Monday, June 27, 2011

(Some) Conservatives Sound Like Over Gay Marriage

Late last week, New York approved legislation to permit same-sex couples to marry. I understand that opponents of same-sex marriage would have plenty to say about this, but I am confused and, frankly, put-off by criticisms of the process by which marriage rights were expanded in New York that have gripped some folks on the Right, especially at National Review Online.

William Duncan suggests that the legislature's actions were illegitimate because well-funded gay rights interest groups and libertarian organizations and individuals made it well-known that Republicans voting in favor of same-sex marriage could count of their support for future election campaigns. 
The New York Times editorial on the New York legislature’s decision to redefine marriage on Friday night provides the same-sex marriage advocate’s preferred explanation of the outcome — four courageous Republican senators bucked their hide-bound party to strike a blow for civil rights.

The background stories on the vote now emerging give us reason to be skeptical of that narrative. One of the senators who switched to give Governor Cuomo his vote told the Village Voice: “It’s not our job to be moral, it’s our job to be functional as a legislature.” What “functional as a legislature” means is not entirely clear, but we get some hints in the stories that detail the money spent by gay marriage advocates (including some wealthy libertarians) and the power-play by the governor and gay-marriage advocates. One lobbyist said there was “a ‘limitless’ amount of lobbying dollars and campaign contributions from gay marriage advocates.” The New York Daily News provides the not-surprising news: “Gay marriage advocates said they expect money from same-sex groups to flow to the four not just as a thank you, but also as a message to Republicans nationally.” The cynical might even think that flow might have affected the decision to jump ship. One Republican who had run on his opposition to same-sex marriage had taken a clear “no” position on the bill just a few weeks before. Another thought the appropriate way to express his “evolution” on the issues was a vulgar and self-righteous rant. Perhaps a sincere, if misguided, conversion explains the switching, but Ockham’s razor suggests a combination of money and power can’t be discounted as the more likely explanation.
 Kathryn Jean Lopez complains that the New York marriage bill was not submitted to the people in a referendum.
There has been much talk suggesting that the marriage vote in the New York statehouse was a democratic triumph. But even in New York, there was reason for Democrats to believe that this was their safest bet, that putting it to the voters wouldn’t have worked out for gay-marriage advocates.

Pollster John McLaughlin, who is based in his native New York, raises the question: “If they had brought the gay marriage bill to a public referendum, I don’t think it would have passed.”
George Weigl writes that the legislation is a tyrannical expansion of state power.
“Gay marriage” in fact represents a vast expansion of state power: In this instance, the state of New York is declaring that it has the competence to redefine a basic human institution in order to satisfy the demands of an interest group looking for the kind of social acceptance that putatively comes from legal recognition... if the state in fact has the competence, or authority, to declare that Adam and Steve, or Eve and Evelyn, are married, and has the related authority to compel others to recognize such marriages as the equivalent of what we have known as marriage for millennia, then why stop at marriage between two men or two women? Why not polyamory or polygamy? Why can’t any combination of men and women sharing financial resources and body parts declare itself a marriage, and then demand from the state a redress of its grievances and legal recognition of it as a family? On what principled ground is the New York state legislature, or any other state legislature, going to say “No” to that, once it has declared that Adam and Steve, or Eve and Evelyn, can in fact get married according to the laws of the state?

...that is an exercise of power that libertarians ought, in theory, to resist, not support.
New York State notwithstanding, the argument over marriage will and must continue, because it touches first principles of democratic governance — and because resistance to the agenda of the gay-marriage lobby is a necessary act of resistance against the dictatorship of relativism, in which coercive state power is used to impose on all of society a relativistic ethic of personal willfulness.

By my count, these guys are equating the legal and legitimate actions of interest groups and political contributors with bribery, playing up the will of the majority against the considered opinions of duly elected representatives in government, and bending over backwards to find "tyranny"and statism in a majoritarian process that changes the legal definition of marriage without imposing any burdens on religious or cultural understandings of marriage. These are crazy, conspiracy theory stuff, a rejection of Burkean trusteeship, and  a bizarre inversion of reality in which the arbitrary exclusion of same-sex couple from marriage enhances liberty. Make whatever principles arguments you care to about the wisdom of same-sex marriage, but the process by which it was achieved in New York was blameless and substantially preferable to the creation of same-sex marriage rights by judicial fiat.

To be fair, though, there have been voices of reason on the issue on the Right in general and at NRO in particular. Mike Poterma, in particular, had a very sensible critique of some of his colleagues' over-reactions.
There are a few high-fives, and fewer shouts; mostly a remarkably placid, well-behaved crowd enjoying the sweetness of a symbolic victory. And I stress symbolic: There is no actual change in what these folks are allowed to do in their private lives. The only difference tonight makes is that the people of New York decided, through their elected representatives, that the handful of gays who want to make the particular kind of commitment to each other known as marriage, can do so with our collective blessing. (With the proviso that some who object to this approval for religious reasons will not themselves be compelled to approve. The road from Stonewall, June 1969, to Stonewall, June 2011, was a trajectory of greater social acceptance of difference and nonconformity. It would be a betrayal of the deep American principles at work there if tonight’s victory for the gays resulted in the violation of the conscience rights of those who have religious objections. I’m sure the lawyers will weigh in with words-a-plenty on the specifics; have at it.)
Still, as happy as I am for those couples in new York who will now have the chance to marry, I remain sad and disappointed for those who cannot find some measure of comfort in a the process that brought these changes about or at least some happiness in the joy of those who will be able to celebrate their commitments to one another in a new, more meaningful, and more permanent way.

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