Ross Douthat half admits to the intellectual bankruptcy of his opposition of to same-sex marriage and then tacitly demonstrates it with his pathetic reply when pushed to address the topic last month at the New School:
“I am someone opposed to gay marriage who is deeply uncomfortable arguing the issue in public.”
Mr. Douthat indicated that he opposes gay marriage because of his religious beliefs, but that he does not like debating the issue in those terms. At one point he said that, sometimes, he feels like he should either change his mind, or simply resolve never to address the question in public.
He added that the conservative opposition to gay marriage is “a losing argument,” and asked rhetorically if committed homosexual relationships ought to be denied the legal recognition accorded without hesitation to the fleeting enthusiasms of Britney Spears and Newt Gingrich.
After the panel, Mr. Douthat told the Observer: “If I were putting money on the future of gay marriage, I would bet on it.”
He added: “The secular arguments against gay marriage, when they aren’t just based on bigotry or custom, tend to be abstract in ways that don’t find purchase in American political discourse. I say, ‘Institutional support for reproduction,’ you say, ‘I love my boyfriend and I want to marry him.’ Who wins that debate? You win that debate.”
So let’s recap all of what Douthat, who is generally taken to in some way represent the intellectual vanguard of the conservative movement concedes:
(1) Because of his religion he uncomfortably and embarrassedly holds beliefs for which he has almost no independent intellectual warrant and as a result of this he does not even want to bother trying to defend them on rational or moral grounds.
You know that his religion must really give him the truth about things if what it makes him believe is something that he cannot even pretend to stand up for with intellectual, emotional, or moral credibility. His religion must be a source of good beliefs since he cannot with a clear conscience recommend its teachings to other people of honest thought, feeling, and moral sentiment by appealing to their intellects and their powers of moral judgment. I mean, beliefs which only are acceptable to those who accept the same dogmatic pronouncements based on shoddy abuse of the concept of moral teleology to rationalize outdated barbaric prejudices must be intellectually and morally justified even if they cannot stand up to independent investigation by non-dogmatic, rational, moral people.
(2) Arguments based on bigotry and custom are not adequate secular reasons for opposing gay marriage.
Yet, I’m sure this concession is compatible with Douthat’s commitment to the authority of Church tradition. That’s clearly distinct from mere “custom” or Douthat wouldn’t defer to it to the point where he held positions which were indefensible based on common reason and morality in the public sphere. Plus, I’m sure there is just no way that either the book of Leviticus or the pope could possibly make that “secular” mistake of simply opposing homosexuality from bigotry. After all, the religious arguments provide so many non-bigoted, non-custom-based reasons that stand up so well to intellectual and moral test that Douthat is embarrassed to try to explain them publicly for all rational and moral people to independently assess them.
On this concession though Douthat does not go far enough and admit that this argument fails because it is simply more stupid, empty rationalization of custom, bigotry, and religious custom and religious bigotry. Instead he blames the argument’s failure on its “abstractness.” Apparently it just goes above the heads of all of us gay marriage supporters. I admit that if this argument has any credibility whatsoever it must be too abstract for me. I mean, I do not see how heterosexual marriage will stop giving institutional support for reproduction just because in addition to heterosexual marriages there will also be homosexual ones. I guess I don’t see how exactly, the institution of gay marriage would replace, rather than merely complement, the institution of heterosexual marriage. I guess I don’t know how to abstract hard enough to see how society is forced with a choice between only heterosexual marriages on the one hand and only gay marriages on the other hand. That kind of abstraction to a simple either/or scenario really does go beyond my mental powers.
My superficial, surface level mind keeps thinking that it’s possible to let gay people marry without stopping any single heterosexual couple from marrying or reproducing. I feel so embarrassed that I cannot think smarter about this. I feel like Douthat is doing calculus and I cannot even master simple addition and subtraction here. His level of abstraction to a world of such clear black and white either/or is something I cannot comprehend, stuck as I am on the facts of the world in which heterosexual people don’t stop reproducing just because gay people have sex.
I admit the other time I felt my powers of abstraction to be ridiculously enfeebled was when another opponent of same-sex marriage, Heather MacDonald, offered her own subtle “secular” argument against it. Her argument was that those irresponsible, marriage averse, homophobic black men that plague our society would be turned off to marriage altogether because it would be a “gay thing to do.”
It’s clear my powers of abstraction are inferior to Douthat’s simply from the fact that I cannot pull off his amazing trick of holding positions so intellectually, morally, and emotionally indefensible that I am embarrassed to support them publicly. I cannot abstract myself from my conscience so thoroughly that I can advocate positions for which I do not have supporting reasons, just so that I can be obedient to regressive, ancient institutions which stubbornly refuse to rethink their positions in light of increased modern moral understanding. I do not have such gifts of abstraction that let me feel it is okay to vote in secular elections based on religious beliefs which do not admit of secular justification.