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February 20, 2004

Allowing the Other Side to Mend Our Own Divisions

There's a gang of relatively well-known conservatives who seem inclined to walk a difficult line of amicability between warring factions on both sides of social disputes. Sometimes, however, it seems to present a problem for them to remain within the boundaries beyond which mainstream friends, like Andrew Sullivan, would start calling them names like "poseur" or "theocon."

Jonah Goldberg, amicable as he is, has been among the most visibly affected by this dilemma, and he solidified his standing with a vaguely disconcerting column that virtually pulsated with his frustration at the growing discomfort of the strategy of doing nothing, to which he's inclined:

I also suspect that millions of Americans share my attitude toward the subject of gay marriage: Enough already. Whether you're for it or against it, many of us just don't want to hear about it anymore — like those commercials featuring mothers and daughters walking on the beach having conversations nobody ever wanted to overhear.

Just make it go away!

But, of course, it won't just go away. There are two sides with irreconcilable intentions. Unfortunately, as Jonah's compatriot Nick Schulz makes clear, it looks as if some number of folks who share Goldberg's frustration are preparing to pounce on a suggestion by Jonathan Rauch as some sort of ideological and emotional life raft. Rauch writes:

So if the problem is the worry that federal judges will impose Massachusetts's gay marriages on the entire country, the way to take care of that would be to constitutionalize DOMA. The sample wording I give in my book is:

'Nothing in this Constitution requires any state or the federal government to recognize anything other than the union of one man and one woman as a marriage.'

Somehow it has gone without mention that Jonathan Rauch has long been a key figure pushing gay marriage; Schulz even calls him a "non-partisan writer." Non-partisan in what sense? Here he is in 2001:

I know, I know. Kurtz will simply insist that real, committed marriage will never be normative for homosexuals; gays just don't have that "dynamic of male-female sexuality" thing. Unfortunately, I don't think I can persuade him by telling him about all the gay people I know who have committed their enduring love and care to each other. I doubt I could persuade him even by telling him about all the men I know who have fed and comforted and carried their dying partners, and covered their partners with their bodies to keep them warm, and held their hands at the end and then sobbed and sobbed. Who is more fit to marry, the homosexual who comes home every night to wipe the vomit from the chin of his wasting partner, or the heterosexual who serves his first wife with divorce papers while she is in the hospital with cancer so that he can get on with marrying his second wife? Alas, I think I know what Kurtz would say.

To be sure, Rauch has no particular qualms about pursuing nationalization through litigation, an option that he has left open with his latest proposal. As he slips into his email to Schulz (parenthetically), "Activist state judges are the states' business, so long as no state can impose its own decision on others."

And that's the part that makes it a bit optimistic of Rauch and Schulz to present this amendment as more easily passed. Maybe those who don't want to take a position on the cultural question of gay marriage — as opposed to the easy procedural principle of federalism — will jump to it, but support will be lost among those who are most firmly convinced that action of some kind is necessary in the first place. One need only recall the arguments over sodomy, Lawrence, and Santorum to realize that this expanded apathy won't be shared by gay marriage activists who will apply national pressures and resources to the legal battle in each individual state. And in each individual state, it won't take more than a handful of judges to pound that gavel in their favor.

It ought to be seen as peculiar, to say the least, that passionate supporters of gay marriage would presume to propose a compromise for factions on the other side. And it certainly oughtn't be taken at face value. The day after he wrote the passionate argument that homosexuals deserve marriage, presented above, Rauch expressed a willingness to add "or any state's Constitution" to his proposed amendment. Since he wouldn't support it in any form, suggested by him or otherwise, and probably suspects that watering it down will make it less likely to pass, not more, Rauch is free to negotiate text as convenient.

Which leads us to the shining light of wisdom with which Goldberg closed his latest column:

The trouble with all of this is that a federalism-based compromise only works if you trust that the other side is acting in good faith. If Frank & Co. have no respect for the law of California, why should we expect them to respect the laws anywhere?

Both those who tout federalism uber alles and those who would prefer that the gay marriage debate just go away would best serve their interests by backing the two-sentence Federal Marriage Amendment. It will take the urgency out of the fight. It will allow homosexual advocates to work toward procuring rights for their unions in each state — through the legislature. And it will still leave open the possibility that, through assimilation and interpersonal relationships, homosexuals will change their culture and the larger one that we share such that ambivalence isn't a matter of internal conflict, but of measured experience.

I thought it pertinent to mention, here, that I've responded to Jonah's justified complaint.

Posted by Justin Katz at February 20, 2004 11:47 AM
Marriage & Family