There’s a teapot tempest going on over this Washington Post column.
I basically agree with Conor Friedersdorf when he says “There Probably Isn’t Any Neutral Way to Report on Homosexuality.” A person who complains that the Washington Post’s “Date Lab” – a fluffy blind-date series that almost never includes lesbian or gay couples – is biased towards gays, is a person who objects to same-sex couples ever being presented in a neutral light. (How is the Post supposed to “balance” a “Date Lab” article, anyway – should the reporter alternate describing the date with quotes from John Piper on how gay marriage means America has lost its soul?)
But I thought “Nathan” in the comments of Rod Dreher’s blog, made a good point (I’ve added paragraph breaks and corrected typos):
And while we’re on the topic of biased accounts of marriage (and sex), it’s worth noting the traditionalists’ own biases. There is a tendency for traditionalists to paint the modern conception of marriage as motivated largely by individualism and hedonism run amok. America got rich and then America got immoral. And there is, to be fair, some of that. People do like that they can indulge their sexual peccadilloes (or perversions, as some traditionalists would have it) so long as they can find a consenting partner.
But it is not as if the traditionalist conception of marriage was never tried. It was tried and abandoned. And it was abandoned, in large part, not for reasons of hedonism but as a response (and admittedly, perhaps an overreaction) to genuine injustices abetted by the traditionalist understanding of marriage. Arranged marriages resulted in poor pairings or marriages for the wrong reasons. The unavailability of divorce resulted in much mistreatment of women. Homosexuals suffered grinding persecution. These are not small problems.
It is not clear to me, for example, how you safeguard against the abuse of women in bad marriages in the absence of permissive divorce laws. Nor is it clear to me what sorts of lives homosexuals can have in a resurgent traditionalist society. The modern conception of marriage is the answer to a set of questions. What are we to do with someone trapped in a marriage not of her own choosing? What are we to say to a woman who is badly mistreated by her husband? What are we to do with homosexuals? If traditionalism is to have any chance in the marriage debate, it has to compete with the modern conception. It has to answer these questions more compellingly than the modern conception does.
It’s not clear to me that traditionalists have met that burden. And if they don’t, then the victory of the modern conception is justified, is it not?
To that last question, I suspect that many cultural traditionalists would say “no.” I think many cultural traditionalists are simply indifferent to the fate of lgbt people, and don’t see anything wrong with that indifference. It’s not that they lie awake in bed shaking clenched fists in the air and going “grrr, grrr, gays, how I hates them!” in the manner of Gollum hating Baggins. It’s that as long as they get what they want – in this case, no legal recognition for same-sex marriages – they genuinely aren’t interested in what that does to lgbt people.
In their eyes, this indifference makes them neutral. In my eyes, it means they’re prejudiced against lgbt people. Prejudice isn’t only overt hostility; refusing to treat the interests of lgbt people as fully legitimate and equally important is also a form of prejudice.
Similarly, sexism doesn’t require someone to overtly hate women (or to overtly hate men). I’m sure that most traditionalists love and hold dear many women in their lives. That doesn’t change that permissive divorce laws give abused women a better shot at leaving bad marriages, and getting rid of permissive divorce laws will be harmful to those same women. And indifference to this outcome isn’t something I can sign on to.
I think of myself as pro-marriage. I want marriage to be stronger. I’m convinced by the evidence I’ve read that many people want but can’t find happy marriages; that marriage makes many people happier and healthier; and that for many people, marriage is a good way to form a family (including raising children). We’d be better off if fewer people decided they’d be better off divorced.
But I’m not and will never be indifferent to what’s best for lgbt people, and for abused women. If being pro-marriage means accepting laws that hurt those folks, then I can’t be pro-marriage. And I’m not alone in that view.