I’m old enough to remember when the number of statewide elected officials to back same-sex marriage was small enough to fit on one hand–Russ Feingold, Lincoln Chafee, and Ted Kennedy were just about it seven years ago. Nowadays, even red state Democrats are getting in on the action. It’s a pretty remarkable shift in so short a time, though it reflects partly changed political reality. Back then, the assumption was that Democrats needed to make nice with religious conservatives to have a path to a national majority, but the current estimation seems to be that getting more liberal Democrats to turn out in red states is worth the (presumably very small) cost in terms of turning off persuadable voters. This is occurring even among incumbents facing off-year elections, where the voters tilt more conservative–perhaps especially because of those off-year elections, since the reason the electorate is more conservative is because liberals turn out less frequently. This is a pretty easy way of persuading them to get out.
I’ve read a lot of analysis on how marriage is unambiguously helping Democrats politically at this point. It’s true. And it’s going to go on for another decade at least, since so much of the GOP base is simply immovable on this, and a lot of younger voters have the issue as a litmus test. That’s the irony of the Prop 8 case. It would be an extraordinarily easy way to neutralize the advantage Democrats will likely enjoy on this issue for the near future. One could imagine John Roberts, say, deciding to just rip off the band-aid and endorse a Constitutional right to marriage, regardless of gender, as a way of helping out his party in the long run. Admittedly, this would make Roberts even more hated by conservatives, but he’d be doing them a huge favor. Without that issue, Democrats would have a harder time raising money from gay donors. The issue would cease to be a millstone around their necks at the ballot box for younger voters (though it’s hardly the only millstone they’ve got). And we’d have marriage equality everywhere! From a purely political perspective, an expansive ruling would help Republicans and hurt Democrats. The former could have their cake and eat it too, rage against judges while rapidly dropping the issue and moving on, while the latter would lose the issue and campaign contributions. Not going to happen (though I’d gladly take the trade), but it ought to be noted.
I was able to catch Andrew Sullivan (well-known beard aficionado) and Pastor Doug Wilson (also bearded) Wednesday at the University of Idaho for a debate about gay marriage: “Is Civil Marriage for Gay Couples Good for Society?” (Gotta say I’m a big fan of Sullivan, despite his occasional buh-cackings and wrong-headed-type opinions.) The event was moderated by Peter Hitchens, Christopher Hitchens’ brother; the latter Hitchens had debated Wilson in the past, in re: God, comma, What the Hell’s Up With That?
The most interesting things that happened at the event (as is often the case in life) were not exactly the purported topic of the evening. But let me address that first to get it out of the way.
The claim that legalizing gay marriage will make the legalization of polygamy easier, as Wilson repeatedly argued, is coherent, but doesn’t have much purchase. Nobody seems to be much worried about a polygamous future for America, and making polygamy the centerpiece of opposition to gay marriage looks too much like fear-mongering.
That leaves Christians with the option of making theologically rich, biblically founded arguments against gay marriage. But do we have the vocabulary ready to hand? And even if we do, does the vocabulary we have make any sense to the public at large?
Basically, Leithart’s saying current fundamentalist (although not necessarily evangelical or mainline) Christian arguments against gay marriage, or at least the ones voiced Wednesday, aren’t convincing to non-fundamentalists.
And as a non-fundamentalist mostly-secular Catholic, I agree with this assessment.
Wilson’s arguments, as Leithart outlined above, were: 1) “slippery slope” (specifically with regards to polygamy), and 2) “from authority” (or, “because God”).
The polygamy argument is weak because: a) it echoes crazy-person talk of the recent past; b) polygamy in specific has so many other things involved with it — inheritance, custody, dependent eligibility for health care, joint property ownership, geez, I don’t know what all else — that it’s hard to see a straight line there; and c) who cares?
The “from authority” dog just don’t hunt, right out the gate. The USA is a pluralistic society: for atheists and agnostics “because God says” is basically “because (insert a context-appropriate religious mucky-muck here) says” or just plain old “because”. Other religious folks may think God’s plenty-fine with the gays — or will turn around and ask you “which God?” And, you know (God, I hate feeling like I have to point this out, *again*), separation of church and state, also too.
Etc. and so forth; as Sully pointed out several times, in a secular society an argument from religious authority amounts to a tautology: “gay marriage is bad because it is bad”. This argument fell flatest at the end when an audience member asked Wilson what he would do if his son came out. He responded with the old “hate the sin/love the sinner” line. For a non-fundamentalist, or at least for me, “sin” is a nebulous religious concept, more poetry than thing, determined or assigned by folks asserting to be God’s interlocutors — ie, some dudes say something’s a sin, so therefore….
