Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ross Douthat's Almost Identical Argument on Gay Marriage as Mine

Here is Ross Douthat's article in the NY Times.

Its almost the identical argument I made, but he blows me away in his ability to express it. I guess that's why he's getting the big bucks.


Douthat furthers his point in his blog here.

"This means that if the ideology that justifies defining marriage as lifelong heterosexual monogamy gets swept into history’s dustbin, we won’t suddenly be flung into a landscape where the only real things are people and the people they love. We’ll just get a different ideology of marriage in its place, one that makes a different set of assumptions and generalizations and invests the institution with a different kind of purpose. And we don’t need a judge’s ruling (though Judge Vaughn Walker’s analysis was certainly clarifying!) to know what that ideology will look like: It’s the increasingly commonplace theory that marriage exists to celebrate romantic love and provide public recognition for mutually-supportive couples, with no inherent connection of any kind to gender difference and/or procreation, and with only a rhetorical connection to the ideal of permanence.

Since this is basically the theory that much of our society already holds, redefining marriage to include gay relationships is unlikely to have anything like the kind of impact on American life that, say, the divorce revolution of the 1960s and 1970s did. But again, I think it’s a little naive to assume that it will have no impact at all — that legal changes don’t beget further cultural changes, and that public definitions don’t influence private conduct. Maybe the potential consequences are so vanishingly minimal that they’re easily outweighed by the benefits to gay couples; that’s certainly a reasonable position. But looking out across America’ landscape of heterosexual dysfunction, it’s still a little hard for me to accept that what this moment demands of us is the legal formalization — indeed, the constitutionalization, if Judge Walker has his way — of the ideological conceit that marriage has no necessary connection to gender difference, procreation or childrearing."

By the way Andrew Sullivan has a pretty powerful rebute to Douthat here.

"If you have total gay freedom and no gay institutions that can channel love and desire into commitment and support, you end up in San Francisco in the 1970s. That way of life - however benignly expressed, however defensible as the pent-up unleashed liberation of a finally free people - helped kill 300,000 young human beings in this country in our lifetime. Ross may think that toll is unimportant, or that it was their fault, but I would argue that a Catholic's indifference to this level of death and suffering and utter refusal to do anything constructive to prevent it happening again, indeed a resort to cruel stigmatization of gay people that helps lead to self-destructive tendencies, is morally evil."


Douthat, has another follow up post that's worth recording, right here.

"Culture shapes law, of course: Judge Walker’s decision last week would be unimaginable without the cultural shift that’s made gay marriage seem first plausible and then necessary to many people. But law tends to turn around and shape culture right back. And this is particularly true when the law in question is constitutional law, because constitutional rights carry a distinctive legal weight and an even more distinctive cultural freight. (To take just one example, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the cultural space for making a moral critique of pornography has shrunk apace in the decades since the Supreme Court expanded First Amendment protections for pornographers, and limited the reach of obscenity laws.)"

I mention this because it focuses on something fundamental about what it means to be a cultural conservative that has always been at odds with the libertarianism that is at root of the tea party movement. That government has a role to play in shaping cultural down a direction that is fundamentally better for society. In the blogpost, Douthat cites cigarettes as a positive example of this, pornography as a negative one.

I identify with these lines of reasoning because they defined me as a Republican for so many years and these beliefs are still within me even though I've switched parties.


Sean Elcock said...

Hey Scott, nice post. I read Douthat's article, and I think he makes some good points about how to frame the issue.

It's ironic that you posted about libertarianism in this post; I wanted to share this post from The Center for Social Leadership about libertarianism with you. The main idea is that how one defines the term (and any term) changes the perspective.

Those libertarians who simply want others to leave them alone so they can do what they want are not those I want to closely associate with. These types of ideas are why I resist the label myself. Douthat says that law influences culture and vice versa. I completely agree. Defining governmental power is not enough; we must each do our part privately to influence the culture in a positive way.

Sorry for the slightly off-topic comment.

tempe turley said...

Sean, thanks for the comment. I didn't read the entire post carefully but I agree with most of it.

I think the Republican party has historically tried to blend a cultural conservatism on social issues with a libertarianism on economics. But this has always been somewhat of an uneasy alliance.

I think Douthat's arguments gets to the heart of what cultural conservatism has always been about. That there are some things which the government needs to promote and other things government should restrict.

Examples given by Douthat are pornography and tobacco. And I agree, I think we made the wrong choice as a society when we chose to protect pornographers under free speech laws, but we made the right choice in successfully stigmatizing tobacco use. And I think government has a role to play here.

Anyway, its a topic I'm fascinated with and one I've been thinking about for a long time.

So, no your comments were not off topic. :-)