Through the Cultural Looking Glass
I see the gang over at RI Future is running hard in the post-election season with same-sex marriage advocacy. I suppose that means we can start the clock until the first accusation that the political right is being divisive by not ceding.
Believe it or not, what drew me so deeply into this debate seven years ago wasn’t ideological conviction, but rather the intellectual constructs on which the sides were built, especially the many ways in which the entire issue is premised on a wish-it-to-be-so, through-the-looking-glass reasoning. A glaring expression of that quality that I noted early on came from Andrew Sullivan, in his book Virtually Normal:
Some might argue that marriage is by definition between a man and a woman; and it is difficult to argue with a definition. But if marriage is articulated beyond this circular fiat, then the argument for its exclusivity to one man and one woman disappears.
Yes, a definition is a definition, but if we change the definition, then the definition is something else. Upon this imperative is built the notion that a small minority can declare a right for itself and disenfranchise the majorities who disagree. Quoth Crowley:
The idea that one group of people can vote away the rights of another group of people should scare the living hell out of everyone. Our rights, and the freedom they bring, are not subject to popular vote for a very special reason – because if the powerful can take away the rights of the weak we do not live in a democracy – it is something else, but not a democracy.
Events in California give the statement its first-ever modicum of accuracy — in that the Prop. 8 vote did take away something that had been instituted — but his argument predates even the Goodridge ruling in Massachusetts. The ahistorical assertion is that maintaining a millennial status quo is tantamount to removing newly asserted rights.
Even were the anachronism ignored, however, the wish-it-to-be-so principle applies to the very notion that the male-female definition of marriage tramples the rights of homosexuals. There is no right to public recognition of any particular relationship, and to the extent that the public privileges a certain arrangement, it does not discriminate by excluding relationships that are substantially different. Relationships between people of opposite sex are substantially different from relationships between people of same sex.
Marriage functions, in our society, by associating child-birth with the sex that men have with women, and associating both with a stable familial relationship. That reality simultaneously rebuffs rights-based assertions and hints at the probable long-term result of changing the terms. A definition may be a circular fiat, but rewriting it is likely to boomerang.