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Magnanimity in the marriage wars

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 12:18 pm - March 31, 2013.
Filed under: Civil Discourse,Gay Marriage

In a thoughtful piece yesterday in the New York Times, Ross Douthat contended that the view Andrew Sullivan offered on gay marriage in the 1990s “has carried the day almost completely.

That argument, much different from the one the one-time New Republic editor has offered in the current century, held that “far from being radical, gay marriage was more likely to be stabilizing, ‘sending a message about matrimonial responsibility and mutual caring’ to gays and straights alike.

Let us hope that message emerges from the current debates on state recognition of same-sex marriage.  Indeed, many same-sex couples who have elected marriage (and even many who have not) have lived that message, forsaking all others looking after their spouses in sickness and in health.  They provide examples of mature relationships between adults of the same sex and evidence that gay man and women are capable of the same kind of commitment our straight counterparts have shown.

Douthat, however, laments that as gay marriage advocates seem to be winning the argument, they aren’t conceding any points to defenders of traditional marriage:

A more honest, less triumphalist case for gay marriage would be willing to concede that, yes, there might be some social costs to redefining marriage. It would simply argue that those costs are too diffuse and hard to quantify to outweigh the immediate benefits of recognizing gay couples’ love and commitment.

Such honesty would make social liberals more magnanimous in what looks increasingly like victory, and less likely to hound and harass religious institutions that still want to elevate and defend the older marital ideal.

But whether people think they’re on the side of God or of History, magnanimity has rarely been a feature of the culture war.

Read the whole thing.  The debate on gay marriage is not entirely pathetic.

Would be nice if partisans on both sides of the debate could acknowledge the points their adversaries make.



  1. Your essentially decent character outs itself again. Has there ever been any egalitarian movement from the Left that did not adopt a scorched earth slash-and-burn take-no-prisoners approach? For them it is never a robust contest among fellow-citizens, it is the war of Good against Evil.

    Comment by EssEm — March 31, 2013 @ 1:29 pm - March 31, 2013

  2. It’s not in the nature of the left to be magnanimous in victory; the impulse will be to drive the wedge in further. They will not resist it. After all, they’ve been demonizing their opponents as bigots and h8rs for years, why stop now when they’re winning?

    Comment by V the K — March 31, 2013 @ 1:35 pm - March 31, 2013

  3. Magnanimity as in this headline: Grownups join the gay marriage debate? Dan, you’re such a hypocrite.

    Comment by Ignatius — March 31, 2013 @ 2:32 pm - March 31, 2013

  4. Has anyone else noticed the similarities between the Red marriage equality flag and the People’s Republic of China and former USSR flag?

    Comment by Tom — March 31, 2013 @ 4:15 pm - March 31, 2013


    Comment by rusty — March 31, 2013 @ 4:48 pm - March 31, 2013

  6. The author of this post recently suggested that there *might* be merits to traditional marriage advocates keeping gays out of marital station by writing “Conservative organizations presented much solid research on the social benefits of traditional marriage.” Yet, what he’s waiting for, he knows will never arrive, because it doesn’t exist.

    It’s difficult to reconcile the author’s call for magnanimity from both sides while he sits on his fence perch, when he’s still willing to entertain such ideas. He comes across as a right-wing apologist, who, while The Gay Left does most of the heavy-lifting for gay marriage, won’t mind one bit once it becomes the law of the land.

    I can’t respect this at all.

    Comment by Vince Smetana — March 31, 2013 @ 6:10 pm - March 31, 2013

  7. Too damn many gay lefties whine, demanding marriage rights. Too damn few talk about the responsibilities.

    Comment by perturbed — March 31, 2013 @ 6:12 pm - March 31, 2013

  8. Tom, Um, because of the color red? I guess, it’s SO UNFAIR, then, that the GOP got stuck with that color in 2000, when news outlets used it to report voter returns and stuck ever since. Have you noticed that most of social media is tied to the color blue and the red marriage equality symbol “pops” out of the trademark Facebook backdrop? Guess not. I take it you don’t work in advertising, either.

