There is no longer any need for the phrase “gay marriage.” There is just “marriage.”
For a while we shall still have to put up with an occasional Kim Davis or right-wing judge who gets mopey about it, but most people have simply moved on. They either don’t have a problem with marriage equality, or they don’t care enough to do anything about it. It is the ones who do who are increasingly on the defensive.
And well they should be. One reason public opinion turned around so quickly was the complete inability of the anti’s to make any reasonable argument at all. Once you get beyond, “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” what do they have? Not much, as it turns out. Sure, people instinctively resist when you start messing with long-standing traditions. It took some time for people to have their eyes opened to the massive injustice and cruelty inflicted on gay couples by denying them the legal benefits of marriage. But once that happened most people changed their views accordingly.
Which isn’t to say there aren’t people still frantic to make the case against equality. In this recent post, I responded to an essay written by Lydia McGrew. I did not know who she was when I wrote that post, but in the comments Michael Fugate directed me to something else she had written.
Is it not clear that Kim Davis is being consistent–legally, morally, and metaphysically? If Obergefell is a lawless farce, then Kentucky’s marriage protection amendment is the law, and Kim Davis, unlike the Supreme Court, is actually upholding the rule of law. If homosexual unions are not only immoral but also metaphysically unable to be marriages–yes, even civil marriages–then to refuse to give them the name of marriage, as an official of the state of Kentucky, is simply to refuse to lie about reality. It is faithfully to carry out the duties of a clerk whose job it is to give out real marriage licenses.
At this point, it seems that no reductio will do, since homosexual “marriage” is already a reductio. But think: Would it make sense to say that she must resign if she were ordered to call a union between a man and a sheep a marriage and refused? Would it make sense to say that she must resign if she were ordered to call a union between a woman and a tree a marriage and refused?
It’s hard to believe anyone would think there is a tinge of bigotry on the anti-equality side.
[I]t won’t surprise my readers that I think civil marriage has an essence, a real nature, and that male-male and female-female relationships don’t fall within that nature, any more than human-animal relationships fall within it. (And frankly, I don’t give a plug nickel if someone says, “Gasp!” [Swoon, faint!] “Lydia McGrew made some kind of comparison between homosexuality and bestiality! How insensitive!” Yep. Very. Moving on…)
In this case, if we had enough Kim Davises, enough staunch state governors, and enough deputies who refused to put any of them in prison, then we’d have a lot fewer lies told about sodomite simulacra of marriage and maybe even an outpouring of honorable self-government in America, all of which would be a good thing.
I invite you to read the entirety of McGrew’s lengthy post. She makes various arguments about the law and civil disobedience. But what strikes me is her viciousness towards homosexuals. She’s proud of comparing homosexuality to bestiality. Suggesting that homosexuals can be married is to lie about reality. Gays engage in a sodomite simulacrum of marriage.
Charming stuff. Confronted with such rhetoric, decent people should just say, “Riiiggghhht,” and back slowly away from the conversation.
Also getting in on the act Edward Feser. In this post he tries one more time to persuade us that marriage equality is a terrible thing. It’s a lengthy post, but he starts with such a howler that it’s hardly necessary to read on:
If you printed a lot of extra money and passed it around so as to make everyone wealthier, the end result would merely be dramatically to decrease the buying power of money. If you make it easier for college students to get an “A” grade in their courses, the end result will be that “A” grades will come to be regarded as a much less reliable indicator of a student’s true merit. If you give prizes to everyone who participates in a competition, winning a prize will cease to be a big deal. In general, where X is perceived to have greater value than Y and you try to raise the value of Y by assimilating it to X, the actual result will instead be simply to lower the value of X to that of Y.
That’s a specious comparison, of course. Money, high grades, and prizes are valuable precisely because they are rare. But social institutions like marriage are not like that. They are valuable precisely because they are common. If no one wanted to get married then no one would care much what the marriage laws were. A better analogy would be to fraternities and sororities on college campuses. They do not become an important social force until a large percentage of the student population wants to be part of them.
As with McGrew, I’m not so interested in the minutiae of the arguments. Instead, I am struck again by the sheer viciousness directed towards homosexuals. There is never the slightest tinge of regret in what people like Feser and McGrew have to say on this subject. There is never any acknowledgement of the basic humanity of gay people. They never say anything like, “It is understandable that gay people would want to partake of the institution of marriage, and I can see it from their point of view, but unfortunately there is a bigger picture to consider…” Instead McGrew proudly likens homosexual relationships to bestiality and refers to marriage equality as evil. Their relationships are sodomite simulacra of real marriage. Feser likens their unions to fakes and counterfeits and scoffs at the idea that anyone would think they have the same dignity as actual marriage.
