Tuesday, March 09, 2004

In the Eye of the Gay Juggernaut

Those who are on the losing side of a revolution usually do not know what hit them. The world that they knew is gone or greatly altered and they are confused and angry, while those who have triumphed celebrate their victory and solidify their gains. For all, what has happened seemed improbable, maybe impossible, not long before.

We who strongly oppose gay marriage are on the losing side of a social revolution and we are stunned. Opponents of same-sex marriage will score some legal and political victories and also suffer defeats, but the key point is that a social revolution has taken place. In the blink of an eye, an arrangement that was regarded by most as beyond the moral and legal pale has taken strong root, without regard to public opinion or accepted convention or law. Any remaining doubt about the power of the Gay Rights movement should be gone. There isn’t an interest group in America that comes close to having its clout.

I doubt that gay righters will alter their rhetoric now that they have triumphed. Their claim of victimization and the identification of their cause as a civil right have served them well. People of high social-economic status and privilege have pulled off a public relations coup by claiming to be victims and they have gotten away with it because America’s informational and cultural elites are substantially in their corner – and that is only part of their power base. The New York Times which prints all the gay news that is fit to print (and much that isn’t) and others in the upper echelons of mediadom urgently trumpet the gay cause and have little interest anymore in the poor, exploited farm workers, Blacks and minorities, and the rest of America’s shockingly bloated ranks of the truly disadvantaged. The order of the day is to protect the privileged.

Unlike political revolutions, the losers in social revolutions keep their heads and freedom. Opponents of gay marriage can continue to oppose, although there aren’t any promising options. What lies ahead is much legal and political skirmishing, as well as status confusion arising from our Federal system. The redefinition of marriage is being accompanied by a fascinating switch in attitudes toward federalism, with gay marriage opponents calling for a national policy while proponents argue for states’ rights and the use of states as laboratories for social experimentation.

It is tempting for opponents to push for a constitutional amendment, if only because there is little else that they can do except to bemoan what is transpiring. It is too early to know whether President Bush’s advocacy of an amendment will reap political benefits or flop. My guess is that it will not figure in the November outcome. Anyway, the Constitution is not going to be amended to bar gay marriages and it shouldn’t be.

Probably the best that we opponents can do is to stick to our values and views and not be intimidated by the gay juggernaut. We must not be afraid to speak out, a point that needs to be underscored in the Jewish community because not surprisingly – although it continues to shock – in their wholesale abandonment of traditional teachings and practices, by a substantial margin American Jews favor – and many aggressively – same-sex marriage.

For all of their shock, revolutions are preceded by fundamental societal developments that pave the way. The notion of same-sex marriage is predicated on powerful social trends that have been fairly long in the making, as modernity has transformed the twinned institutions of marriage and family. More than court rulings, this fact has enormously complicated the challenge facing opponents who are left defending an ideal that may resonate in their lives but not in the lives of millions of Americans.

Marriage can be viewed as having two components, the sanctification and legitimization of a relationship and intimacy and, secondly, its service as a contract between two people who now have legal rights and obligations. While there have always been people who live together without being married, that relationship was not the norm. The norm was for people who lived together to be married, a circumstance that conveyed acceptance to the ensuing intimacy. Millions now live together outside of marriage without they or scarcely anyone else thinking that the arrangement is extraordinary. For persons in these relationships and for the greater number of people who aren’t but who have no problem with the arrangement, the legitimization of intimacy is established not by marriage but by the consensual act of living together. Marriage remains important for emotional, financial, legal or other reasons, yet it is not a precondition for intimacy, for acting as a couple or being accepted as a couple.

As marriage is for a great many no longer the necessary license for intimacy, the marriage license itself provides diminishing assurance that intimacy will be maintained. Same-sex marriage proponents make much of the fact that an estimated half of all heterosexual marriages end in divorce. They argue that if Britney Spears can marry in a ceremony that is a travesty, why can’t two men or women who have lived together.

Increasingly, what is left of marriage in many instances is its contractual element. If a man and a woman can sign a contract, why can’t two men or two women? This critical social change has altered the playing field for same-sex proponents and opponents. It is noteworthy that gay marriage is more acceptable among younger people, they also being far more accepting of intimate relationships outside of marriage.

These developments do not make same-sex marriage any less repugnant to opponents like me. They do mean that there is slim prospect for a reversal in attitude, for a large-scale turn toward tradition. Being realistic about what we are experiencing is no reason why we who believe in traditional values should give them up or be intimidated by what is happening in the changed world in which we live.