    Comment by Vince Smetana — March 31, 2013 @ 6:16 pm - March 31, 2013

  9. Personally I’m shocked at the swiftness in the change of general public opinion and support. Historically, I thought that it would take a generation at-least just to get equivalent civil unions…and several generations more before gay “marriage” was even a possibility in the more liberal coastal-states. That Iowa, the self-declared “Buckle of the Bible-Belt”, has had gay-marriage for four years already I find shocking in the swiftness of the sea-change.

    Comment by Ted B. (Charging Rhino) — March 31, 2013 @ 6:18 pm - March 31, 2013

  10. No, Vince, I did not say what you allege I said about that “solid research.” Go back and read the post. I wondered if the benefits which, as per those studies, accrue to different-sex couples in traditional marriages would also accrue to same-sex couples in gay marriages.

    I linked a study which made that connection.

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — March 31, 2013 @ 6:21 pm - March 31, 2013

  11. Ironically, a person on the Gay Left who shows little magnanimity these days, and who has instead descended into a cesspool of preening, but slander-peddling indecencies that are just vile enough that he himself should deserve little magnanimity, is… Andrew Sullivan.

    I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been a gay marriage supporter since the early-to-mid 1990s, way before the fashionable Gay Left was on it. May I say now that I never read Sullivan’s book, and am probably never going to. Even back when Sullivan’s “conservatism” had more sincerity in it, I wasn’t much influenced by him. (**Except for the period just after 9-11, when Sullivan was blogging a conservative foreign-policy stance.)

    I did read Bruce Bawer’s book, A Place at the Table. Bawer was my hero in this. Having not picked up the book in years, I can no longer recall precisely how (or if) the book treated gay marriage, but I was much influenced by its general argument that the gay movement should work constructively for the achievement of formal equality (equality under the law – e.g., an end to sodomy laws and other bans on or exclusions of gays), instead of continuing to work for left-wing-style sexual liberation, which was a dead end (and still is).

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — March 31, 2013 @ 6:23 pm - March 31, 2013

  12. For many years, particularly when I was in college and law school and working in Washington, D.C.’s public policy sector, I read widely about a great variety of issues, including social issues like marriage and child-rearing. Conservative organizations presented much solid research on the social benefits of traditional marriage and the damaging effects of divorce.

    Anyone reading this can see for themselves that the writer was exposed to “solid research” from “conservative organizations” about “traditional marriage,” organizations of which were advocating for traditional marriage–one man, one woman.

    Do you mean to tell me, Dan, that you expect the traditional marriage camp to make the argument that virtues of traditional marriage can be applied to same-sex couples? Because that’s an awfully big leap to make and probably wouldn’t happen unless monkeys starting flying out of their ass.

    Comment by Vince Smetana — March 31, 2013 @ 6:31 pm - March 31, 2013

  13. Vince, go back and read the next sentences of the post you cite.

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — March 31, 2013 @ 6:32 pm - March 31, 2013

  14. Of course (most? many?) gay marriage advocates are conceding nothing to supporters of more traditional marriage. Those of us who respect the tradition of marriage and want it to include gays and lesbians are convenient props.

    This is because marriage rights are secondary – a side effect. I think a lot of the left sees SSM not as marriage for gays, but as a wedge to dismantle their idea of the oppressive, bourgeois lifestyle they loathe. These are the same forces that see marriage as an oppressor of womyn and institutionalized rape.

    I don’t understand the reasons for the assault on marriage given the mountains of human wreckage the sexual revolution has left in its wake.

    The terms of the debate have the same goals as newspeak: to make it impossible to have dissent from leftist orthodoxy.

