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Andrew Sullivan: Dangerous Demagogue
06/30/2003

I know! I know! I know I keep swearing off giving Andrew Sullivan the extra traffic tick of my IP address. But when I read this from David Frum, I just had to see what Sullivan was up to:

So we need to take preventive measures by writing marriage into the U.S. Constitution. Some proponents of same-sex marriage will say that this act is premature they recommend that marital traditionalists wait until later, when it will of course be too late. Others take up the federalism argument, urging that each state be allowed to make its own decisions. In this case, though, federalism simply means letting the most liberal state in the country make policy for the other 49.

Well, here's the maniacal raving that Bill Frist's support for a marriage amendment to the Constitution inspired from Sullivan:

Tampering with the Constitution as a way to prevent states deciding, as they always have, what constitutes a legal marriage would be an assault on federalism, an assault on gay citizens, and the equation of the meaning of the United States with active discrimination against minorities.

It's true that Sullivan has argued that Frum is incorrect about the smoothness with which one state's legalization of gay marriage will become a federal reality. However, I've never seen him respond undismissively to counter-arguments after he's made his initial points. What is most disturbing about Sullivan's rant is the Ivy League–educated white European's attempt to leach rhetoric from very real and horribly serious issues that have roiled in this country since its founding. In the above passage, I'm referring to the "active discrimination against minorities." But in throwing out his demagogic net, Sullivan seeks to bring in another schismatically sized battle in the culture war:

I think Frist is also implying that only churches grant true marriage and that the state subsequently merely ratifies or acknowledges that sacred institution. Huh? Cannot atheists have civil marriage and view it as a simple human contract and a mark of citizenship - with no religious connotations whatsoever? Does Frist even acknowledge the full civic rights of non-believers at all, I wonder? The fact that the good doctor cannot apparently see a deep distinction between a religious marriage and a civil one shows, I guess, how close to theocracy today's Republicans have become.

Here's the simple truth: there can be no doubt that it would be foolish to use their small numbers as the guide for perspective about the impact of homosexual marriage and the debate about its legality. The first prerequisite to even considering the possibility of shifting the well-established meaning of marriage would be believable indications that this three percent of the population is not willing to burn down our entire society in order to reach their end. The indications are quite the opposite. Sullivan, for one, will pluck strings of racial friction; he will lead witch hunts for the "theocrats."

Moreover, he will lie. In trying to position himself as the reasonable one opposed to the fanaticism of Senator Frist, Sullivan writes, "this issue should be dealt with slowly and with democratic deliberation." Anybody who's read his work on this topic knows that, in order for this to fit within his broader position, Sullivan must define "democracy" as a system of government whereby judges in each state implement federal law.

Sullivan's definition of "theocracy" seems to be "rule by those who believe that marriage has always been between one man and one woman and that this arrangement is — in some way, vague or explicit — sacred." If that's the case, then the United States has never been otherwise than a "theocracy," and if you ask me, it's been a pretty successful one. The one thread of optimism that I have on this issue is that demagogues like Sullivan will push America away from the clutches of an explicitly atheistic judicial oligarchy back into the arms of a more sane and stable system of a representative democracy that is held firm by common sense rooted in a majority belief in a reality that expands beyond the individual's desires.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:10 PM EST