be coerced to accept as “natural” what are unnatural behaviors, and this challenge to their instinctual knowledge of right and wrong will result in confusion. A morally-confused child is more susceptible to evil and perversion than one who is confident in his knowledge of right and wrong. Evil-doers know this, and will thrive in a society that indoctrinates its children to see no inherent evil in disregarding Natural Laws. Alas, those who support same-sex marriage have apparently fallen too far into the depravity of tolerating licentiousness themselves to realize or acknowledge the harm and injustice same-sex marriage imposes upon our children and thus our society. Society institutionalizes marriage to enforce the natural rights and obligations of the organic family.

    Marriage was instituted to protect the Natural Rights of children. Same-sex marriage ignores nature and tramples those rights in the name of “equality”.

    1. I am still waiting for the punchline but I guess I am to be disappointed. Demographics are destiny, enjoy watching your entire worldview be thrown into the garbage disposal of history… I know I will.

    2. “In the eyes of a child, same-sex marriage appears adulterous by nature.”


      Most children don’t think in such adult terms. If they’ve been taught to have a hateful response to some relationships, perhaps. In general, I think children are a lot more accepting of the range of human behavior than adults. Teach ’em to hate and they sure enough will. Teach ordinary human respect and acceptance and they will treat folks with respect and acceptance.

      Hate is NOT “Natural” and defining it as such disqualifies the person pushing such ideas from raising children. YMMV

    3. I guess that Burlamaqui has also just explained why Moses and Jesus were such twisted religious fanatics. The lack of a two-biological-parent household will do it to you every time.

    4. Some quick googling shows that M. Burlamaqui is a drive-by poster who has copied and pasted this very same text on dozens of other websites.

      I guess this is the Internet equivalent of leaving copies of the Watchtower behind.

      1. Up until this moment I was blessed to have never heard of the watchtower. The first front page image I could find from the watchtower happens to be my single favorite piece of religious imagery, a white-skinned Jesus Christ. To their credit, they had enough taste to omit the lustrous blond hair, shining blue eyes and flowing purple emperor’s cloak I see every time I walk past the Methodist church near my house.

      2. Katja and Student are being a bit too hard on the Jehovah’s Witnesses: a sober and modest group of people, whose literature is generally innocuous. I’d say that M. Burlamaqui’s post is more reminiscent of the foamings of the Lyndon LaRouche gang. (And yes, it is true that the Witnesses have one of the whiter Jesuses around, but the group has always been very welcoming to people of color.)

        1. I’ve always thought we owed a great deal to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I seriously doubt that many of the early First Amendment cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses, which helped define modern freedom of speech, would have come out the same way if they had involved, say, Communists.

  6. I must have missed the part where children raised by only one parent (including widows and widowers) became an ostracized and protected class.

    1. I’m all in favor of denying marriage licenses to those heterosexuals who can’t show the existence of a fully functional set of grandparents, simiage , and helpful maiden aunts. Raising a child in the new, abridged, nuclear family of only a mom and a dad is very deficient arrangement, likely to result in Attention Deficit Disorder, obesity, and other ills for the kids.

  7. >>While I grant that for people of a certain generation gay marriage was long unthinkable, the same used to be true of interracial marriage—

    I think the best policy would be to recognize same-sex marriages, but I find the analogy with interracial marriage to be weak.

    Interracial marriage was not “unthinkable” for the simple reason that somebody decided to pass laws against it. Somebody had to think of it in order to say it was bad enough to pass a law against it.

    There were few, if any, laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. (I refuse the Orwellian Newspeak of “marriage equality”) Why is that? Because they weren’t needed. If two men or two women went down to the license bureau applying for a marriage license, they’d get chased out of the place. The 1991 Abridged Edition of Black’s Law Dictionary (hey, I’m not a lawyer — I don’t have up-to-date references in my personal library) defines “marriage” as the “legal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife.” I guess the new editions have changed the wording.

    Different countries that had different views of race-mixing, but until very recently it was very hard to find any place that recognized same-sex unions as equal to marriages consisting of a man and a woman. There were a lot of variations in marriage customs, but almost universally it was between a man and a woman (sometimes a man could have more than one wife) and the husband and wife (father and mother) would be responsible for raising any children that came out.

