August 29, 2009

The Pleasant Face Of The Anti-SSM Movement

The guy is right about one thing -- telling people that gay people caused Hurricane Katrina isn't going to convince anyone to change their mind and oppose same-sex marriage. A frothing, crazed religious screed isn't going to convince anyone who doesn't already buy into the frothing, crazed screed to begin with. To reach out to the middle, you have to appear moderate and reasonable.

According to the Washington Post, the political movement to oppose same-sex marriage has found a spokesman capable of doing that. He is Brian Brown, the director of the National Organization for Marriage. In a lengthy and flattering profile, the WaPo seems to spend most of its time talking about what a really nice guy he is. As if that were a surprise. A good politician is always a nice guy (or a nice gal).

The issue, though, is whether his argument -- made slowly, without shouting or calling other people names -- is convincing. Here it is in a nutshell:
The institution of marriage has always been between a man and a woman. Yes, there have been homosexual relationships. But no society that he knows of, in the history of the world, has ever condoned same-sex marriage. "Do they always agree on the number of partners? Do they always agree on the form of monogamy? No," Brown says, but they've all agreed on the gender issue. It's what's best for families, he says. It's the union that can biologically produce children, he says. It's all about the way things have always been done.
In other words, the "argument from inherent caution against social change." That is, in my opinion, the most reasonable position for an opponent of SSM to take. But here's the flaw in that argument.

Okay, so it's not wise to go tinkering around with social institutions; we don't know what negative repercussions might result from doing so. Good. But some segments of society have not been so cautious; we now have SSM in five states and maybe six in a few months. Canada, a society very similar to our own, has had SSM for five years. A handful of Western European countries have had SSM for several years. What do the "let's just be cautious" folks say to the fact that the institution of SSM has had no measurable effect on anything in any of those societies? Do they say, "Not enough data yet?" Okay -- when will we have enough?

Just because things have always been done a certain way doesn't mean that it is the right way to do them. It means it's the way it's always been done. Fields were always plowed by hand, until someone thought of using animals to do the labor. Then they were plowed with animals and humans, until someone invented mechanical tractors. People only ate fish after it was cooked, until they tried it raw and liked it. Lawyers hand-wrote all their pleadings, until they didn't. Books all came on roll-up scrolls, until they weren't. Japan didn't allow non-Japanese onto the Home Islands, until it did. Things change. The question is when, how, and why should they change. Opposing change for the sake of opposing change may begin as caution, but it ends as reactionism.

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