    I disagree with John Derbyshire with most, but not all, of his commentary on gay issues but he’s spot-on here:

    The three or four percent of the population that is homosexual will have arguably enjoyed a tiny increase in their freedoms. But for the rest of us, the zones of ideas we may discuss and opinions we may respectably hold will have shrunk yet further.

    And that is the point.

    Comment by SoCalRobert — March 31, 2013 @ 6:34 pm - March 31, 2013

  15. Here, let me help you out:

    I had always wondered why so few advocates of gay marriage looked at that research on traditional marriage in order to suggest that it could be applied to same-sex unions as well. I am only aware of one group which has done so and blogged about it here.

    Maybe my phrasing was clumsy, but it’s clear that I meant that their conclusions about the social benefits of traditional marriage should also accrue to gay marriages. And even if my phrasing were clumsy, I did link a study saying as much.

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — March 31, 2013 @ 6:35 pm - March 31, 2013

  16. From the linked post:

    At his blog Queertown, Patrick Range McDonald alerts us to just such a study, a recent report by the “the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association . . . that didn’t get much play in the press.” Wonder why that is, given that its results show that gay marriage promotes physical and mental wellbeing.

    I’m delighted this report cites some social conservative defenders of traditional marriage, including Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher’s The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially. Looks like I’m not the only one who thinks gay marriage advocates can learn from social conservatives.

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — March 31, 2013 @ 6:36 pm - March 31, 2013

  17. No, Dan. No. Your criticism on GP has been generally of The Gay Left and every misstep you see in the whole movement, combing over their every move with a fine-toothed comb. For you to call for magnanimity from both sides (like you fashion yourself as some sort of apolitical referee in fabulous black and white stripes), while allowing the right to do whatever it is they like is disingenuous, and, to borrow a phrase from Post #3 of this thread, hypocrisy.

    Comment by Vince Smetana — March 31, 2013 @ 7:26 pm - March 31, 2013

  18. So nice of you, Vince, to acknowledge your misrepresentation of my remarks.

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — March 31, 2013 @ 7:33 pm - March 31, 2013

  19. Magnanimity would require that the left not spike the football in the face of their opponents. It would require them to give the other side some time to heal. It would require them not to make gay weddings front page news after the passage. It would require them not to gloat, and crow, and make it an applause line in every political speech going forward. It would require that they not twist the knife in the backs of their opponents by demanding even more; whether that means forcing religious organizations to accommodate gay marriages (like they force religious institutions to provide abortificants under Obamacare), or pushing for “hate speech” laws to make it illegal to criticize homosexual behavior. (People in Canada have been prosecuted under such laws).

    Does anyone think the left will exercise *any* of that magnanimity.

    Comment by V the K — March 31, 2013 @ 8:47 pm - March 31, 2013

  20. I think a lot of the left sees SSM not as marriage for gays, but as a wedge to dismantle their idea of the oppressive, bourgeois lifestyle they loathe. These are the same forces that see marriage as an oppressor of womyn and institutionalized rape.

    Some of them may, but I think those that really feel that way aren’t buying into any of the marriage hoopla.

    Certainly, the people I’ve talked to in places like San Francisco—that is, those that didn’t line up at City Hall to purchase state-sanctioned validation of their relationships whilst it was legal—are fully aware that the 96,000-and-counting “rights” allegedly conferred via marriage license recognize that each of those also come with a concomitant responsibility. They also realize that the sword can cut both ways (as we will soon find out, since Gay Marriage will assuredly beget Gay Divorce). I think the more articulate and rational of that mindset are the ideological engine behind Beyond Marriage and other such what-next efforts.

    Of course, there will always be the whiny contingent—the same ones who think it’s insulting and condescending to mention “civil union” or “domestic partnership”, even if it confers most of the same benefits. (The flip side to that coin are those on the opposite side of the fence who are against civil unions/DP because they view it essentially as a “marriage equivalent”.) They are the ones who will not be happy once the ‘freedom to marry’ is universal precisely because they find out it is too constricting and doesn’t meet their needs—even though “marriage equality” was what they were whining about not having in the first place.