There was a young man in the Q&A session in the second half of the event that summed the whole event up nicely in a question for Wilson; very much paraphrased, he asked: “Everything you said tonight against gay marriage was said before regarding miscegenation and similar civil rights issues. Rights were expanded for those issues and the sky did not fall; why should we believe you that this issue is in any way different than the others?”
So when it comes down to it, the fundamentalist side of things was so weak it wasn’t really a debate — it was mostly Sullivan taking the opportunity to demonstrate to a mostly-anti-gay-marriage audience (I guesstimate about 75% based on what I saw of the show-of-hands vote at the end) the reality of a non-demonized gay dude saying calm and reasonable things, and to perhaps get folks thinking in ways they never thought of about words they never hear.
An avalanche starts with a snowflake, and all that.
Anyway, on to the interesting things:
1) I thought Sullivan was a much better preacher than Wilson. Which is odd, because Wilson is a pastor at a church in Moscow. Maybe it was just an off day, or the pressure of the situation; who knows. What I do know is that Sullivan’s opening speech, and several other times when he hit his stride, sounded just like a priest on Sunday, in cadence and tone and purpose. (“Purpose” here meaning advancing the cause of love and caring for others, not the, y’know, gay thing.) And he can really rock an anecdote; view the following from about 3:15 to 6:05 for a version of the coming-out story he related Wednesday:
Wilson’s style smacked of…I guess “pseudo-intellectualism”? He peppered his talk with words like “demos,” and “semiotic,” and continuously fell back on the mantra “changing the object changes the verb” — but instead of giving him the smarty-pants cred that I’m guessing he was after (ie, another form of arguing from authority) these tics gave the impression he was reciting incantations rather than explaning anything.
2. Some of the positions I consider American fundamentalism’s fellow-travellers came in late, but did make an appearance: Wilson mentioned he’d like to do away with social safety-net programs (I can’t remember in what context); he illustrated his polygamy point by referring to “Abdul” by name and later ye olde bugaboo “Sharia Law”; he used the derogatory phrase (if I’m reading my own scrawly notes correctly) “diversity tolerance mantra”.
3. Quotable quotes for $200, Alex (again from my notes, but hopefully accurate-ish):
Sullivan: “Why do people have so much ejaculate before marriage?”
Sullivan, in reply to Wilson stating that specific reasons “why gay marriage is bad” was missing from his initial speech but would be including in his closing statement: “When the missing piece is that which is to be debated…”
Wilson: “A free society existed before gay marriage.”
Sullivan: “It wasn’t free for me.”
Again, these are from my notes, so I await the video of the debate to be up on the interwebs to doublecheck.
4. What’s it all about, anyway? I don’t think this event was about what it purported to be about. Gay marriage was just a vaneer, a reason to get out of an evening. Rather, behind it all is I think some folks’ inability to live with uncertainty. Therein lies the source of the constant call to authority: the need to have morality arise from an outside entity (the father of our childhood; the narrator in what we see as the novel of our lives) rather than accept it can come from ourselves. If it’s from the outside, it can be perfect — a circle, perhaps; if it arises from ourselves we’ll have to settle for an asymptote, with ever-closer approximations of good or truth but never quite getting there.
I’m ok with the asymptote, myself; other folks seem not so much. (Not to be blunt about it, but at one point some of my audience-mates were muttering stuff along the lines of “Theocracy? I likes the sound of that!” I am not kidding.)
Take it away, Chief:
The Seattle Times' "Same-sex couples line up for licenses" photo series includes a picture of Dan Savage and his husband. The caption reads:
Dan Savage, center, shakes hands with King County Executive Dow Constantine while getting his marriage license for him and his partner Terry Miller, left. Miller and Savage married in Vancouver.
Dan definitely does not *not* have a relieved, just-finished-a-marathon look on his face.
Man, I'm not sure when I saw so many pictures of so many happy people. I think my irony bone just got broke. :)
Angry Black Lady passes on the news that the gay-unfriendly company is giving up on trying to keep gay people from marrying. Worth lifting a drumstick to, if you’re so inclined.
