Prop 8: Three Options for Social Conservatives

Lindsay may well be right, but let's assume that a single ruling from Judge Walker, no matter how complete in its rejection of the conservative viewpoint, is not yet sufficient evidence that social conservatives should abandon their defense of the biblical and historical definition of marriage. Moreover, most social conservatives really do believe that enacting same-sex marriage laws will prove harmful to our society, and do not wish to see this happen. Religious conservatives believe that homosexual relationships are against the will of God, and that God honors those who honor His will. Religious as well as non-religious conservatives believe that abandoning the traditional definition of marriage will hasten the deterioration of the American family structure, with far-reaching, long-term consequences for children and for society.

2)  Get churches out of the marriage business entirely

Some social conservatives are ready to let the granting of marital status, with all the legal benefits it confers, be simply a matter for the state. Let the state make marriages certified, they say, while the church will make marriages sacred (with no legal implications, so that withholding the imprimatur of the church cannot be construed as a legal disadvantage) when they honor the biblical model. This is surely a tempting response, since the commingling of state and church interests, when it comes to marriage, has always been a dicey matter.

The problems here are the same as above. Do we simply withdraw our influence from society in this matter, and let society suffer the consequences? How long before the legal case is pressed upon us again, whether in employment matters or in ways more insidious? The single most disturbing line in Judge Walker's ruling was the following: "Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians." This is a remarkable claim. Note he is not saying that religiously motivated actions to restrict the marital "rights" of homosexuals are harmful, but that the very beliefs themselves are harmful.

This begs the question: if those beliefs are harmful, then does the state not have a legitimate interest in discouraging them? Given Judge Walker's ruling, and recent cases like Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, it no longer sounds paranoid to believe that Christians may one day be prohibited from teaching their children that homosexuality is against the will of God. It is certainly growing increasingly plausible that the state could manipulate churches by rewarding those that do, and disadvantaging those that do not, agree to condone homosexual relationships.

It may be true that churches should soon retreat from the practice of giving marriages legal status, but that would hardly be the end of the legal battles social conservatives face on the issue of homosexuality.

3)  Continue the fight for the hearts and minds of Americans.

If social conservatives wish to win the long-term struggle to protect the biblical and historical model of marriage, we need to invest financially in what is sure to be a lengthy and complicated legal battle with skirmishes on many fronts. Yet we must also make the case more effectively to the American public. This will require us to accomplish four separate goals.

First, disengage the same-sex marriage narrative from the Civil Rights narrative. The champions of same-sex marriage have been very successful at weaving their own story into the grand tapestry of the struggle for rights for women and racial minorities. This is enormously powerful rhetoric. It confers the righteousness of the suffrage movement and the Civil Rights marches upon the same-sex marriage activists; demonizes opponents of same-sex marriage as the same kind of people who wished to keep women and blacks in subjugation; and creates an overwhelming sense of inevitability, as though the wheel of history is rolling irresistibly downhill toward "marriage equality" for gays and straights. As long as the fight for same-sex marriage is seen in the popular imagination as the next chapter in the book of justice and equality, after Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., social conservatives cannot win the long-term struggle for the hearts and minds of Americans.

Social conservatives have long seen the fight for same-sex marriage, rather, as an extension of the sexual revolution -- and this is in fact far more accurate historically. The people today who wish to preserve the traditional definition of marriage are not the same people who stood against equal rights for women and African-Americans; they are men and women, blacks and whites, in conservative states as well as liberal states like California, and there is no reason to believe that the majority of them are motivated by bigotry instead of a thoughtful engagement with the issue.

8/6/2010 4:00:00 AM