Dang it, there’s that question again

Scales2Here is a story that has been hanging around in my laptop for some time now, just bugging me from last week into this one.

Don’t get me wrong. The story is fine.

But there was something about the question that was included in the lead. It just seemed so — familiar. So click here to see the rest of the New York Times story:

As the issue of gay marriage finally reached New York State’s highest court … the six judges who heard the passionate arguments from both sides put forth a fundamental question: Has marriage been defined by history, culture and tradition since the dawn of Western civilization, or is it an evolving social institution that should change with the times?

Now, does that question remind you of anything?

Perhaps the work of a sociologist down in Virginia? A certain thesis about the ongoing, well, cultural warfare between a “camp of the orthodox” that embraces transcendent, eternal moral absolutes and a “camp of the progressives” that sees truth as an evolving concept in which human experiences and emotions play a strong, strong role?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. Or maybe not. I also know that there are smart, secular people who adisagree. But the issue isn’t going away. Has anyone else seen a lead as blatant as this one?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://hairouna.livejournal.com Discernment

    I don’t like that question. Judging from the article’s phrasing, it’s a false-dilemma…and neither horn is about transcendent, eternal moral absolutes or about truth. I prefer this question:

    Judge Victoria A. Graffeo asked whether, under the plaintiffs’ argument, the Legislature should afford more rights and benefits to other types of family arrangements, such as two sisters raising children. “Was the Legislature denying them due process or equal protection?” she asked.

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Discernment is right, that’s a terrible question.

    History, culture, tradition — not one of those three things has remained unchanged “since the dawn of Western civilization”.

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  • Micah Weedman

    It is not a great question to be sure, but I do think it gets at something that I find wrong with culture war thinking (at least as it seems to play out). As mentioned above, the question is primarily about marriage as a practice, and not about either the “transcedent” or “evolving” truth behind marriage. Of course, truth and practice can hardly be separated, but it seems that the dichotomy of culture war thinking is a false one precisely because of its failure to see the link between truthfulness and practice.

    So, in culture war terms, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to maintain a conservative view of marriage as a practice of the church that includes space for certain homosexual couples. And yet, it is in fact possible to maintain that argument in a very coherent fashion, and it has been done. Using “conservative” means to acheive “liberal” ends stands in the face of the culture wars mentality, on both sides. The conservationsim (and pacifism, but don’t tell the crunchy cons) of Wendell Berry is another good example–”conservative” in means “liberal” in ends, if you try to plot it all on the culture war grid of orthodox-progressive.

    The answer to the first part of the question is “of course.” Marriage has always been defined by these things, as have all institutions. The problem with the second part is that it ignores that marriage has always been changing, and likely will always change. There is no static definition for what marriage is, there hasn’t been one, and there won’t be. It can only be defined as it is practiced in various contexts. The religious question then isn’t “orthodox” vs. “progressive.” The religious question then is how do various communities engage in dialectic reasoning about the way marriage works. Culture war thinking obscures this, because like all sociology, its as prescriptive as it is descriptive, and hardly free of value judgments of its own.

  • Stephen A.

    Despite all the moral abiguities that some want to throw up in the air about the issue, one has to ask what society in human history has ever, on a systematic and societal level, not just tolerated but PROMOTED the idea of homosexual marriage?

    The answer is “none,” so those wishing to force this onto Western society must be required by reporters to defend why this is required of us NOW, in 2006.

    Of course reporters largely favor this bold experiment, so they are skewing the debate and focusing on “ordinary people” who want to be “married” and how “unfair” it is that they cannot. All emotional cotton-candy-talk devoid of facts and reasoned arguments.

    For example, judges shouldn’t be hearing “passionate” arguments, but reasoned ones. Why aren’t we hearing THOSE arguments? Because the press is pandering to our appetites for conflict and raised voices.

    Another example: CNN reporting on the issue the other day did this:
    1. Fair, balanced story with a supporter and an opponent. Few raised voices, good discussion.
    2. Followed by a story about two lesbian women just wanting to raise their kids normally as marrieds and the rather hysterical (as portrayed by CNN) opponents fighting for the amendment in some midwestern state where these gals live.

    3. Finally, a story followed that one interviewing top Democrats about “why they believe opponents of gay marriage are bigoted, and trying to divide the nation.”

    Another great example of slanted, biased and unworthy reporting.