Have you noticed that social conservatives’ notions of what gay-marriage advocates supposedly “must” believe are often very wide of what most actually-existing gay-marriage advocates do believe? Here’s social conservative Mona Charen writing at National Review:
Advocates of gay marriage tend to argue that those in opposition are no better than the drunken thugs who beat up homosexuals outside of bars.
Do they? She gives no examples of which gay marriage advocates draw that uncharitable comparison, let alone enough examples to show that this is the general tendency of argument on our side. Certainly it would be hard to fit Jonathan Rauch’s Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America into this category, or Andrew Sullivan’s famous and influential 1989 essay, or the work of John Corvino. Even among advocates less temperate in tone, few are unaware that most current advocates of gay marriage, from President Obama on down, previously took a position against it.
The rest of Charen’s article advances the oft-heard argument that polygamy is next, on the not particularly convincing ground that some magazine (Slate) just ran a piece by some pseudonymous practitioner of polyamory. (Yes, that’s the sure sign of a social movement on the cusp of mainstream acceptance; its spokesmen write pseudonymously). Such pieces have been a staple of reader titillation in the popular culture since well before the 1969 comedy Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, which has at no point signaled that a serious social movement to introduce polygamy was in the offing.
Like her co-thinker Ryan Anderson, Charen imagines that no one can come up with principled reasons to back same-sex marriage that do not also extend to polygamy. The fact is that there are multiple and distinct principled reasons, which is one reason it’s not that easy to find anyone (let alone everyone) who is enthusiastic about both causes at once. Feminists, for example, surely a powerful influence on these discussions, have their own internally logical and consistent reasons to support SSM and oppose polygamy (which notoriously correlates around the world with weakened status for women, very much in contrast with gay marriage). Social-welfare advocates who know that being married is a powerful predictor of health, happiness and prosperity have often seen merit in same-sex marriage because it extends the hope of marriage to more persons, but have reason to look askance at polygamy since in polygamous cultures more males never find lifelong mates. And so forth for other groups.
Meanwhile, the West actually does have two real-world constituencies for legalized polygamy, both extremely small. One is the minuscule group of old-school Muslim and splinter-Mormon practitioners who typically ground the practice in tradition, divine will, and scripture, and who very often are implacably opposed to same-sex marriage. The other is the not much bigger fringe of polyamorists and free-love advocates, many of whom were at best tepid toward SSM, seeing it as herding gays into bourgeois domesticity. It should go without saying that the second group is unlikely to team up with the first into an effective public movement, nor are the numbers of either likely to grow radically, short of mass immigration from certain pre-modern parts of the world.
Our side is winning on gay marriage for a very simple reason, which is that millions of mothers think, “I didn’t choose for my kid to be gay, but since he is, I hope he settles down with the right person.” I have never, ever heard a mother say “I didn’t choose for my kid to want multiple mates, but since he does, I hope he settles down with the right three or four women.” Isn’t it time writers like Charen and Anderson dropped this trope?