Posted by Brad @ 1:42 pm on August 21st 2009

An Instructive Lesson on Opposition to Same Sex Marriage

If you’ve been following the blogosphere debate, Steven Chapman recently challenged anti-gay marriage activists to list, specifically and in measurable terms, what harms they foresee for states that legalize gay marriage. No more innuendo, no more abstractions, but specifically to put their reputations on the line and make concrete, falsifiable predictions for what impact gay marriage will have on a state.

Initially, Chapman got no takers on his “put your money where your mouth is” challenge. But finally, Maggie Gallagher responded:

1. In gay-marriage states, a large minority people committed to traditional notions of marriage will feel afraid to speak up for their views, lest they be punished in some way.

2. Public schools will teach about gay marriage.

3. Parents in public schools who object to gay marriage being taught to their children will be told with increasing public firmness that they don’t belong in public schools and their views will not be accomodated in any way.

4. Religous institutions will face new legal threats (especially soft litigation threats) that will cause some to close, or modify their missions, to avoid clashing with the government’s official views of marriage (which will include the view that opponents are akin to racists for failing to see same-sex couples as married).

5. Support for the idea “the ideal for a child is a married mother and father” will decline.

I find this enormously instructive for a variety of reasons, many of which are hard to articulate.

Connor Clarke makes a first pass:

Oh come on. Is this really the best they can do? First, none of these things are “simple, concrete predictions about measurable social indicators.” But there’s a bigger problem here: None of them — with the exception of #4 (where I think Gallagher is just plain wrong) and this vague, unconvincing business of being “punished” in #1 — are bad things! If this is Gallagher’s “parade of horribles,” then the battle over gay marriage has been won. Every other item on Gallagher’s list amounts to this: As support for gay marriage grows, the public institutions and sentiments that oppose gay marriage will become increasingly marginalized.

To which one might add, Rightfully so.

But that’s a little circular for me.

What strikes me most about Gallagher’s list is that what’s she’s talking about is not the effects on families, the effects on heterosexual couples, the effects on children, the effects on communities. Her “concrete fear” list is entirely predicated on the effects on anti-gay marriage activists.

Pushed into a corner, in her own words, her biggest fears about what happens when gay marriage is legalized has nothing do with with marriage or even gays, it has to do with her (in the “her and her ilk” sense). What’s amazing is this is, if anybody is, the national spokesperson for the anti gay marriage position, and even she can’t come up with anything besides the terrifying prospect that somebody, her opinion on the matter will carry less weight as gay marriage becomes commonplace and accepted. That’s a rather astounding, and blisteringly ego-centric, position.

The biggest fear about legalizing gay marriage, then, is that in so doing it will become popular.

It is all purely ego-centric. Their fears really entirely boil down to not being a part of the mainstream anymore, to hear Gallagher tell it, is a harm in and of itself (and keep in mind, nothing in her list mentions specific oppression, but rather the soft oppression of just not being in the mainstream of public opinion anymore).

The ultimate irony is that what people like Gallagher really fear, what keeps them up at night, is the thought of a day when anti-gay activists are shamed for their beliefs

This is ironic because, if they have their way, they will continue the centuries-old practice of shaming homosexuals instead (and not for their beliefs, but for their very identities). Shame has always been the primary tool in their arsenal. And the thought of that wedge being turned back against them makes them break out into cold sweats.

Hey Maggie et al, I thought shame was a tool of love?

12 Comments »

  1. All that aside, those fears she has are not unfounded. I would imagine that all those of fears will indeed, in some way, materialize. Being against gay marriage will someday be akin to being interracial marriages today. It will be something you will have every right to believe, but something for which people, in general, will think less of you for believing. That’s the fear, in a nutshell. She’s not talking about law, really, or even family, marriage, or children. She’s talking about community disapproval.

    To me, the lesson for gay marriage activists is to continue to cleave that. Despite the fact that I think, say, the Vermont provision noting that gay marriage laws in no way undermine any religious rights strikes me as, at least in the letter of the law, unnecessary and a little redundant/obnoxious, it strikes me as something that gay marriage activists should embrace and push. To keep, front and center, the idea that legalizing gay marriage in no way curtails the rights of anybody (in the legal sense of the words “rights”, not in the murky “right for people not to think I’m an asshole” sense of it), and to bend over backwards to spell that out at every step of the way.

