Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Greenwald seem to be having a lover’s spat over the President’s vocal but personal support of marriage equality. Andrew gushed, and Glenn cringed at the gushing. On its own, this isn’t much, but it is based on a fundamental difference between gays on the left and the rest of us.
Glenn claims his objection isn’t to Andrew’s emotionalism, but I don’t think that holds water. Anyone who thinks Andrew Sullivan is someone who would or could twist his deeply held views to “glorify whatever the leader does at any given moment” is not paying enough attention to Andrew. In fact, it’s that “any given moment” that undermines Greenwald’s premise. This was one specific moment, one particular issue, and is hardly typical of Andrew’s thinking, writing or person. Lacking the proper leadership deference over time and across issues and leaders, all that is left of Greenwald’s criticism is Andrew’s emotional style at the President’s statement.
Andrew wasn’t alone in going over the top. Jon Rauch is equally effusive about this given moment, and I’m with both of them.
Greenwald is hardly an opponent of marriage equality. I think the exhilaration is less extreme on the left because of the different way they view government and sexual orientation.
Andrew, Jon and the members of IGF tend to have a narrow view of government’s role. Specifically with respect to sexual orientation, the government should not have laws on the books that actively, positively discriminate based on sexual orientation. Sodomy laws were the sine qua non of that kind of legal rule, placing us literally outside the law, making us criminals. Dale Carpenter’s excellent book, Flagrant Conduct, describes the fall of those laws in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas. Sodomy laws (and the related array of sexual misconduct laws) discriminated against us as individuals, and specifically discouraged and in many cases punished even the simple act of claiming a gay identity in public. Military discrimination used those laws as the premise for active, legal discrimination against lesbians and gay men, and those laws, too, are now history.
That leaves marriage as the only place in the law where lesbians and gay men are explicitly excluded. Now that the law cannot make us criminals, the job is to unwind the tangle that prohibits our relationships from being fully and equally recognized.
Those who have spent a lifetime trying to end that last vestige of positive legal discrimination cannot be faulted for losing it when a President of the United States, for the first time, tells the nation that he agrees with their argument. No law has been changed yet, and as we just saw in North Carolina, the work is still substantial. But as a national matter, today we can envision as a reality the last days of government discrimination.
The left expects more of government. In addition to not discriminating itself, the left believes government should also act to prohibit others from discriminating, and should do a lot more as well. Marriage equality is not an end in itself, it is one more piece of the larger puzzle. That can be seen pretty plainly in the manifesto, Beyond Same-Sex Marriage.
In that sort of context, full marriage equality isn’t going to solve very much, since there will still be poor and elderly and sick people, and there will still be individual discrimination against lesbians and gay men in particular that should be stamped out with governmental imprimatur and enforcement.
I’m dubious about government’s competence to do that; that is why I’m not of the left. But that’s also why I’m overjoyed right now. For the first time in my life, the President has said publicly that he supports marriage equality, understands why we want and need it, and is willing to defend his (and our) position. I wasn’t sure I’d ever actually live to see that, and in my opinion, that is the beginning of the end of our struggle. And it’s icing on the cake that Mitt Romney is sweating bullets, and wants to keep himself as far from having to defend his sort-of position in public as his handlers can manage.
However we get to marriage equality, I’m going to view that as the end of the line. I don’t want the government discriminating against me, and once it doesn’t, my activist days will be over. Andrew and Jon and Greenwald can speak for themselves, of course, but right now I’m going to go have a good cry.