Egalitarian schemes, in short, often have great inflationary effect but little actual egalitarian effect. They can amount to mere exercises in mutual make-believe. You can pretend all you want that all the children in Lake Wobegon are above average. People who wish it were true may even go along with the pretense. But of course, it isn’t true, and deep down everybody knows it isn’t true.
Now, the people who should be worried about all of this craziness are not the critics of “marriage equality.” It just gives them an occasion to say “Told you so.” The people who should be worried about it are the advocates of “marriage equality,” for two reasons. First, because it gives the critics an occasion to say “Told you so.” But second — and more to the point of this post — because it completely devalues the “marriage” label and thus undermines the whole point of the “marriage equality” movement, which was to dignify same-sex unions by sticking the “marriage” label on them. (Italics in original).
No, actually, the marriage equality movement had nothing to do with dignifying same-sex unions by sticking a label on them. There is nothing make-believe in the commitments between partners in a gay relationship. Gay people aren’t sitting around lamenting the unwillingness of straight couples to grant them dignity, for heaven’s sake.
Almost everything Feser writes just oozes contempt for homosexuals. He simply cannot countenance the idea that homosexuals are no different from anyone else, except that they are sexually attracted to people of the same sex. Consider this:
If you want to know what people really think is the essence of something, you look at how they describe the ideal specimen. And everyone knows what people think of as the ideal marriage: You fall in love, you have lots of kids, you watch them grow up and have kids of their own, and you stay faithful to each other through thick and thin and old age until death parts you.
Why do people idealize this? For one thing, because of the love it embodies, where by “love” I mean not merely the romantic feelings which get things going (but typically cool), but also and more importantly the self-sacrifice involved — the lifetime surrender of one’s own narrow interests for the sake of spouse, children, and grandchildren. For another thing, because of the tangible, fleshly tie with other human beings that it represents — the literal biological connection with past and future generations, and with other living members of the current generation. In other words, what people idealize in marriage is the perfection, and fusion, of the unitive and the procreative (to use the natural law jargon), the way complete self-giving completely enmeshes one in a literal family and extended family of other human beings.
Feser just shot himself in the foot. Which part of that does not apply equally to homosexuals? Does Feser think gay people cannot fall in love? That they can’t make great sacrifices for each other? That their relationships don’t represent fleshly ties with other human beings? That they can’t watch their kids grow up and have kids of their own?
There is exactly one thing that homosexuals cannot do relative to heterosexual couples: make a baby through sexual intercourse. But since Feser does not describe unions between infertile heterosexuals as fakes or as counterfeits, and since homosexuals can have children in other ways, this point has little force.
McGrew and Feser are welcome to make whatever dogmatic declarations they want about what marriage really is. But while they’re having irrelevant discussions about essences and metaphysics over there, the grown-ups will remain over here and discuss more important issues. Marriage equality is good public policy, since society benefits from encouraging stable homosexual unions for the same reason it benefits from encouraging stable heterosexual unions. It is morally right because it is just outright cruelty to deny to homosexual couples the same legal benefits we grant to heterosexual couples. And it is legally right because the fourteenth amendment entails that if you grant certain benefits to heterosexual couples, you must also extend them to homosexual couples. None of that has anything to do with metaphysics.
Let us close with Feser one more time:
[E]xpanding the use of the word “marriage” to cover various exotic arrangements no more extends dignity to those arrangements than freely giving out As to all the children in Lake Wobegon increases general student knowledge and ability. With the former as with the latter, some people will think: “How adorable! I’m glad they get to feel good about themselves.” But few will seriously think that the exotic arrangements have anything close to the dignity that the traditional marital ideal has, any more than they really think that all the children in Lake Wobegon are above average.
That’s why the anti-equality folks have lost so quickly and so decisively. If you have an ounce of decency or conscience, or even if you just know a gay couple, you see immediately how stupid that is. Gay couples are not exotic, their relationship are not “adorable,” and they couldn’t care less whether some straight person thinks their relationship has dignity.
I am good friends with a gay couple. I could describe their life to you down to the most minute detail, and so long as I leave out the part where they’re both women anyone would say I had just described a marriage.
If your definition of marriage does not include what they have, then your definition is wrong.