Over at The Corner yesterday, National Organization for Marriage’s Maggie Gallagher took issue with a piece by Ben Smith entitled Is gay marriage ‘inevitable’?
Ignoring the fact that the title of the piece is a question–complete with a 24-point font question mark–and that Smith never claims that gay marriage is inevitable, Gallagher complained that he “reports that gay marriage is still inevitable”
Gallagher tried to prove her point that same-sex marriage is not inevitable with some of the laziest, most mendacious writing I’ve ever seen. Let’s take it apart piece-by-piece, shall we?
1. Nothing is inevitable.
We are talking about the future here. It’s weird to have “reporting” that something that has not yet happened will certainly happen. The future is never inevitable.
Except, again, Smith never said gay marriage was inevitable–Gallagher put words in his mouth.
And while nobody knows the future, when you consider that most young people overwhelmingly support gay marriage and that 5 states have legalized gay marriage in the past 6 years*, it certainly looks like the legalization of same-sex marriage is going to continue.
2. Young people are not as unanimous as most people think.
In California, the young-adults vote split 55 percent to 45 percent. Is it so hard to imagine 5 percent of those young people changing their minds as they move through the life cycle?
Well, no, young people are not unanimous–yes, we overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage, but there are obviously those among us who disagree. Nobody is arguing that young people are unanimous on same-sex marriage–I think the word Gallagher wanted to use was homogenous.
And yes, Gallagher’s right–it’s certainly possible that my generation could become less supportive of gay marriage over time. Of course, it’s also possible that we could become more supportive of gay marriage. And it’s possible that subsequent generations could be even more supportive than we are.
But we don’t live in Maggie Gallagher’s hypothetical fantasy world–we live in the real world, where 18-29 year old voters strongly support same-sex marriage and there’s no indication that will change anytime soon.
3. The argument from despair is bait and switch.
They are trying push the idea that gay marriage is inevitable, because they are losing the argument that gay marriage is a good idea.
This isn’t as much of a point as it is a talking point, and a pretty poor one at that. I certainly think that recognizing the constitutional rights of American citizens–particularly the 14th amendment–is a good idea. Don’t you?
And again, considering that 5 states have legalized gay marriage in the past 6 years*, I’m obviously not alone.
4. Progressives are often wrong about the future.
Here’s my personal litany: Progressives told me abortion would be a dead issue by today, because young people in 1975 were so pro-choice. They told me there would be no more homemakers at all by the year 2000, because of the attitudes and values of young women in 1975. Some even told me the Soviet Union was the wave of the future. I mean, really, fool me once shame on you. Fool me over and over again . . . I must be a Republican!
So, according to Gallagher’s logic, some progressives were wrong in the past and therefore must be wrong now.
Is that what passes for a reasonable argument these days? Because conservatives have been wrong about a lot of things, as well–they told me there would be WMDs in Iraq. They told me the Iraq War was going to be a cakewalk and a slam dunk. They told me the GOP was going to have a permanent majority. They told me Barack Obama would lose the 2008 election. They told me they were going to overturn Roe v. Wade.
And yet, they were wrong.
It’s incredibly sloppy and lazy on Gallagher’s part to allege that, since some folks were wrong before, they must be wrong now. Who taught her how to debate?
5. Demography could be destiny.
If there is one force that directly contradicts the inevitability argument, it is that traditionalists have more children. Preventing schools and media from corrupting those children is a problem, but not necessarily an insoluable one. Religous groups are increasingly focused on the problem of how to transmit a marriage culture to the next generation (see the USCCB’s recent initiatives).
In regard to the ‘traditionalists have more children’ part, does Gallagher really think that children have the exact same political beliefs as their parents?
In reality, even the children of ‘traditionalists’ are more progressive on this issue than their parents. In fact, that’s why there’s a generational gap on gay marriage in the first place–if everyone held the same political views as their parents, there wouldn’t be a disparity and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
For instance, majorities of 18-29 year olds support same-sex marriage in West Virginia, Nebraska, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Indiana, Kansas, Wyoming, Montana, Alaska, and Arizona. To compare, more 18-29 year olds in Alabama support gay marriage than 65+ year olds in Massachusetts.