    But that, to me, is the beauty of a pluralistic society. And I understand the negative inclination of many gay marriage activists towards cow-towing to the religious objectors in any way, but I think they should put their own personal feelings aside and underscore that they are not out to tear anything down. It’s about adding rights, not taking away.

    Comment by Brad — 8/21/2009 @ 1:56 pm

  2. 3. Parents in public schools who object to gay marriage being taught to their children will be told with increasing public firmness that they don’t belong in public schools and their views will not be accomodated in any way.

    Connor Clarke thinks that this result is not only not objectionable, but desirable.

    Do you agree?

    Comment by Rojas — 8/21/2009 @ 5:27 pm

  3. When they say “gay marriage being taught to children”, I wonder what that means.
    Let’s say gay marriage became legal in most or all states. Is Maggie Gallagher objecting to the fact that, in such a case, children would be taught that marriage between people of the same sex is legal and valid? If so, then I have no objection to parents who don’t want their children taught that being excluded from public schools; in that case, it would be a legal fact, and entirely appropriate for schools to include as part of a civics, government, social studies, or such lesson. I don’t think parents can object to their children being taught true facts about the society in which they live and still expect to be entirely welcome at a public school. I would have no right to expect a school to accommodate my objection to my children learning about a heliocentric solar system.

    I suspect, though, that she is worried that teachers would teach (in that hypothetical situation) that marriage between people of the same sex is a lovely, aesthetically pleasing thing worthy of being widely celebrated by all and sundry, and that those who object to it are closed-minded homophobic bigots. (Of course, it could be argued that public schools have taught (or implied) that homosexuality is aesthetically ugly and perverted for some time.) She’s probably worried that she will tell her children that homosexual marriage is against God’s law, and that her children will mention that in social studies class, and then come home and tell her that the teacher said she was a homophobic bigot, and that she should not be going to public school. To me, that seems like an insensitive and divisive overreaction on the part of the teacher (although perhaps all too plausible).

    I suspect Clarke is endorsing the first one as a desirable outcome, and Gallagher is holding the second possibility as an undesirable outcome. I’d like to hear how they both felt about both of those interpretations–it would help avoid what I see as arguing two possibilities under the same name.

    Comment by Talarohk — 8/21/2009 @ 6:55 pm

  4. You are equating the social science research suggesting social benefits to gay marriage with the heliocentric model of the solar system?

    Why is it necessary to utilize the public school curricula to foster ANY position on gay marriage? Seriously, what the hell here?

    Clarke is explicitly arguing for the taxpayer-funded public schools to become aggressively hostile to a sizable portion of the body politic. Unless you equate opposition to gay marriage with, say, overt racism, that’s a damn hard position for me to swallow. It’s also a recipe for the mass abandonment of the public schools by the people in question–and good luck funding them afterwards.

    Comment by Rojas — 8/21/2009 @ 7:58 pm

  5. So… Maggie Gallagher’s opinions are essentially a Public Good?

    Rojas,
    I see where you are going with this, and I have two comments: 1. I don’t think Conner’s wording was particularly good here. Is it the parents that don’t belong in public schools? IN which case, I don’t know what that means. The children don’t belong? I doubt that was his meaning. The views of the retrograde parents not belonging in public schools? If the latter, I can get on board with that as a desirable outcome, taken to a certain point. I have relatives that believe rather deeply that blacks and whites should not intermix socially, much less in marriage. Though it is an awkward sentence structure, “They” meaning something along the lines of “racist views” don’t belong in public schools as an endorsed view, or a teachable position. Would you argue that?

    Comment by Jack — 8/21/2009 @ 8:00 pm

  6. I’ll add, for the record, that I don’t agree with Gallagher’s thesis that public schools in more conservative parts of the country will adopt a pro gay marriage curriculum. Schools which shy away from teaching evolution and permitting books on gay and lesbian themes for fear of public backlash are not terribly likely to pick a fight over this issue.

    But hearing people argue that they SHOULD–that the fostering of a specific political agenda is a perfectly reasonable function of an institution which children are compelled by law to attend–is quite an eye-opener for me. I begin to understand exactly what the more alarmist parents are concerned about. Turns out that they’re not paranoid after all.

