Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Okay, Mr. Sullivan, I thought Frum was over the top, too. You most certainly can favor gay marriage and also favor letting religious groups (and others?) refuse to solemnize such unions, or even preach against them.
But take the expected arguments of those who will not favor such a religious exemption seriously as well. They will make the argument that preaching against gay marriage is hostility to gays, and should be illegal. For that matter, right now they make the argument that religious discrimination against women and gays should be illegal. Does Sullivan agree with them? If not, he either believes in a very robust notion of religious autonomy (in which case, my question to him would be: do you favor an autonomy for the religious that would extend to polygamous traditions?) or he agrees that issues of sexuality and gender roles and the like are legitimately subjects on which values may differ (unlike, for example, the morality of sex with minors, which we, unlike the Ancients, uniformly abhor, or the morality of race-mixing, which our recent ancestors abhorred but we find uniformly unproblematic and, indeed, abhor those who find it abhorrent). And if he agrees with the latter, then my question is: where are the boundaries? And are you committed to moving them?
A long time ago, I argued that the proper accommodation for society to make to homosexuality is to treat it like a religion. (It even has some features that make it look like a religion; for example, the narrative of "coming out" is structured an awful lot like a classic conversion narrative - the discovery of one's true self, liberation from a false consciousness, alienation from former friends and entrance into a new and welcoming community, etc. etc.) If we treated homosexuality like a religion, we would respect its practitioners and prohibit discrimination against them in various ways, but we would also expect reciprocal recognition that their beliefs, practices, and worldview fundamentally differ from that of the majority and that, in fact, the majority rejects what they hold most true. This is one of the reasons that I have argued for a parallel institution (or institutions) to recognize gay and/or lesbian unions distinct from marriage, rather than the redefinition of marriage itself. And Canada's action, declaring that marriage itself is discriminatory, and hence illegitimate unless it applies equally to gay and straight couples, is particularly odious, because it forces the question: either the court is wrong, and gay unions are, implicitly, illegitimate and not to be recognized, or the court is right and there is no difference between gay and straight unions. Neither proposition is true, in my view, and it's none of a court's business to force me to make that ideological choice.
I know the analogy is far from perfect, but it does seem to me that the alternative to mutual accommodation is the kind of culture war we're in, where right-wingers are increasingly committed to the notion that the line must be held against gays at all costs, and left-wingers (and I include Sullivan here in this context) are increasingly committed to the notion that there is no difference between straight and gay, and that any public recognition of that difference is illegitimate. And it is not surprising to me, at least, that conservatives are starting to worry that if public recognition of that difference is illegitimate, then soon private recognition will be as well, because, for the P.C. left if not for Sullivan, that is the logical next step.