So yes, Maggie, demography could be destiny–in fact, that’s why people started making the ‘inevitable’ argument to begin with.
6. Change is inevitable.
Wait a minute. What was #1 again?
1. Nothing is inevitable.
So, which is it? Is change inevitable, or is nothing inevitable?
Again, incredibly lazy and sloppy–how can someone brazenly contradict themselves within the span of 5 bullet points?
Anyway, moving on…
Generational arguments tend to work only for one generation: Right now, it’s “cool” to be pro-gay marriage. In ten years, it will be what the old folks think. Even gay people may decide, as they get used to living in a tolerant and free America, they don’t want to waste all that time and energy on a symbolic social issue, anyway. (I know gay people who think that right now). I am not saying it will happen, only that it could. The future is not going to look like the present (see point one above). Inevitability is a manufactured narrative, not a fundamental truth.
Yes, that’s right–Maggie Gallagher thinks that a civil rights movement devoted to ensuring that millions of Americans’ constitutional rights are recognized is just a fad. She thinks that millions of people are fighting for equal rights just because it’s what the cool kids are doing, and she thinks they’ll just give up eventually.
Because that’s exactly what happened with women’s suffrage and the African-American civil rights movements, right? All the cool kids were doing it, but then everyone got old and all the new kids found some other political movement to support and to this day women can’t vote and blacks have to sit at the back of the bus.
Oh, wait, that didn’t happen. In fact, those movements persisted for decades, growing ever-stronger until they eventually achieved their goals and forever changed America for the better.
The icing on the cake is Gallagher calling marriage equality ‘symbolic,’ because we all know that enjoying your constitutional rights is just symbolism. If only we had a time machine so that we could go back and tell Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Susan B. Anthony not to waste their time on their silly little movements with their pointless symbolic goals of ‘equality’ and ‘tolerance.’
7. Newsflash: 18-year-olds can be wrong.
Should we really say “Hmm, whatever the 18-year-olds think, that must be inevitable,” and go do that? I mean, would we reason like that on any other issue?
Nobody’s saying that same-sex marriage is inevitable because we’re going to defer to young people on this issue–they’re saying it’s inevitable because young people overwhelmingly support it. Meaning that, as time goes on, older, more conservative voters will pass away and younger, more progressive voters will become a bigger part of the voting populace, thus giving same-sex marriage greater political support.
It’s not really about ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ it’s a matter of people looking at political trends and trying to extrapolate what’s going to happen as time goes on. Gallagher is trying to grossly oversimplify things here.
Gallagher’s last point, which she makes in a roundabout way by citing a New York State Court of Appeals decision, is that same-sex marriage should be decided by the voters.
But what’s popular isn’t always what’s right–60 years ago, if you had put segregation on the ballot it would have passed overwhelmingly in every single southern state.
And yet, does Maggie Gallagher think that southern states should have been allowed to continue segregation as long as it won the popular vote? And, if not, why does she think it’s alright to do essentially the same thing to LGBT Americans?
Look, Gallagher’s the head of the National Organization for Marriage, so obviously she wants to rebut the idea that same-sex marriage is inevitable–she’s part of a cottage industry built around opposing marriage equality, so she has a vested interest in keeping up the fight as long as possible. If she keeps writing pieces as sloppy and ridiculous as this, though, she’ll end up doing more to hurt her cause than to help it.
On a personal note, I do believe marriage equality is inevitable. Of course, ‘inevitable’ doesn’t have a timeframe attached to it–marriage equality will take a long time, probably decades, and it may not fully happen within my lifetime. But considering where my generation stands, and considering the progress we’ve made in the past 6 years alone, I believe that the future of marriage equality will be brighter than the present.
*Those 5 are New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa and Massachusetts. I’m only counting the states where gay marriage was legalized and has since remained legal, thus California and Maine are not included.