Thursday, May 21, 2009

Primus inter pares: a strategic blunder

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.

8 comments:

Sis said...

"Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon."

The people you have to wonder about are the ones that don't have a religious justification, but feel the way they do simply because that's how it's always been. Such a dismissive attitude toward something so important is quite disturbing.

Dan Weston said...

Hey Sis, glad you stopped lurking! :)

I never worry about status quo types. They are the most amenable to change.

Actually, the biggest impediment now is gay people stuck in the closet, latter-day Brendan Frasers (Blast from the Past) hiding in their bomb shelters while the world goes on around them. With visibility comes respect, but without prior evidence of respect they are unwilling to be visible.

They should take my advice: just say Yes, just say I am, just say I do. (I mixed up the first two, so I had to do a bit of trailblazing before Obama came on the scene).

John Evo said...

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.Good analysis.

Hey, whatever happens in today's ruling, we'll fight on with you.

Dan Weston said...

CA Supreme Court redux: the people have the right to be wrong.

My marriage is grandfathered in, but I will not rest until everyone else can enjoy the benefits of marriage in our great State that I still can.

Meanwhile, on to New Hampshire...

John Evo said...

OK, well this sucks but wasn't unexpected was it?

I would suggest an immediate ballot initiative to overturn 8, as well the legislature making some sort of move on this.

Fucking CA of all places should be among the few with equal rights. It's particularly annoying to live in a state that has the same outlook as Mississippi or Alabama.

Dan Weston said...

I am reminded of Churchill's famous line: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." (Nov. 11, 1947)

As it turns out, the date my husband and I celebrate as our anniversary is also Nov. 11 (1999). Perhaps the coincidence is enough to remind me that true change will have come not when I have the right to claim I am married but when others accede to that claim.

Without the respect of the public, our marriage by whatever name will always remain just a "civil union" anyway.

John Evo said...

After reading and listening for 24 hours, it seems to me that the lone dissenter, Carlos Moreno, was the one who got it right.

He said denying same-sex couples the right to wed "strikes at the core of the promise of equality that underlies our California Constitution."

Allow me to ask the other six a question:

If you hold that you are narrowly deciding the case based solely on voter rights vis a vis the CA state constitution, which allows for constitutional changes through the initiative process - could they (the voters) decide by 52-48 that CA will be a "separate but equal" state regarding interracial marriage? If not, why not, and how do you see this point in relation to "separate but equal" by sexual orientation?

Dan Weston said...

Our Constitution is what stands between civilization and anarchy (or tyranny). Defense of the State and Federal Constitutions is the duty of every California citizen.

could they (the voters) decide by 52-48 that CA will be a "separate but equal" state regarding interracial marriage?Allow me to presume to answer on their behalf: Yes, but.

Yes, the voters may amend the California Constitution. Yes, if this happens there is no state remedy for this. Fortunately, there is a federal impediment, and a US District Court judge will quickly void it.

The Federal Constitution is beyond the ability of Californians to amend. The State Constitution is not.

The CA Supreme Court majority opinion explicitly expresses frustration that the CA Constitution is too amendable and has all but invited the litigants to seek a federal remedy. In fact, one unlikely pair are doing just that.

In a parallel track, expect a new Constitutional Amendment Initiative in 2010.

We have chosen in California to have a very malleable Constitution and that has historically placed us at the head of the pack in cultural evolution, but we must take the bad with the good. We can also change it back with majority rule, so stay tuned!