Feature

Gay marriage: How traditionalists lost the argument

Many conservatives concede that it’s only a matter of time before gay marriage is legal virtually everywhere in the U.S

Is the legalization of gay marriage now inevitable? asked Greg Stohr in Bloomberg.com. During historic back-to-back hearings on gay marriage at the Supreme Court last week, a majority of the justices signaled that they were ready to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies any federal recognition of or spousal benefits to same-sex couples legally married in individual states. The justices also indicated that they might use technical grounds to let stand a lower court ruling invalidating California’s Proposition 8—meaning that gay marriage would again become legal in that state. Other states, meanwhile, would be free to continue to wrestle with their own decisions on same-sex unions. However the justices rule, gay marriage has already won, said David Von Drehle in Time. Today it’s legal in nine states, as well as the District of Columbia, and “with stunning speed,” public opinion is changing from overwhelming opposition to growing support. Polls show that 58 percent of all Americans now support gay marriage as a simple matter of fairness, “with support among young voters running as high as 4 to 1.” Many conservatives concede that it’s only a matter of time before gay marriage is legal virtually everywhere in the U.S. “The issue is lost,” groaned influential talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. “I don’t care what the Supreme Court does. This is inevitable.”

We social conservatives actually lost this fight decades ago, said Rod Dreher in TheAmericanConservative.com. Over the past 50 years, American society has rapidly moved away from the ancient tradition of marriage—a man and woman binding themselves together to provide “a stable environment in which to raise children.” In the wake of the sexual revolution, Americans started to view marriage as an “expression of romantic love between two people”—an institution designed for companionship and self-fulfillment. Once the link between marriage and reproduction was severed, it was inevitable that gays and lesbians would demand, and win, admittance to the institution. Nonetheless, gay marriage is a dangerous experiment, said Mona Charen in NationalReview.com. The evidence is already clear that “changing the definition of marriage from a lifelong, exclusive commitment between husbands and wives has not gone well, feelings being mercurial.” The divorce rate has doubled since the 1960s—about 40 percent of all first marriages now end in divorce—and 51 percent of children born to women between 20 and 30 are born out of wedlock. Gays and lesbians didn’t turn marriage into this mess, “but they can perhaps understand that resisting its further redefinition is not bigotry but prudence.”

At this point, though, your prudence leaves you on the wrong side of history, said Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post.Thanks to the efforts of gay-rights activists, popular culture, and millions of our cousins, uncles, and children coming out of the closet, ordinary Americans have come to see gay people as human beings, not as threatening Others. Public opinion has flipped because Americans no longer see gay marriage through the prism of tradition and religious authority, but as a matter of decency and fairness. If marriage enriches human lives, how can we deny that comfort and joy to “Mike and Sam down the street or Sue and Ann at the office”?

Still, the battle for marriage equality is far from over, said Ronald Brownstein in National Journal. It’s true that Democratic-leaning states are likely to approve gay marriage—legislation is imminent in Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Minnesota. But the red states uniformly ban gay marriage, and among white evangelical Christians, 80 percent still disapprove of gay marriage—almost the same as in 2003. “As a result, culturally conservative states dominated by those voters probably won’t lift same-sex marriage bans soon.” 

The future, then, is a nation even more bitterly divided than before, said Patrick Buchanan in TheAmericanConservative.com. Red state churchgoers will continue to view homosexuality as “unnatural and immoral, ruinous to body and soul alike,” and legalization of same-sex marriage as “another step in America’s descent down a slippery slope to hell.” Blue state secularists, meanwhile, now see homosexuality as natural and normal, and believe that denying gays the right to marry “is bigotry as odious as was discrimination against black Americans.” It’s a troubling, and dangerous, schism. “If one half of the nation sees the other as morally depraved, while the latter sees the former as saturated in bigotry, sexism, and homophobia, how do we remain one united nation and one people?”

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