Monday, August 16, 2010

Did He Just Douthat Deux

(For Part I, please click here)

Ross Douthat, NY Times columnist/editorializer, has elaborated further on why marriage equality is a bad idea (thanks to Silent Speaking for drawing my attention to this). This is interesting to see/read, since that elaboration serves mainly to keep underlining the same, ill-defined, indefensibly-vague opinion that hetero marriage is, like, special. Just because.

The marriage ideal that I’m defending would be in equally serious difficulties in contemporary America if homosexuality did not exist, because what it asks of straight people is in deep tension with what straight people want to do, and with the way that the incentives of modern life often line up.

Well, okay. But here's the thing - I don't see anyone lobbying to close marriage off to those who've divorced, nor to adulterers, nor to the infertile (because the biological ability to procreate is important to Douthat's conception of "traditional marriage"). In fact, many of the people who are so vociferously against the notion of gay marriage are on their second marriage (or their third), or are single divorced fathers with four children who decide, after crusading to crush gay rights, that they're gay.

It's nice that Douthat recognizes the difficulty inherent in maintaining a healthy, functioning marriage. It's not so nice that he can't see past his own prejudices to recognize that monogamous committment is admirable and difficult, period.

A stigma on racism, for instance, would hopefully exist even in a libertarian paradise, but it draws a great deal of its potency from the fact the American government has spent the last 40 years actively campaigning against racist conduct and racist thought, using every means at its disposal short of banning speech outright.

A little later on, Douthat will use the word "naive" to describe one of Greenwald's points. I find that blackly-hilarious, given Douthat's pie-in-the-sky conception of a "libertarian paradise," in which racism would be as equally stigmatised as it is in our own society. I assume that Douthat has never, ever heard of things like, say, child sex trafficking, which is about the most stigmatizable (is that a word) concept in the world. Despite this fact, there is a profitable trade in the abhorrent practice right here in the good ol' USA. If such a horror can exist in America, where it is outlawed, then racism can surely survive transplantation to a "libertarian paradise."

As for the rest of Douthat's thoughts here....isn't he arguing against himself? Is he really saying that the American government should not have "spent the last 40 years actively campaigning" against racism? It's not clear to me and, given the confuzzled tone of most of this response, it's not clear to Douthat either.

Douthat goes on to tie himself in rhetorical knots for a paragraph or so more, then winds up his incoherent stroll with the following:

So if Anthony Kennedy follows Walker and finds that the traditional legal understanding of marriage is unconstitutional — and, by extension, that it’s irrational and bigoted to think otherwise — it’s just naive to say that this won’t have a ripple effect in the culture as a whole. The space for arguing for the distinctiveness of lifelong heterosexual monogamy will shrink, and the stigma attached to such arguments will grow. Old-fashioned beliefs about marriage will be regarded more and more like old-fashioned beliefs about race. And as with the stigma against racism, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to define where the legal regime ends and the cultural norm begins.

Oh, for f*ck's sake.

One: Anthony Kennedy can't "find...that it's irrational and bigoted to think otherwise." That's not how Courts, Judges and the law work. They don't make moral judgments. What they can find - what Walker did in fact find - is that there are no rational, supportable bases to discriminate against the gay population when it comes to the state's handling of marriage.

It's not Walker or Kennedy's fault that such a decision will, in all liklihood, paint people like Douthat as bigots. Besides, Douthat's doing a fine job of painting that picture all by his lonesome. I'd argue he doesn't need Kennedy's help.

Two: Of course this decision (and a possible Supreme Court ruling on the issue) is going to have "a ripple effect on the culture." Where Douthat and reasonable, rational people part ways is in Douthat's choosing to define that ripple exclusively in the negative. Sure, there will probably be a bunch of gay divorces in the wake of legitimizing gay marriage. But guess what? Equality means equality across the board, and so long as we're allowing straight folks the state-sponsored right to get hitched as often as they want I don't see the point in denying that right to gay people. What other "negative cultural ripple effects" can Douthat see from his lofty perch?

Well, that'd be none. None that he'll come right out and say. And why is that? Well, absent evidence to the contrary I think we need to assume that it's because these other, unspoken, effects probably sound a little...bigoted to those outside Douthat's immediate circle. Were it otherwise one presumes he'd use those examples to bolster his larger point. Only, he doesn't, does he?

Three (and this is the "best" part):

"Old-fashioned beliefs about marriage will be regarded more and more like old-fashioned beliefs about race."

WTF? No matter which way you slice it, this sentence is pure bologna. What is Douthat even saying here? (a) That making marriage essentially open to any two consenting adults will somehow operate to discriminate against heterosexuals? (b) That making gay marriage legal will make heterosexual marriage look like an act of racism? (c) That his bigoted, exclusionary beliefs will no longer be tolerated?

Oh. Wait. That last one I can totally get behind.

Yes, Ross Douthat. It is true - in an age wherein gays and straights are treated equally and compassionately your "Old-fasioned beliefs about marriage" will indeed be treated "more and more like old-fashioned beliefs about race," in that they will be considered brutal, backward and shameful.

Maybe that's really what's happening here. Maybe all of this is an over-elaborate attempt to avoid the cultural reckoning that comes with social justice. Just as blackface became inappropriate when people woke up and realized that it was a dumb, racist, insulting act, perhaps columns like Douthat's will be similarly avoided by people of common sense and basic human decency.

One can only hope.


  1. Regarding "stigmatizable" as a word -- you are hit #2 on google now. So, while OED might not have an opinion, google says "yarp".

    This was another good post! It is appreciated.

  2. Yay, sanity! I love sanity. Thanks Morse!

  3. Thanks to both of you for reading these things. I probably come off as pissy in these rants, but I'm honestly not - I'm just bewildered by Douthat's willingness to tie himself in knots just so he won't have to say "I'm Catholic, and I believe homosexuality is a sin." That's what this feels like its about (though I could easily be wrong). The thing is: You don't have to approve of someone to treat them equally. Denying someone the right to marry without any evidentiary reason why is hateful and inexcusable. Douthat the Catholic can feel free to think gays are sinners, but Douthat the American should be ashamed of himself for letting that belief color his feelings on a legal, secular issue. Separation of Church & State and all.

  4. Well done again sir. Glad you chimed in on this too. And thanks for the mention and for linking to my site over here. I really appreciate it.

  5. My pleasure, ss. I try to support those that bother reading my ramblings. It's the least I can do.