This is definitely interesting. There are vastly more evangelical Christians than gay people in America, so while I didn’t much like that company engaging in gaybaiting I thought that it could have been a smart business move in that respect. That they’re quietly backing down suggests that they disagree. The whole thing just made me think of when FOX News bashed Wal-Mart for being part of the “War on Christmas” a few years back, because people at Wal-Mart said, “Happy Holidays!” rather than, “Merry Christmas!” Wal-Mart didn’t stop doing it. Considering that the company is well-known for its unfriendliness to labor groups and support of Republican politicians, it was a bit surprising to me. But perhaps even a company defined by union-busting and being the outlet of choice for poor people (and adding to their ranks with their business strategy) has more to fear from being the social conservative business. While I can think of a number of companies headed by social conservatives*, it’s almost always kept under wraps to some extent.
I wish I knew more about marketing practices (perhaps I should ask my brother who has a degree in the subject), but it seems as though the incentives for politicians and media personalities skew quite differently than for ordinary businesses. With the former two groups, you really can pick your audience/supporters in a way that businesses simply can’t. Most people generally don’t see consuming products as a political activity (at least in my experience), so to have a company engage in socially conservative causes so vocally and directly felt like a violation of the norm. I tend to avoid certain businesses that I know are backed by horrible right-wing guys and make an effort to buy things from union shops, but most people don’t know about that kind of stuff and don’t want to think about it. That was, I think, what drove the outrage. And it’s quite possible that all the same stuff applies to the right, too–after standing up for free speech and all that, you’re left with people who also aren’t wired to think politically about their consumer purchases. It’s a naive mindset IMO but it seems to be an American mindset, and no bass-playing lapsed thin guy can change that state of affairs with a solitary act of slacktivism.
*All I’m saying is, Pizza Hut is your best bet for a guilt-free slice of pizza. It’s owned by foreign investors.
I must admit that the idea that Barack Obama is our first gay president (or, more accurately, the “first gay president,” as without the quotes it’s tabloid fodder) is somewhat bizarre to me. Yes, I know it’s a riff on the idea that Bill Clinton was called the “first black president,” but that made sense because it captured something about Clinton, namely that Clinton was comfortably multicultural in terms of his personality that was genuinely unusual in a president at that time. Clinton was technically just as white as, I don’t know, Dwight Eisenhower, but Ike didn’t socialize with black people, didn’t listen to their music, and didn’t make an effort to understand them. Clinton demonstrably did all these things, and his personality reflected it, so the term is somewhat illuminating. Setting aside the little fact that we’ve almost certainly already had a gay president (and probably more than one, if you do the math), I’m not quite sure what to make of applying the label to Obama. For one thing, I’m not wild about connoting Obama with a closeted, secret identity, which is essentially what the right always accuses him of (even if the intent here is hardly negative). But more importantly, while there are some groups of gay men that have group identities I’ve never really thought there was a single gay identity, just gay people, most of whom just live normal lives indistinguishable from straights like me, aside from in their choice of romantic partners. If you think the same way, then a gay president is a completely jejune concept.* And it’s true that Obama has a pretty great record on gay rights, but that doesn’t go to identity. Was Lyndon Johnson our first black president? By this logic he’d have to be, even though that’s a pretty laughable idea.
Also, I just find these sorts of distinctions passe. Who cares? Obama winning the election was historic, but his race hasn’t had any impact on how he would govern that I can tell, compared to Biden or Clinton or anyone else. I’ve heard people argue that his complex racial identity makes him more receptive to compromise and conciliation, but that’s highly speculative. Democrats just tend to want to meet Republicans halfway all the time anyway, no matter what the issue is. The notion that having a president of color would change politics was a complete flop, just as having an out gay president undoubtedly would be (and we will eventually have one, I’m quite sure). The past few years have made me jaded to such distinctions. I don’t really care about identity anymore, let’s just see how they govern.
*Admittedly, there is no single black identity, or Irish identity, or evangelical Christian identity either. These groups all have common histories and culture, but there are large breaks in all these communities, and certainly you’ll always find individuals that buck the trends.
Glenn Greenwald is wise here:
When it comes to assessing a politician, what matters, at least to me, are actions, not motives. If they do the wrong thing, they should be criticized regardless of motive; conversely, if they do the right thing, they should be credited. I’ve had zero tolerance over the last three years for people who pop up to justify all the horrible things Obama has done by claiming that he is forced to do them out of political necessity or in cowardly deference to public opinion; that’s because horrible acts don’t become less horrible because they’re prompted by some rational, self-interested political motive rather than conviction. That’s equally true of positive acts: they don’t become less commendable because they were the by-product of political pressure or self-preservation; when a politician takes the right course of action, as Obama did today, credit is merited, regardless of motive.
