Monday, February 19, 2007

Defeatism and the Latest Campaign for a New Reality

Rod Dreher, Mr. 'Crunchy Con,' sounds unusually defeatist in this post today. Though he says he's just thinking out loud, he lists several issues of importance to social conservatives and makes the case that since we've made little or no progress on these issues, even with an Evangelical in the White House, we have to start thinking about defining social conservatism in the post-Bush era. The implication, at least to me, seems to be that we should (temporarily, of course) put these issues on the back burner in order to form new coalitions with people outside the GOP on the kind of issues concerning which we have some common ground: job security, globalization, and universal health insurance (though I think that to say that 'conservatives' are hugely concerned about that last is a bit of a stretch).

I think I can understand why he, and perhaps others, might be thinking this way. But I have to disagree with his first observation, which begins as follows:

"1. The anti-gay marriage movement is for practical purposes dead. If social conservatives can't get the Federal Marriage Amendment passed with an Evangelical president, the Senate in the hands of Republicans, and a majority of Americans against gay marriage, it will never happen..."

I wholeheartedly disagree with that statement. The anti-gay marriage movement can hardly be said to be dead unless it has died in its infancy. This is unlikely, given that this 'infancy' has included quite successful campaigns at the state level to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. That the Federal Marriage Amendment hasn't seen the same level of success tells us more about the increasing irrelevance and incompetence of the federal government than it does about the health of the anti-gay marriage movement.

Moreover, I think many people who oppose gay marriage would be surprised to hear the phrase 'anti-gay marriage movement.' By and large those who oppose gay marriage don't think of themselves as crusaders or strategists; that role belongs in large part to the other side of the issue, who are more passionate, more organized, better funded, and more articulate than those inhabitants of Main Street U.S.A. who might find themselves slightly uncomfortable being on the 'opposition' side, but who have some disquieting sense that they need to oppose gay marriage, though they themselves may not be able to explain why.

In this, I see the opponents of gay marriage as being rather like the opponents of legalized abortion on demand in the early 1970s: they were blindsided by the strategies and rhetoric of the other side, and when they tried to protest the rapidly growing legalization of abortion they found themselves unable to explain just why. This is always the predicament of those who must defend what is obvious and true to those who are determined to impose what is false and unjust on the rest of us. If a law were passed tomorrow in America restricting the number of children a family could have to one or two, as in China, those of us who would oppose such a law would have to come up with the words to explain why this was wrong--and in a relativistic world the words wouldn't be easy to find.

Because, you see, the pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, pro-restricted fertility side will always cast the issue according to the following syllogism:
a) We want this thing, because it's good for us.
b) You oppose this thing, not because it's bad for you, but because your personal beliefs which are no more valid for you than mine are for me, forbid it.
c) Your religious bigotry is your own problem; therefore
d) We must be accommodated, and this thing we want allowed, protected by law, and celebrated as a good thing because it's good for us.

The fact that people might have quite reasonable, logical, and non-religious or secular reasons for opposing these things is simply brushed aside. Once the agitators for some New Reality have successfully defined all their opponents as motivated by religion and religion alone, they are able to sweep away any meaningful opposition. Like the child who screams "It's not fair!" in louder and shriller tones until his parents give in, the New Reality proponents point to past instances of injustice or oppression and cast themselves as victims by association, whether they are really oppressed or merely inconvenienced by whatever reality they are protesting. Lawsuits are the tantrums they throw to get our attention; their ultimate goal is our shamefaced capitulation in their demands, just as if society at large were a set of particularly incompetent parents.

This is why the anti-gay marriage movement can't be said to be dead. It isn't even sleeping. But if those of us who oppose gay marriage want to have a chance of winning this particular fight, there are some key things we need to do; and the first, the most important, the most crucial of them all is to articulate the secular reasons why gay marriage is a bad idea.

This does not in any way dismiss the fact that there are quite valid religious objections to the concept of gay marriage. But as I said in this early post, nothing is more maddening than to give, quite rationally, one's scientific, social, logical reasons for opposing abortion only to be dismissed out of hand as a religious freak, as if only some religious freak could possibly have a problem with the notion of the violent killing of unborn human life. The situation could become a thousand times worse in the case of gay marriage; it could even reach the point where religious rights themselves are restricted or oppressed in order for gay marriage to be forced on an unwilling nation.

In the next post I write, I will spell out what I think we need to say about gay marriage and our opposition to it. For now, I'd just like to reiterate the fact that this is no time for defeatism and capitulation, unless we're willing to accept the consequences, not only in terms of gay marriage, but in the fact of the continued marginalization and exclusion of those who hold any principles at all, on the grounds that principles that are seen to be unchangeable are de facto religious, and therefore irrelevant to society.

No comments: