While reading Stuart Whatley's blog post Moral Majority or Immoral Minority?, I was struck by one sentence:
If conservatives wish to elevate their fight against same-sex marriage to primus inter pares without a smarting backlash, they will have to somehow justify this exclusive denial of rights as something other than hidebound bigotry.
Primus inter pares (first among equals) is the status that conservatives currently allot to heterosexuality. Not five years ago, homosexuality was hedonistic. Fifteen years ago, it was perverted. Twenty-five years ago, it was a mental illness.
Conservatives have been playing catch-up with the American public, admitting only enough normality to homosexuality to remain credible on the issue. Unfortunately for them, as in a tug-of-war contest, once you start sliding, the ground gives way from under you. Justice Scalia himself noted in his dissent to Lawrence v. Texas that there is no other basis besides the right of the majority to impose its moral standards for discriminating against homosexuals (or for that matter, bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity). As usual, Scalia gives into to shocking exaggeration for effect, but he is largely correct. The only essential difference (barring direct revelation from a Higher Power) between bigotry and public morality is whether the majority (and the Court) feel good about themselves in thinking it.
The public is no longer feeling comfortable with large-scale discrimination against gays. The inevitable side-effect is that there is no other intellectually coherent stopping point. Either gays are defective, immoral, or normal. After ceding the judgment of "defective" in 1975 and "immoral" in 2003, there is only "normal" left.
The latest arguments against same-sex marriage are variously fatuous (it harms opposite-sex marriage), bizarre (it leads to sex with animals), or highly speculative (it harms children). The only plausible arguments, that being gay is a "bad thing" and should not be rewarded, or that marriage is about children and not spouses, are now soundly political losers, rejected by a substantial majority of Americans. Those left adrift in the political center who believe simultaneously that being gay is just fine but that marriage is preferentially for straight people with children are standing on logically thin ice. Their thinking is not at an equilibrium state, and the internal contradiction will inevitably impel them either forward or back, for there is no rational middle ground.
We are not now at a crossroads. That dilemma is past. Those old people stuck in that past have learned too late that righteous indignation, once bereft of righteousness, becomes mere bigotry. Pace Dylan Thomas, even as they grieve it on its way, and do not go gentle into that good night, their time to rule is passing.
And for me, that is none too soon.