The trap that politicians set for us (and I admit I’m not immune to it) is that they want us to identify personally with the image they project. But that image is rarely (I wouldn’t say never because it’s theoretically possibly) a full portrait of the person. You often hear about people having “relationships” with an artist through their work, but the goal of an artist is to reveal him- or herself to the world, which is not really the goal of a politician. We’ll never know the latter group much better than they want us to know them. So, as Greenwald says, the only fair way to evaluate them is by what they actually do as public figures, not by our perception of their motives, which is essentially based on assumptions we make about them based on an image deliberately crafted for our consumption. Thus, Obama deserves enormous credit for his stance on marriage.
And I, for one, think the timing is actually pretty close to ideal. Obama just kicked off his re-election campaign formally last week, and this will help in re-energizing and renewing his support among the base at just about the perfect time. Coming as it does after the North Carolina Amendment passing, it doesn’t seem as opportunistic as it would have had the initiative failed, and it’s early enough not to seem sincere rather than desperate. The media response, for once, has been pretty helpful to the president, casting the announcement as something bold, controversial and possibly damaging, rather than a foregone conclusion that nearly every engaged observer had already guessed at. It seems apparent that the whole thing was pretty spontaneous, but this is one of those times when that can make an event much more powerful. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Obama get a bit of a polling bump from this, as it’s essentially a way of unambiguously taking the lefties’ side without having to make policy concessions of any sort. Younger voters too. It also shows how fragile Romney’s path to power is–so far, the president has been better able to define what issues the campaign has been about than the challenger has, and expecting the election to be the economy all the time (as Romney hopes) is not all that realistic.
- Library Grape: More Hannibal, Please
- Library Grape: Let Them Eat Cat Food: Santorum Calls For Americans To Suffer More
- vegasjessie: Dangerous Fundamentalism: The Taliban and the American Tealiban
- Political Analytical – Insight and Analysis on Politics and Reason: Mike’s Blog Round Up
- Library Grape: What the Crippity-Crap?
- Bad Movie Chronicles: Red Dawn (Remake)
- Fun Monday: Were the Star Wars Prequels just a little Jimmy Smits short of greatness?
- Republican Listener Destroys Limbaugh on His Own Show
- Why Republican Mistress-Shagging Is Worse
- Even Justice Scalia Says Shut Up About Violent Video Games
- Fun Friday: Rip Torn and Norman Mailer Fighting!
- The Height of Chutzpah
- Reminder: Republicans Have Always Wanted To Kill The Post Office
- The Most Powerless Man In The World
- Kaplan Beats The Obama Administration
- May 2013 (26)
- April 2013 (36)
- March 2013 (56)
- February 2013 (42)
- January 2013 (71)
- December 2012 (67)
- November 2012 (40)
- October 2012 (44)
- September 2012 (35)
- August 2012 (39)
- July 2012 (36)
- June 2012 (35)
- May 2012 (42)
- April 2012 (42)
- March 2012 (64)
- February 2012 (71)
- January 2012 (67)
- December 2011 (57)
- November 2011 (72)
- October 2011 (63)
- September 2011 (55)
- August 2011 (53)
- July 2011 (44)
- June 2011 (71)
- May 2011 (91)
- April 2011 (101)
- March 2011 (104)
- February 2011 (96)
- January 2011 (71)
- December 2010 (73)
- November 2010 (59)
- October 2010 (80)
- September 2010 (64)
- August 2010 (39)
- July 2010 (46)
- June 2010 (27)
- May 2010 (54)
- April 2010 (34)
- March 2010 (38)
- February 2010 (47)
- January 2010 (62)
- December 2009 (57)
- November 2009 (72)
- October 2009 (76)
- September 2009 (50)
- August 2009 (85)
- July 2009 (56)
- June 2009 (141)
- May 2009 (103)
- April 2009 (113)
- March 2009 (66)
- February 2009 (43)
- January 2009 (87)
- December 2008 (18)
Wine Labels2012 Election 2012 Elections Abortion Barack Obama Bullshit Bush Christianity Congress Conservatives Democrats Economy Fail Foreign Policy Fox News Gay Marriage Hatred Health Care Ignorance Insanity Iran Law LGBT Issues Libertarianism Lies Media Mitt Romney Music Paul Ryan Policy Polls Quotes Racism Rebuttals Recession Republicans Right Wing Sarah Palin Scandal Stupidity Teabaggers Torture Truth Video War Crimes War on Terror