Anti-marriage-equality piece reflects values

Posted in Gay rights, Married life, Politics at 11:26 am by ducky

I found an anti-marriage-equality piece (via Andrew Sullivan) that was very interesting to me because of how it reflected its values.

I saw a striking example of what Jonathan Haight has found about differences in morality between liberals and conservatives. Haight found that conservatives are more likely to value “moral purity”, which basically says “if it feels icky to me, then it must be morally wrong”.

In his essay, Rod Dreher quotes University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter:

“The momentum is toward experience and emotions and feelings. People are saying, ‘I feel, therefore I am.’ This is how more and more people are deciding what is real and right and true.”

Dreher complains that liberals don’t value that:

You can see this in the remarkable unwillingness of many gay-marriage defenders to grant their opponents any moral standing. To disagree with them is to reveal yourself to be a “bigot” (I heard a married, straight young Republican in Texas use that word to describe those who voted for Prop 8; he was far from the only one). Bigots are by definition people whose prejudices are irrational. Bigots are moral cretins who can’t be talked to, only coerced. One is under no obligation to compromise with a bigot, only to smash him.

I think he’s absolutely right.  Liberals cannot understand the value that “if it feels icky, it must be wrong” (especially if “it” doesn’t feel icky to the liberals).  Furthermore, there is no arguing with such a “moral purity” value.  Joe Liberal cannot reason their way to making Joe Conservative feel less icky; Joe Liberal sees it as non-rational irrational because it is not rational by definition.  It is emotional.

Dreher also laments the loss of the “meaning of marriage”:

Though no consensus on gay marriage now exists, the trend lines are not in traditionalists’ favor, in large part because our culture has lost its understanding of what marriage is for. That is, marriage no longer has a settled meaning beyond a nominalist one: it is a contract formalizing the positive emotions two people (for now) have for one another, and binding them in a legal and social framework.

I, a liberal, read that, and go, “yes, that is exactly what civil marriage is”.  (I even have an old blog posting titled “Civil marriage is a contract“!)

Dreher doesn’t explain what the “meaning of marraige” is, but Andrew Sullivan (who perhaps is more familiar with Dreher’s corpus) says:

Rod longs, as many do, for a return to the days when civil marriage brought with it a whole bundle of collectively-shared, unchallenged, teleological, and largely Judeo-Christian, attributes. Civil marriage once reflected a great deal of cultural and religious assumptions: that women’s role was in the household, deferring to men; that marriage was about procreation, which could not be contracepted; that marriage was always and everywhere for life; that marriage was a central way of celebrating the primacy of male heterosexuality, in which women were deferent, non-heterosexuals rendered invisible and unmentionable, and thus the vexing questions of sexual identity and orientation banished to the catch-all category of sin and otherness, rather than universal human nature.

This is exactly what I was getting at in this post and in the first paragraph of this post.  Marriage equality is not a threat to traditional marriage.  It is a threat to traditional gender roles.


  1. knapjack said,

    November 20, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    I really think the confusion of what marriage is stems from the lack of separation of church and state on the issue.

    Essentially, a marriage is a religious event, yet the state recognizes all marriages as civil unions. There are a bunch of ways you can have a civil union: justice of the peace, common law, ship captain in international waters, etc., but marriage is the only religious event recognized by the state, other than perhaps last rites.

    Our extremely Christian founders advocated for a separation of church and state for a number of reasons, but this seems to be an area overlooked, with good cause. Two hundred years ago I suspect even the ship’s captain performed a religious ceremony, and no one changed their tax status as a result. I believe that there should be no discrimination for any civil union, and I also believe the state should not legislate what constitutes a marriage in anyone’s church.

    That being said, I can see a handful of scenarios: the conservatives successfully make marriage the only set of civil unions, marriage continues to be a subset of the set of civil unions, or that marriage and civil unions are entirely separate, and if you want the state benefits of a civil union you’re required to fill out the paperwork, no matter how you might have been joined.

    This leaves two decisions: what should the state choose to recognize for the benefit of its citizens and what might the various congregations choose to recognize as part of their communities and their interpretation of God’s word.

  2. ducky said,

    November 21, 2008 at 12:12 am

    Jack —

    I mostly agree with you, but the term in the United States isn’t “civil union”, it is “marriage”.

    The word “marriage” pulls double or perhaps quadruple duty: there is the religious ceremony, the legal contract (which frequently is part of the religious ceremony when the officiant acts as an agent of the state), the personal commitment (which is why you can have “common-law marriages”), and the actual shindig with cake and all where the families come together to party.

    Even two hundred years ago, I bet you that the ship’s captain was doing a civil ceremony and not a religious ceremony. (I would be amazed if it were religious. Ship’s captains are not ordained.) Marriage and laws have been connected since way before Jesus was born: you have to have some rules about who inherits property, what you are and are not allowed to do with/to your spouse, which children are yours (men were legally the father of all the children their wife bore, unless he could prove she was cheating on him), etc.

  3. Dunyazade said,

    November 21, 2008 at 6:42 am

    Ducky, nice job of articulating that the core issue related to changing marriage laws is the gender roles entailed by traditional concepts of marriage. Maybe if we could move from the marriage issue back toward the gender role issue, a more fruitful dialogue might emerge. However, your post also pointed out the difficulty of discussion when some people approach the issue with reason and others ground their case in non-rational arguments. Note that I said “non-rational” not “irrational.” People who rely largely on logic may view non-rational thought as irrational, but it’s the rare human who doesn’t make at least some decisions based on intuition, faith, or emotion. We do have both right and left brains after all; imagine how very boring life would be if we lived by reason alone. Both should have a voice at the conference table — on both sides of the table, for each side of the issue has its emotivists and rationalists. But can be very hard for a person on one side of the issue to acknowledge that someone on the other side can hold an opposing view that, to such an opponent, is perfectly coherent within their own understanding of the world. What can bridge the gap?

    As Rod Dreher’s article pointed out, those in favor of traditional gender roles in marriage (and out) fear being disempowered. That’s a sense that many of those in favor of civil unions and gay marriage share, either because they themselves have felt marginalized in the past or because they are in sympathy with those who have been marginalized. I appreciated Dreher’s observation that, “I may come to debate my opponent feeling no love nor holding any respect for him, but if I behave with good manners, and he does the same, I might glimpse his humanity, and develop sympathy for his arguments.” Acknowledging the humanity of the “Other,” even if that Other seems on the wrong moral side of the issue is a necessary first step toward reconciliation. Unfortunately, it’s a hard one for many people to make. It astonishes me how easy it still is, here in the 21st century, to casually view someone else as somewhat subhuman. Didn’t we learn any lessons from slavery?

  4. ducky said,

    November 21, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Dunyazade —

    You are so right about “irrational” and “non-rational”. I actually wasn’t thinking about irrational as being perjorative; non-rational is actually a far better term.

    I have a healthy respect for the part of our brain that does the non-{formal procedural rational} work. Genetic algorithms (which *evolve* a solution) showed me that it is possible to have well-understood processes to come up with solutions that cannot be understood. The non-{formal procedural rational} part of our brain can’t be understood, but that doesn’t mean it isnt doing really good work.