Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How little it takes to spook conservative leaders on the marriage issue

As more and more conservative leaders propose the idea of fighting under the standard of a white flag on cultural issues, it is instructive for those who still think it worthwhile to conserve something to remind themselves of just how novel is the idea of same-sex marriage.

In his review of Michael Klarman's From the Closet to the Altar, Christopher Caldwell gives us a brief timeline (partly based on the book he is reviewing):
The American Civil Liberties Union was not interested in defending gay rights at all in 1957, when it called homosexuals "socially heretical or deviant." Its position had changed by 1973, but when the Homosexual Rights Committee of the ACLU's Southern California Branch made a list of six long-term priorities that year, marriage was not on it. In 1983, gay leaders had an opportunity to grill Democratic presidential candidates Walter Mondale and John Glenn about issues they cared about. They didn't mention marriage at all. Even in 1991, when the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force asked its membership to rank civil-rights issues in order of importance, marriage did not make an appearance.  
A growing number of gays in long-term relationships, however, were chafing at practical problems. Some objected to paying taxes on inherited property that married couples would not. (This difficulty is at the core of U.S. v. Windsor, one of the cases that will come before the Supreme Court this spring.) Gays also faced red tape in getting hospital visitation rights. Both problems were made more galling and poignant by the toll of AIDS in the late 1980s and early '90s. When gays began to sue, they discovered that judges looked more indulgently on their demands than the general public did. That changed everything. In 1993, a Hawaiian court opined that limiting marriage to men and women was a bias, and the state's Supreme Court backed them up in 1996. By then, gay rights lobbies were beginning to recruit couples for court challenges. In 1999, Vermont's Supreme Court ordered the legislature to come up with a plan to give gays marriage rights. Hence the first "civil unions" bill in 2000. And there was another factor abetting these marriage suits: bold administrators had begun assigning adoptive children to gay couples. So cases were now arising in which the question before the court was whether it were better that a gay couple raising a child be married or unmarried.
Twenty years—as opposed to the entire history of Western civilization (or any other civilization for that matter). That's how historically novel is the impetus required to spook those who have set themselves up as spokesman for the cause of conservatism into abandoning their stations on the cultural battlements and trampling their own troops in their headlong flight for political safety.

If this were a literal war, these people would be summarily hung.

Caldwell points out the irony of casting the gay marriage effort as somehow akin to the civil rights movement:
Civil rights movements arise to defend the downtrodden. But never since the Progressive Era has there been a social movement as elite-driven as the one for gay marriage. No issue divides the country more squarely by class. Opponents of California's anti-marriage Proposition 8 have come to include virtually all of Hollywood, Apple, Google, Amazon, and the White House.
Hollywood. Apple. Google. Amazon. Not exactly a bunch of people you run into on the bread line. In fact, the elite aspect of the whole movement is hard to miss.

And it isn't exactly like those wanting to redefine marriage have faced anything like the opposition faced by civil rights demonstrators. Blacks had to contend with Birmingham police wielding fire hoses.  The only fire hoses now are those being gotten ready to disperse the peaceful crowd of people (still quite substantial) which doesn't care much for the new Diversity regime.

And it wasn't just fire hoses. In the civil rights march from Selma to Birmingham, it was billy clubs and tear gas. Discrimination, sometimes violent, was a daily reality for Blacks. For gays it is little more than a pose. They are celebrated by our cultural institutions, not opposed.

In any case, Caldwell's review is a good read. See the rest here.


KyCobb said...

So its ok to discriminate as long as you don't use fire hoses. Got it. Its a lost cause anyway, Martin. As I've pointed out before, the Right has spent a decade demonizing LGBT people, yet 80% of young people support marriage equality. I don't know what else you could possible say to try to get them to fear gays. I do know that the GOP desperately needs to break out of the white evangelical ghetto it has created for itself, or its going to be a long time before a Republican lives in the White House again.

Martin Cothran said...


Let's see, there's a mischaracterization of my argument and an ad populum appeal.

Is that the best you've got?

KyCobb said...

I don't need anything else, Martin, because you've got nothing. I could point out the fallacy in your implication that african-americans and gays are two discrete and separate groups, when in fact there are, of course, african-americans who are also LGBT. I bet they think their struggle for civil rights as both african-americans and LGBT are related. But here is my question to you. Does it really make any sense for a political party in a secular state to cling to a theological belief of a shrinking minority? The US has a two party system, in which each party tries to put together an internal coalition which represents a majority. I could see a European party in a proportional representation system adopting a narrow sectarian platform then negotiating with other parties to form a government, but in the US, it just doesn't make much sense for the GOP to be the party of only a quarter of the populace.

Martin Cothran said...

So the position that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman which virtually everyone held from the dawn of recorded history until less than ten years ago (including gays) is a "narrow sectarian interest"?

You make less sense with every succeeding comment.

KyCobb said...


It is surprising how quickly Americans have accepted marriage equality, and especially how nearly universal that acceptance is among the young, but there it is. Despite the best efforts of social conservatives, most Americans no longer hate or fear LGBT people. The GOP plank supporting a constitutional amendment prohibiting marriage equality is already nearly as antiquated as a proposal to ban miscegenation, and the exit polling from the last election shows the GOP has limited appeal outside the white evangelical community.

Lee said...

> It is surprising how quickly Americans have accepted marriage equality, and especially how nearly universal that acceptance is among the young,

As I recall, you weren't so happy about vox populum when it took the form of states voting against gay marriage.

KyCobb said...


Just because I don't like it when discrimination emjoys majority support, doesn't mean I can't be happy when the majority decides to oppose discrimination.

Lee said...

> Just because I don't like it when discrimination emjoys majority support, doesn't mean I can't be happy when the majority decides to oppose discrimination.

There's a difference between liking something and holding it up as an authorization.

In another thread, you tsk-tsk that someone would bear false witness about gays. Yet in this thread, as is your wont, you do not shy from mischaracterizing the conservative position as "fear" and "hate".

Being an attorney, I'm surprised you have such apparent difficulty at recognizing other viewpoints and at arguing against the real position, instead of one that you conveniently distort to provide you with rhetorical leverage.

But maybe not. If you're a prosecuting or a defense attorney, I guess you may just see argumentation in a utilitarian manner -- i.e., anything for a win.