The State of the Marriage Debate

With the successes in the 2012 election and an almost unbroken drumbeat of states that are advancing on marriage equality, the anti-equality side is hurt but not broken. Here are three artifacts from the process of retreating and regrouping.

The most striking example is the apology from Alan Chambers and the announcment that the ex-gay program Exodus International will be closing its doors (and opening other doors).

This is certainly a major, positive development. As Fred Clark points out, EI was based on lies, but those were very important lies for the Christian right. But our new neighbor John Shore has a couple of question for Chambers:

Amongst the many conciliatory-sounding things you wrote in your apology are buried these words:

I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex …

and also these:

I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage.

Now, my guess is that, with everything going on, you got so busy that you simply forgot to edit out of your apology those two statements. I figure that must be the case; otherwise, one is forced to conclude that you haven’t in the slightest changed your belief that gay people can and should pray away their gay. And if you still believe that the Bible proscribes, denounces, and condemns homosexuality, then … well, then what exactly are you apologizing for? About what are you feeling remorseful that matters?

Shore takes some heat in the comments for being “cynical” about this, but Shore is consistent. He’s held Andrew Marin’s feet to the fire on this question, it’s fair that he do the same with Chambers. Is this a shift in strategy or a shift in ideology? If you’re serious about dialogue, are you open to a discussion of biblical interpretation? Or are you going to wall that off with the phrase “deeply held biblical beliefs” and exempt them from criticism?

A less radical shift comes from the conservative advocacy group and think tank, The John Jay Institue. Member Nathan Hitchens (bummer of a surname) has released a primer for shifting the debate. In You’ve Been Framed (pdf) he argues that the anti-marriage equality side has been just too darn rational:

For this generation, the arguments of marriage revisionists have not been countered. Better arguments from natural law, while necessary and helpful, are unlikely to turn the tide of opinion because many people are not convinced rationally in the first place: television, songs, friends, and their own experiences shape their understanding of love and marriage. In short, we are shaped by unconscious influences, social and personal narratives, and emotion.

Hitchens suggests that anti-equality advocates must switch from reasoned arguments to narratives, memes and emotional arguments. This represents a staggering lack of self awareness. What is “Adam and Steve” if not a meme? What is “the attack on traditional marriage” but an attempt to set the institution within a grand narrative? Why compare homosexuality to beastiality if not to invoke emotional revulsion?

As Daniel Silliman points out, this is probably an attempt to wall off the anti-equality message from criticism: the message hasn’t failed, it’s just not getting through to the non-rational, emotional masses. For Hitchens, the movement needs to double down on what is already not working.

Probably the greatest sign of the retreat on the anti-equality side is just how irate Douglas Wilson is getting. Good ol’ Wilson, whether he’s wallowing in Lost Cause apologetics or preaching about the battle of the marital bed, he never goes half way. Check out this title:

A Planet Full of Sexual Pirates

I nominate this for “Best/Worst Unintentional Sci-Fi Title.” It gives “Talk Like a Pirate Day” a whole new dimension, doesn’t it?

With that title, I was expecting some barbs about “rum, sodomy and the lash,” but nothing that interesting. This is Wilson being his normal authoritarian Calvinist self; we’re all sinners in the hands of an angry God, and you have no idea where that hand has been:

This means that execution for homosexual behavior is not passé. It still happens, and when it happens — at the hand of our most holy God — it is a judgment that is righteous and good. And without repentance, the sentence will fall on everyone who sins in this way, and it would be better to have the Grand Tetons fall on you than that. […]
Friend, the reason Jesus died on the cross is precisely because your sodomy is worthy of death. He died there so that we might have the great joy of telling you here that the sentence of death you so richly deserve has already been executed. God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf. Jesus died so that we might rejoice to say . . . and such were some of you. [emphasis original, italics changes to bold]

Alright, we’re all totally depraved and deserve damnation. So why the emphasis on the few verses that mention homosexuality rather than the hundreds of others? I hate to psychoanalyze at a distance, but I have to think that someone who sees the conjugal bed as a place of conquest and submission is going to get very uneasy when you start meddling with the genders involved. As in antiquity, I suspect that the idea of a man taking a woman’s position strikes at the very heart of Wilson’s hierarchical worldview.

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