    Comment by RSG — March 31, 2013 @ 9:14 pm - March 31, 2013

  21. Magnanimity would require that the left not spike the football in the face of their opponents.

    Ah, but spiking the football is what it is all about for many. “In your face, bigots!!

    Comment by RSG — March 31, 2013 @ 9:36 pm - March 31, 2013

  22. I’m practicing magnanimity by not posting in this thread… Oh Crap!

    Comment by Sonicfrog — March 31, 2013 @ 9:40 pm - March 31, 2013

  23. I did read Bruce Bawer’s book, A Place at the Table. Bawer was my hero in this.

    Thanks for giving a shoutout to BB; this is probably as good a time as any to [re-]plug a couple of his more recent books: While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within and
    Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom

    I gave While Europe Slept to a lesbian friend of mind who literally couldn’t finish it. She didn’t say why, but I could tell it was because it blew her preconceptions about The Religion Of Peace and those who oppose it.

    Comment by RSG — March 31, 2013 @ 10:07 pm - March 31, 2013

  24. I think a lot of the left sees SSM not as marriage for gays, but as a wedge to dismantle their idea of the oppressive, bourgeois lifestyle they loathe.

    Some of them may have that attitude; more of them, I suspect, haven’t the slightest interest in “dismantling” bourgeois society. Rather, they take for granted that the institution of marriage is Too Big To Fail, in the same way that former generations took for granted that the oceans could never run out of fish, and that you could dump pollutants at sea indefinitely without consequences because the volume of water is so huge.

    See also: “We’ll pay for this government program with funds from the magical inexhaustible money trees that grow in rich people’s backyards.”

    Comment by Throbert McGee — April 1, 2013 @ 8:31 pm - April 1, 2013

  25. They are the ones who will not be happy once the ‘freedom to marry’ is universal precisely because they find out it is too constricting

    One solution to the “too constricting” problem, of course, is to completely abandon the traditional expectation of monogamy after the seven-month itch sets in.

    As Alexandre Dumas fils might have said: “The chains of gay marriage are so heavy that it takes two to bear them — and sometimes thirty or forty.”

    Comment by Throbert McGee — April 1, 2013 @ 8:40 pm - April 1, 2013

  26. Most gays who see SSM as “dismantling” society aren’t going to get married. Why those who will should be penalized makes no sense. That certainly isn’t how we operate with regard to straight people, who are — quite rightfully — presumed innocent until proven guilty.

    Again, marriage is not the way to go, because it means more goodies the rest of society must pony up to pay for. But civil unions will not be any more attractive to the sort of gay people who don’t want long-term commitments. Just like hetero marriage holds no charms for those who think of it as a ball and chain.

    Comment by Lori Heine — April 2, 2013 @ 1:15 am - April 2, 2013

  27. Tammy Bruce:

    ….Gays ultimately need to stop looking to government for unconditional love and approval of who we are. Andrew Sullivan, a political commentator and writer many of you know and respect, wrote a piece for Time magazine where he actually equated governmental recognition of gay marriage as a necessary element to all gay people feeling accepted and wanted. He claimed that anything other than marriage will “build a wall between gay people and their own families.”

    While his story was personal and moving, the argument was, frankly, nonsense, and representative of the general mentality among the gay elite….

    Comment by Papa Giorgio — April 2, 2013 @ 7:59 pm - April 2, 2013

  28. Perhaps the issue of gay marriage has built a wall between Andrew Sullivan and his family.

    But he should not try to speak for others.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — April 2, 2013 @ 8:51 pm - April 2, 2013

  29. I think it’s a defensive reaction.

    I mean, if there’s a wall between Sullican and his family, isn’t it easier to say “Society put this wall there, all other people like me must have the same problem” than admit that maybe the only one building walls is him?

    Comment by The_Livewire — April 3, 2013 @ 1:06 pm - April 3, 2013

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