Andrew Sullivan, who has been pushing for marriage equality for 25 years now, long before it was even a minor issue politically, has been having an exchange with Rod Dreher, one of the most reasonable conservatives in the country, over that issue. Sully explains why he thinks Dreher may feel so aggrieved by the whole thing:
Simply put: it’s extremely hard to oppose marriage equality when you know someone who is gay. It requires you to hold a position that clearly treats the human being in front of you as inferior – or at least it sure can feel that way. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a reasoned, theological argument that gays should be denied equal treatment under the law. It simply means that even if you hold that principled position, you will increasingly feel like an isolated asshole with gay friends, family members and colleagues. And few actively want to be an asshole. I think that’s in part what fuels Rod Dreher’s passion. He’s a decent guy, and it anguishes him to think others will think he isn’t. He’s a humane person who nonetheless has to come off as inhumane to almost any gay person and many straight ones.
But when people resolve the struggle between theory and the human person – and it’s only resolved by embracing the whole person, including her sexual orientation – the denial of equality can seem increasingly outrageous. No straight person would ever acquiesce to the idea that he or she does not have a right to marry. Such a denial seems redolent only of slavery’s evil treatment of African-Americans. And who can really demand that another human being never experience love, commitment and intimacy? And so, over time, the country is sorting itself into two camps: most everyone in one camp, and older, white evangelicals – who have often never met a gay person – in the other.
I think this is exactly right. It explains why we see widespread acceptance of equality among younger people, who are far more likely to actually know a gay person than their parents and grandparents. And it’s true for me personally as well. Given my political and philosophical beliefs I would surely be in favor of equality even if I didn’t know any gay people, but I almost certainly would not feel so passionately about it if I didn’t see how bigotry and discrimination affect real people that I care about deeply. It’s never been an abstract issue for me and that is a nearly automatic consequence of knowing and caring about people. I can’t them as Them because they are me and we are us, if that makes sense.
And I think Sully is right that this is one reason why we’re hearing so much outrage from the opponents of equality over what they think is the unfair implication that if they don’t support same-sex marriage then they must be bigots. No one ever wants to see themselves as a bad person. We expend a great deal of mental energy convincing ourselves that we’re good people, even when we know we’ve done, or are doing, something bad. The kind of cognitive dissonance he speaks about is universal and the ways we make it go away — self-justification and rationalization — are as well.