Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Gay marriage: A better way

I just read this very interesting article in USNews on the change in tactics supporters of gay marriage are pursuing as they face strong opposition to court-mandated changes to marriage law. Marriage and parenthood are humanity's oldest institutions and tend to be very conservative in their evolution, so the opposition to such change isn't surprising. Binah is not gay, so this posting is friendly and free advice from an outsider.

There are two essential flaws in how supporters have pushed gay marriage, one in political method and the other in conception and language. The first is the more obvious one. By using the courts to change existing marriage laws, activists have created another type of widely-resented judicial activism, commonly and correctly viewed as another case of judges overstepping their bounds of office. The best response to this mistake has been to get gay marriage institutionalized through state legislatures, which is certainly superior in every way.

But there's another problem, and that's the gay activists' use of concepts and language illegitimately borrowed from the civil rights movement and its long pre-history stretching back to abolitionism. This is the discrimination/equality lens. But that's not the way the large majority of Americans (including most Democrats) view this issue, which is why they're overwhelmingly opposed to gay marriage. They view it as a dichotomy between tolerated private behavior versus a legally-endorsed public institution. That's how most people can tolerate gays and gay sexual behavior, have gay friends, and yet not want gay marriage.

My advice: gay marriage activists should pursue this issue in state legislatures, make the case for the legally-recognized public institution, and drop the court-based civil-rights approach. This approach will be slower at first and take more work. But it will stick in the long run, because it will build broad public support and sympathy and remove (in most people's minds, anyway) any sense of threat to heterosexuality and heterosexual marriage.

LATER: Economist Thomas Sowell points out the dishonesty in the use of terms like "ban" on gay marriage -- when has gay marriage ever been recognized to begin with? Was it recognized before, then "banned" somewhere? This is more of the illegitimate civil-rights-style language that just confuses the issue and turns off most people. Attempts by the media to promote this language just turn off people even more. Sowell's argument also reflects the dichotomy I pointed out: toleration of private behavior is one thing, public-legal recognition quite another.

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