I have some sympathy for those religious believers (Christians aren’t the only ones) who object to being called bigots and haters. Damon Linker is not wrong to be put off by the lack of “charity, magnanimity and tolerance” of our own haters. Some lesbians and gay men are poor winners.
But this might be a good time for those who oppose same-sex marriage in good faith to think a bit more about the enormous change among heterosexuals who now disagree with them. They, too, grew up in a world where same-sex marriage was unimaginable — and for most of the same religious reasons as Linker, Ross Douthat, Rod Dreher and others continue to articulate.
Andrew Sullivan provides a catalogue of the good reasons some people continue to support what is often called “traditional marriage.” But even the best intentions don’t always lead to good results. The disconnect is what leads to skepticism or cynicism about whether opponents are truly acting in good faith or out of something far less noble.
It comes down to a simple question: If homosexuals cannot get legally married, what should they do?
The hard-liners have always said tough luck. Marry someone of the opposite sex or stay single. The nicest hard-liners say same-sex couples can live together, but shouldn’t expect any social recognition of the relationship.
In 2014, where same-sex couples are known and accepted, those options are inhumane and literally intolerable. For most of history, though, these pathetic options were pretty much all there was, and no one needed to inquire much deeper. But today it is fair to push the rhetoric. “OK, if you won’t let same-sex couples marry, you’re really content to let same-sex couples live in social and legal limbo?”
True moderates can accept some legal recognition, like domestic partnership or civil unions. Even the new Pope has suggested that this might be a feasible civil option, or at least an option the church need not object to in the civil realm.
But now that civil marriage itself is not only imaginable but quite real, Marriage-Lite looks less like a compromise and more like a fig leaf. And it isn’t just lesbians and gay men who say if the civil rules for marriage don’t demand procreation as a prerequisite, why go to all the trouble of maintaining a two-track system?
When Linker, Dreher, Douthat and others complain about how homosexuals are being mean to them, they are leaving out those heterosexuals who have changed their minds. Part of their discomfort may come from the fact that the questions from fellow heterosexuals are getting harder. Lesbians and gay men obviously have the lead in the debate, but we wouldn’t be winning if we were all alone. Blaming us for the change is, itself, a bit of — well, I won’t say bigotry or hatred. But it isn’t nice.