The other day on Twitter I criticized Ed Whelan, who writes at National Review “Bench Memos” and runs the religious-right Ethics and Public Policy Center, for using scare quotes around the word “marry.” More specifically, Whelan wrote of a hypothetical “Adam and Steve” (no, he still hasn’t tired of that trope) “who ‘marry’ in New York but reside (or later move to) Virginia.”
Now, responding to my criticism, Whelan has written a whole blog post on the topic. He expresses the view that it is “unfair and misguided” to take offense at the usage, and says my criticism has moved him to reflect that perhaps when referring to legalized same-sex marriage he should use scare quotes more often around the words “marry” and “marriage.” Following through on this, he proceeds in a second post to use scare quotes around the particular marriage of two actual people in California following the lifting of the Prop 8 ban.
Whelan claims that his difference with me arises solely from our difference on the substantive merits.* Yet a quick inspection of the dissents by Justice Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito in U.S. v. Windsor shows that neither of them used ironic or scare quotes around “marriage” or “marry” when describing same-sex unions, with Scalia passing up at least 13 chances to do so and Alito passing up at least 16. Likewise, I believe many prominent critics of gay marriage, such as author Maggie Gallagher, generally avoid the scare-quote usage. I see no reason to suspect that these figures take a substantively different view of the marriage issue than does Whelan. I think the more likely explanation is that they are more concerned not to give offense.
National Review editor Rich Lowry recently complained that it’s terribly unfair to tar his colleagues with “animus” on this topic — they just oppose gay marriage on principle, that’s all. No doubt Whelan would also find it unfair too. He’s merely unwilling “to conform to a politically correct usage” just to avoid giving offense. So don’t go around getting him mixed up with those media-whipped wusses who hold back their true opinions — you know, the ones like Scalia and Alito and Gallagher.
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*As has been pointed out, a large body of traditionalist Catholics dispute the spiritual validity of remarriages by persons who have not had a church-approved annulment, yet a scare-quote formulation like “re-’marry’” is seldom seen, outside perhaps an explicitly sectarian context.