    Comment by Rojas — 8/21/2009 @ 8:04 pm

  7. Jack 5:

    First of all, I don’t think that opposition to gay marriage can be equated with racism. At all.

    Secondly: where race is concerned, it should not be terribly necessary for the schools to enact an overtly anti-racist curriculum. Provided that a scientifically accurate curriculum is presented where human racial differences are concerned, and that the history of racism in America is accurately represented, it will presumably not be necessary to seize the students by their noses and drag them to the preferred conclusion. I would hold that the same is true of gay rights generally.

    Again: I refer here to the academic curriculum. Student behavioral policy should protect students from harrassment based on race, sexual orientation, or for any other reason. That ought to go without saying.

    One of the things you learn quickly as a full-time teacher is that students are fairly quick to regurgitate something that you’re trying to ram down their throats–particularly if they’ve been conditioned to reject it at home. You also learn that knowledge are particularly likely to retain knowledge that they think they’ve arrived at on their own. Clarke’s recipe for moral “education” is not only unnecessary, it’s likely to be actively counterproductive.

    Comment by Rojas — 8/21/2009 @ 8:11 pm

  8. Either I was unclear or you have misunderstood. I’m suggesting that Clarke is thinking that “teach children gay marriage” means “teach them that gay couples are allowed to marry”. If gay marriage were legalized, that would be a simple fact, and I don’t think that teaching that as a fact is any sort of advocacy of a position. It’s just like teaching any other fact–which is why I likened it to teaching that the earth circles the sun.

    It sounds like you agree with what I think Gallagher is afraid of–that the public schools will not just teach that gay people are allowed to marry, but that people who are vocal about their sentiment that gay people should be allowed to marry will be excluded from public school.

    I agree that the schools need not have any position of advocacy on the issue; they should restrict themselves to teaching the fact and history of the issue (as in interpretation #1 above).

    I take it that you don’t think Clarke is hoping that schools will restrict themselves to factually correct statements about gay marriage?

    Comment by Talarohk — 8/21/2009 @ 8:35 pm

  9. Well, Jack has suggested that Clarke may not have intended to fully endorse Gallagher’s #4. My objection is based upon the assumption that Clarke really does think it’s a good idea to have the schools adopt an aggressively pro-gay marriage curriculum and to seek the exclusion of families which don’t agree.

    I think it is quite clear that this was Gallagher’s scenario. If Clarke wasn’t endorsing her interpretation, he could have been clearer about it.

    Obviously, I do not object to schools teaching the factual position that gays are legally permitted to marry, nor to them discussing the process by which homosexuals gained that right.

    Comment by Rojas — 8/21/2009 @ 8:45 pm

  10. Like I said, Connor’s sentence was pretty badly constructed. None of us know what he really means. My latest interpretation: All of his exclusionary talk is based on social suasion, not on some sort of officially generated policy to exclude homophobes, evangelicals, Sarah Palins baby, or Maggie’s sensitive ego.

    I don’t think that opposition to gay marriage can be equated with racism. At all.

    The “At all” makes me think you are deluded. The core of the vocal opposition to gay marriage, the Maggie Gallaghers and other wingnuts, frequently employ the same arguments and reasoning as was used for misegenation arguments. A significant percentage of them think faggots are dirty and gross and one erection from pedophilia. The leading lights of their movement, even the most experienced politicians with their oh so carefully crafted personno of rationality, will frequently slip and reveal their true beliefs with comparisons to bestiality and pederastry. That you would think opposition to gay marriage is some purely intellectual and logicaly reasoned position, rather than something frequently grounded in bigoty or a particularly constrained and inflated reading of Leviticus is willfully naive.

    But hearing people argue that they SHOULD–that the fostering of a specific political agenda is a perfectly reasonable function of an institution which children are compelled by law to attend–is quite an eye-opener for me. I begin to understand exactly what the more alarmist parents are concerned about. Turns out that they’re not paranoid after all.

    Your alarmism is showing. Perhaps Michele Bachman can talk you down. But seriously, a poorly written remark buried deep in an ongoing blog discussion about concrete predicitions for gay marriage made by a Sullivan stand-in is “quite an eye opener” for you that makes you think Maggie and her wingnut cohorts are NOT paranoid? Get real. Let’s contrast that off the cuff and quite likely misinterpreted remark with the actual vile shit spewing forth from the hard core religious right and social conservative spheres. Eye opening indeed.