    That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t recognize same-sex marriages (I think we ought to) but it does suggest that it’s a much bigger break from tradition than the acceptance of blacks and whites marrying each other.

    So, are the opponents to same-sex marriage prudes or bigots? Well, some are prudes and some are bigots and some are both and some are neither. I know people who neither think that gay sex is immoral (prudes) nor are hateful of gay people (bigots) who, for example, think that civil unions are the way to go. In fact, if you think the government should give its blessing to same-sex unions, you’re probably neither one. And despite all the talk about marriage, civil unions are still a big political issue. Just this last month, the Colorado legislature just passed a civil unions bill which was viewed as a huge victory for gay activists.

    The recent polls have been asking about same-sex marriage, and they show a plurality or sometimes a bare majority in favor, and they’re changing fast. I haven’t seen too many lately that give three options — marriage, civil unions, or no recognition — but the ones I’ve seen have shown a solid moderate block in favor of civil unions. When given three choices, a lot of respondents go for the middle. For example, there’s a CBS News/New York Times poll from May of 2012 that shows 38% support legal marriage, 24% civil unions, and 33% no recognition. There’s another from the same time from Fox News that has similar numbers. Maggie Gallagher is of course in the “no recognition” category.

    I do not know how history will judge, but my judgement is that many opponents of same-sex marriage (probably not the most vocal activists) are neither bigots nor prudes, but people who have a different view of public policy.

    1. There are distinct differences between racial miscegenation and gender anti-miscegenation. Perhaps the most salient one is that nobody in power had any real problem with interracial sexuality, as long as it was on the down-low. (Just ask Strom Thurmond, during your next seance!) In contrast, most of the opponents of same-sex marriage aren’t very comfortable with homosexuality.

      However, this point is a social one; not a legal one. Legally, the two issues are almost identical. The problem that the opponents of same-sex marriage have is that they cannot come up with a legally cognizable argument against it, or indeed any argument that (i) makes empirical and logical sense and (ii) is not theocratic. (Sorry, Burlamaqui, I mean you.) Does this make them bigots? I guess it depends on what you think “bigot” means.

      There is a perfectly sensible legal and logical argument that government should get out of the business of marriage altogether and just recognize civil unions. But I can’t see any legal argument for disparate gender treatment that survived Loving v. Virginia.

      1. Actually, the people in power had no problem with interracial sexuality only as long as it was a white man getting sex from a woman of color. Not so much for a white woman in any sexual elation ship whatsoever with a man of color.

        Kind of a basic part of racial social history in the U.S.

    2. Concerning civil unions: years ago I thought they were the way to go. In those days, I thought of myself as a sophisticated political realist, and while I had no objection to same-sex marriage, I thought it politically impossible. What I thought then was that we needed to, and could, agree on an off-the-shelf legal status that would give same-sex couples the practical equivalent of marriage. As far as I was concerned, ot could be called “marriage,” “civil union,” or “broccoli with garlic sauce” as long as it worked, and I urged people not to get hung up on names.
      I was wrong. Full stop. However sophisticated and realist I thought I was, I overlooked that it takes two to make a deal. Nobody from the anti-SSM side was willing to come to the table, and several of the various referenda ended up outlawing same-sex civil uniions as well as same-sex marriages. So now they’re getting full-blown same-sex marriage shoved down their throats — yes, I chose the terms deliberately — and I’m not going to pay any attention to anyone who comes along now to beg for the deal they rejected when it was there to be had.

      1. For 30 years I have wondered at the morality of people that would not consider granting hospital visitation rights to SS couples. Notice that there’s nothing whatsoever to do with procreation in this principle. It’s just human kindness. How could it be threatening? But it was.

        And now theocrats, enjoy what is getting rammed down your throats.

        Scott Walker, for instance:

        (I’m solidly hetero, but all my life I have never given a flip about what floated, um, other person’s boats.)

      2. I held similar views, with the exception that I would go farther and require all couples to register a civil union. Then they can go perform the ritual of their choice to solemnize the event. That could of course include no ritual at all.

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