Walter Olson needs no help in responding to Mona Charen as she does the best she can to pound a heartbeat into polygamy as an argument against same-sex marriage. But he does leave her an unnecessary opening as she complains that her side is being treated badly sometimes.
Charen is right that there are people and groups who say, sometimes quite openly, that opponents of same-sex marriage are bigots, haters, and worse. Just because Andrew Sullivan, Jon Rauch, John Corvino, Walter Olson, President Obama, David Boies, Ted Olson, Dick Cheney, Harry Reid, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Gary Johnson, Dale Carpenter — you get the idea — and so many others are civil does not mean that opponents of marriage equality are all on the same page.
Name-calling and public insults are an unfortunate part of any public debate, though I have to give it to the Brits for bringing some style to the table, an art we Americans still struggle with. But Charen seems to be worried about more than that. As she says, “The anti position requires more courage in 2013 America than the pro position.”
No one can apologize for all the intemperate people who share a particular position, and no one should have to – otherwise the internet and airwaves themselves would be inadequate to fill the need. Charen shouldn’t have to apologize for the Westboro Baptists folks, or any of the rude and slanderous people who oppose marriage equality, and Walter shouldn’t have to apologize for our sneering and contemptuous supporters.
It is, instead, the middle ground that needs examining. It is not necessary to call our opponents bigots to recognize that they are now viewed by more and more people as unkind, or thoughtless or even cruel. It is that cultural change, not just the extreme rhetoric, that I think, people on the right take offense at.
And I think those who oppose same-sex marriage should set aside personal offense for a minute and try to understand why that is. Chris Christie provides an opportunity.
He has said, like so many before him that his personal view is that marriage is between a man and a woman. But when he was asked what he would do if one of his children turned out to be gay, he said he would “grab them and hug them and tell them I love them,” but add “that Dad believes that marriage is between one man and one woman.”
If the only point of view you have is that of the parent in this conversation, that might appear sufficient. But what about the child’s position? That’s what Christie, and others who resort to this fantasy, leave out. Discussions along these lines today would not end with the parent’s pronouncement, and it would not only be the gay child who would be bemused if not appalled that Dad thinks Jaye and Ella don’t have any right to get married. Really? And, if the issue came up in an election, Dad could be counted on to vote against the rights of his own child. There’s family harmony.
For those who have honestly never thought about what effects such a parent might have on a child, I can once again recommend Jon Rauch’s e-book. Fortunately, enough of the world has changed so that most children now can take the moral high ground on their own, and have back-up from plenty of others. However this family conversation might go, it will usually be much more complicated than the way Christie describes it.
More important, as Charen fears, the broader society can see the emotional emptiness homosexual adolescents would face – have faced – without even the possibility of marriage in their future. What was once not only thinkable, but the majority view, is now seen as the monstrous sham it always was.
Christie is not a brute. He has supported his state’s civil union law, which was crafted as a façade of equality. But after almost 40 years, this strategic image of equality is less necessary. Americans know what the real thing is, and are willing to stand up for it for their lesbian and gay fellow citizens.
But Americans are also now less willing to be charitable to those who give every appearance of being insensible or even insincere about caring about this most essential relationship of life and how its denial affects loving individuals. It is not necessary to use distasteful rhetoric; if marriage equality opponents wish to be viewed as humane and decent, they have some burden to explain how their position is (as Jonathan Rauch has said in another context) good for gays, good for straights and good for America. Absent that, they do look awfully unkind.