    I do not object to schools teaching the factual position that gays are legally permitted to marry, nor to them discussing the process by which homosexuals gained that right.

    Would you be comfortable with them teaching this in the same way that the civil rights movement for racial minorities is taught? If at least a qualified yes, we have no argument, if no, we probably do.

    Comment by Jack — 8/21/2009 @ 9:58 pm

  11. My read is the same as Tal’s, adding that I’m with Jack in not being sure what the heck “teaching about gay marriage” means. I think the reason Clarke responded to that inelegantly (as I said in my original post) isn’t due to malicious intent on his part, but rather because it doesn’t even occur to him that Maggie’s fear is that there will shortly be some kind of liberal indoctrination program.

    I will also say that when Maggie says “teach gay marriage”, I rather assume she means “to the same extent we teach heterosexual marriage”. If she’s talking about some above-and-beyond educational program that pro-gay marriage states create shortly after legalizing gay marriage, in which the states decide to run anti-gay marriage advocates and their children out of public schools on a rail, than that would indeed be a concrete and measurable prediction on Maggie’s part. Let’s hold her to it, shall we? That is, after all, the whole point of the exercise.

    I think Clarke also takes for granted that, indeed, fifty, a hundred years down the line, being “against” gay marriage will fall roughly in the social parameters that being “against” miscegenation is today, so in some way’s Maggie’s fear here is well-founded, and I think Clarke looks past it because he considers it so inevitable—i.e. he doesn’t even really view it as up in the air or turning on our present political debate that such will be the eventual outcome. Maybe I’m putting too many words in his mouth, but if my hunch is right and that is his unchecked assumption here, I have to say I agree with him.

    My own guess would be that yes, 50 years from now those who remain entrenched against mainstream acceptance of homosexuals and homosexual relationships will indeed be treated roughly the same way that overt racists are today. So I’ll agree with you there. The difference is, I don’t view that likely outcome as some kind of result of a liberal indoctrination program so much as I view it as part and parcel with the steady drumbeat of modernity. I too view that not as turning on our present political debate in any way, because I simply see the battle to try to entrench against that attitude as unwinnable. Maggie Galagher and those like are are absolutely right, in many ways, in terms of what they fear most. 50 years from now, her position will have become so marginalized that it will be shocking when it’s expressed in polite company. I take that, frankly, as sort of a given.

    So, Maggie’s prediction will probably turn out to be right, but not in the short term Liberal Indoctrination Program sense that she seems to be implying (and that Clarke, I think, missed). Rather, she’ll be right simply because, in the judgment of history, her position will have not made the cut, not survived the social evolution of ideas that are deemed by history to be constructive and open-minded.

    To which, I would have to second Clarke. Rightfully so.

    But, I don’t think that turns on the present debate, because I have always taken it as an article of faith that the anti-homosexual position will lose, and the only real question is how tumultuous that will be in the very short term.

    Comment by Brad — 8/21/2009 @ 9:59 pm

  12. My latest interpretation: All of his exclusionary talk is based on social persuasion, not on some sort of officially generated policy to exclude homophobes, evangelicals, Sarah Palins baby, or Maggie’s sensitive ego.

    What he said.

    It occurs to me that this sort of distills down to the argument I often get in to with the anti-PC crowd (James and I have had that fight here a few times). The people that tend to like to rail against political correctness tend to view it as some kind of pogrom, that they are being somehow oppressed if somebody thinks poorly of them for expressing a certain viewpoint, or gets offended when they use certain words or express certain ideas. Like “I’m going to keep calling them black, and if that black guy gets offended because he prefers African American, I’m being wronged.”

    My own take on political correctness is basically my take on courtesy in general. Namely, if you go out of your way to not adhere to social niceties, you can’t really complain or shout oppression when people treat you like an asshole because of it.

    Sort of the same argument as two people disagreeing and one person then reverting to the “It’s my first amendment right! You’re trying to censor me!”, which also seems to be a standard fallback in political argumentation, the rejoinder to which is roughly the same.

    Comment by Brad — 8/21/2009 @ 10:05 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.