Friday, December 12, 2008

Devil's Advocate on Gay Marriage

I'm particularly fond of arguing against my own core beliefs. As a young philosophy major, I was taught that the best way to examine your assumptions is to attack them with everything you've got. With practice, you develop a faculty sorely lacking in most people: empathic insight into the minds of your ideological opponents.

On a recent Daily Show, host Jon Stewart was debating Mike Huckabee on gay marriage. And as has often been the case, I felt that the socially conservative side failed to ably communicate the gist of its position. Since I, myself, oppose most socially conservative positions, this failure to articulate should delight me. It means, after all, that "my side" wins the argument - as Jon Stewart clearly did this time.

But what's the prize? Minds are not changed by debates. And rifts can never be bridged by poor communication. It's in everyone's interest for differing positions to be as clearly explained as possible. A principled opponent with whom you disagree on ideological grounds, after all, is an opponent you'd be less likely to dehumanize. Wouldn't it be fantastic if we lived in an age so enlightened that each side helped the other articulate its message? (If such a scenario seems unimaginable, we ought to reconsider how "modern" our society truly is!)

The Daily Show debate reminded me of a dialog that took place in the comments beneath this Slog entry. I tried to articulate the conservative perspective on gay marriage in a way that's at least understandable, if not morally justifiable. Since not everyone reads comments, I've reposted the discussion here:

Commenter Jon:
For the life of me I can't see how gay marriage threatens anything or anyone
My Reply:
Really? It's awfully clear for me. It means cementing, legally, a cultural change that is not in line with the way things have always been, and which makes them uncomfortable (being pro-gay rights, my reply is "well, too freaking bad", but that's my reply, not their feeling). There are homophobic bigots out there, but also plenty of nice (and, in my view, wrong) folks who are not quite ready, psychologically, to accept daddy/daddy and mommy/mommy marriages as a normal part of their cultural landscape. Shoot, I'm not sure you or I would have been hip enough to feel comfortable with that back in, like, 1975! We're ready, they're not. Again, too freaking bad for them, I say. But it doesn't make them homophobic bigots. Just people used to things the way they are and not in a rush to keep changing that status quo. Conservativism. It's a valid way to see the world, generally. Certainly not unfathomable.

They don't want their cultural landscape changed our way. But we don't want ours changed their way, either (creationism in schools, anyone? banning of stem cell research? etc etc). That's the point of my entry. We get lost, just as they do, in our certainty that our changes are good, smart, reasonable ones. Both sides think the same, but they never argue on the same plane. That's the impasse.

Eventually, with the application of steady gentle pressure and greater interpersonal contact, the mainstream everywhere will feel more "comfortable" with gay marriage, and homosexuality generally. As I've been writing for the last few weeks regarding political antagonists here and abroad, the ultimate solution is greater familiarity and bonding between actual people. Symbols and strawmen are easy to demonize and fear.

But, in the meantime, this is a civil rights issue, and legalization of gay marriage ought to happen now, regardless of comfort levels. Justice vastly outweighs comfort.

1 comment:

J. Philip said...

I don't know if you listen to NPR, but I heard the Rev Ted Haggard today (you might recall he was banned from his Colorado mega church for a gay sex scandal 3-4 years ago)say that gay couples should enjoy the same rights as straight couples. I almost drove off the road, considering the source.

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