On the Gay Marriage Debate

— Muslim fanatics who wish to destroy us are correct in their diagnosis of our moral rot: loss of a fear of God, immodesty, especially among women, materialism and much more. While their solution — Sharia law — is wrong, they are not wrong about what ails us.
— The decision by a single, openly gay federal judge to strike down the will of 7 million Californians, tradition dating back millennia (not to mention biblical commands, which the judge decided, in his capacity as a false god, to also invalidate) is judicial vigilantism equal to Roe v. Wade… Former Attorney General Edwin Meese III tells me, “There was absolutely no knowledge, rumor or suspicion” of Vaughn Walker being a homosexual at the time of his nomination by President Reagan. But if it had not been Walker, it would have been another judge, because America’s problem is not entirely at the top; rather it is mostly at the bottom.
— A preacher might develop a good sermon on how nations fare when they mock God. No less a theological thinker than Abraham Lincoln concluded that our Civil War might have been God’s judgment for America’s tolerance of slavery. If that were so, why should “the Almighty,” as Lincoln frequently referred to God, stay His hand in the face of our celebration of same-sex marriage?
Cal Thomas, The Washington Examiner

The column that excerpt is taken from is headlined, “Advocating morality doesn’t make people bigoted.” That’s true. Ross Douthat recently wrote a New York Times column against gay marriage utterly lacking in bigotry. Dozens of others have done the same. As PEG wrote, “Supporters of gay marriage are increasingly candid about their belief that there can be no legitimate, non-bigoted argument against gay marriage, a view which I believe to be false.” As a staunch supporter of gay marriage, I concur, and it upsets me every time I see assumptions to the contrary and their effect on people like Mr. Douthat, Rod Dreher, and other same sex marriage opponents whose good-heartedness, grappling with contrary views, and tolerance are evident.

What does make you bigoted — that is to say, “blindly and obstinately attached to some creed or opinion and intolerant toward others” — isn’t always easy to identify, but you’ve definitely crossed the line when your reaction to a court ruling on gay marriage is a) to observe that Islamist radicals are correct in their judgment of our morality; b) to imply that a judge ought to be bound by what you claim are the biblical commands of your religion; c) to make a special point to highlight that the judge in question was gay; d) to note that his homosexuality wasn’t even rumored or suspected at the time of his appointment (meaning what, pray tell?); e) to insist that those who disagree with you are mocking God; f) and to compare gay marriage to slavery in positing that tolerance for it is going to cause God to wreak vengeance upon us.

I am not suggesting the average anti-gay marriage take is as bad as that, any more than I’m suggesting most same sex marriage opponents are as eloquent as Mr. Douthat was in his recent column. The case I want to make is that “your arguments are bigoted” shouldn’t be a reflex or an assumption, but neither should it be a verboten claim in reaction to rhetoric that fits the bill. I understand why anti-gay marriage folks are sensitive to this charge, just as I understand why we advocates of same sex marriage are sensitive to being called moral degenerates risking the wrath of God and the health of society. Beyond distinguishing among different kinds of arguments, and articulating why they’re bigoted when that charge is levied, I don’t really see any solution, so it’s probably best that folks on both sides just get less sensitive.


Two additional thoughts.

1) In that NY Times column and subsequent posts at his blog, most recently here, Ross Douthat is manifesting the ideal of how writers should argue their positions and engage with critics. Especially since he’s expressed reluctance to weigh in on this subject before, and because so many writers with whom he interacts take contrary positions, I am enormously impressed by the effort. Its also instructive when you think back to the folks who complained that Mr. Douthat wasn’t a good representative of conservatives on the op-ed page. I’m hardly under the illusion that a substantial portion of the NY Times readership will be won over to the anti-gay marriage cause by his columns, but they’re certainly a more persuasive effort than anything mustered elsewhere, and are certainly sufficient to show thoughtful readers that there is a non-bigoted case that reaches different conclusions than they do.

2) There is a distinction between saying that an argument is bigoted, and that a person is bigoted. Insofar as public arguments focus on the former, they’re likely to be more productive. That doesn’t mean pointing out the latter is never appropriate, but I tend to think benefits of the doubt should be given when charges that strong are at play.

ANOTHER UPDATE: David Boaz unpacks what exactly is wrong with Cal Thomas’ column.