Monday, August 9th, 2010

The Case Against Gay Marriage, by Ross Douthat, Space Alien

SIN CITYThe reason I always make fun of low-level Times semi-conservo-wonk Ross Douthat being unwilling to publicly explain his opposition to gay marriage is that he said it was too personal, essentially. (I know: quite unlike being singled out by society your entire life for being gay-though I guess some people take that personally too? Anyway, that's why they call it privilege, Ross! Privilege literally means you don't have to deal with such things.) So good news! He has laid it out, and I really encourage everyone to sit down and read it slowly. I found it an amazing experience. I won't spoil the actually stunning conclusion-I was actually stunned! I had to sit down for a few minutes to gather myself!-but, in short, he apparently believes that gay marriage is some seven-week-old fetus that needs to be thrown out along with the bathwater of the society that straight people have so thoroughly fouled. After that, you can read the incredibly well-reasoned comments that were allowed on the Times site before they were shut down (hmm!) and then Glenn Greenwald picking apart a few points nicely-but in an incredible way, Douthat is literally unaddressable. Douthat really does want people to be happy, I think. But this all reads like he's never met a person before, so how would he know?

93 Comments / Post A Comment

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

The space alien image is perfect. I might believe in "lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate" if I had never seen an actual marriage up close.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Read it slowly? I read it phonetically and it didn't help.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Same here! I read each word to no avail.

Kevin Patterson (#5,933)

I had to read it twice, give it to an 8 year old child, let Scott Heim peruse it and parse it on my behalf and all for naught! What's a boy to do?

Abe Sauer (#148)

I simply cannot believe a an NYT columnist could write that and COMPLETELY ignore the legal ramifications of the gay marriage movement. It's like a Fox news segment with a thesaurus. How morally bankrupt are you Ross?

keisertroll (#1,117)

Sadly, he could've prevented this moral bankruptcy by investing in gold.

Moff (#28)

Cripes, wow. So:

Straight people used to think it was important to be good at marriage.

But now they don't.

And if we let gay people try to be good at marriage…

…straight people will stop trying.

Do I have that right?

Presumably this is what his conclusion is: "it's that lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable – a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations – that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support."

This no talent ass clown did not provide any reason to think that heterosexual monogamy is something distinctive and remarkable. Statistically, it is not distintive nor is it remarkable so he's got to provide some sort of support that shows there's a inherent difference that makes this distinct and remarkable.

Furthermore, he seems to denounce slippery slope arguments as effective routes, yet gives a slippery slope argument that if our culture continues down the track we're on, we'll lose what's so distinctive and remarkable about heterosexual coupling; a shitty argument on any score, that's why it's an informal fallacy.

Look, Douthat, Dou that (zing?) yourself a favor and learn how to write an argumentative opinion column. Opinions are like assholes; everyone's got 'em, but there are some opinions, just like assholes, that are better than others and what makes them better is that there is some reason that makes the opinion appear prima facie reasonable. I can't think of what makes one asshole better than another, so this analogy broke down, sorry!

The difference might be the "potential fruit" from a heterosexual marriage. It is not physically impossible for a homosexual male or female to have a child, to raise a child well. Moreover, there are a lot of people in this "despicable" modern age that decide to do the right thing for future generations and not have children. Should those heterosexual couples legally be disallowed from marrying because there is no potential for that fruit? Or, better yet, those sterile that cannot reproduce.

Moff (#28)

Well, even if you granted that heterosexual marriage was distinctive and remarkable, he'd still have to provide some sort of support that showed it was superior to gay marriage.

Which would be tough (to do in an intellectually honest fashion, anyway), since the sample size on one side is prohibitively tiny.

Agreed. I take it that he would think that since it is distinctive and remarkable, this in and of itself makes it superior.

carpetblogger (#306)

Is your photo young stalin?

Moff (#28)

A quick examination of some of my poop would accentuate the difference between the terms, I think.

@Jonathan Saffron Foyer: … did not provide any reason to think that heterosexual monogamy is something distinctive and remarkable

Well, Douthat tries. Unfortunately, his description of heterosexual marriage's uniqueness : "the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings – a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest" is pretty much a straight-up tautology. (hint: remove the "sexually different" language, and the argument goes away)

@Moff: … he'd still have to provide some sort of support that showed (heterosexual marriage) was superior to gay marriage.

Hell, I'll go one better. Taking Douthat's argument on face value, if he's seriously advocating for heterosexual marriage on the basis of its "mutual surrender of reproductive self-interest," doesn't that make gay marriage superior to heterosexual marriage? As far as I know, it's even more successful than heterosexual marriage at abrogating the reproduction of its members.

@Gef–you're right, he just defines what heterosexual marriage is, which I take it doesn't provide evidence for its remarkable quality but it does show that it is distinct from same-sex marriage in a way we already knew. Perhaps I should have been more careful and said good reason, since reasons are cheap.

@carpetblogger–yes, it is young Stalin. He kind of looks like a modern-hipster, no?

Moff (#28)

@Gef: Or just don't remove it! I mean, yeah, he's referring to plumbing; but are any two people, even of the same sex, sexually the same?

I'm not really sure how different the challenges of male-female couplehood are from those of same-sex couplehood. Except that, you know, they are almost certainly fewer in number. Or rather, I'm not sure how many of those challenges are inherent or biological, and how many are a result of how our culture treats gender (and might start to disappear if we, say, took steps like legalizing same-sex marriage).

I mean, having a long-term, truly loving, romantically physical, cohabitative relationship with someone of the opposite sex is hard. And while some specific challenges will vary, I don't know that I buy that it's saliently different overall with someone of the same sex.

Moff (#28)

@Gef: Heh. Nice.

carpetblogger (#306)

@JSF He was a babe! I have some photos of old soviet-era paintings of him.

@carpetblogger: Totally.

@carpetblogger: You can shave the cockroach moustache, but you can't hide the grub-plump fingers.

carpetblogger (#306)

@GTF: You have no idea how many times I've tried.

Awe, he loves his mother! Now, THAT'S a man! A fierce yet sensitive tyrant.

skybarn (#304)

Potential Fruit has to be the name of someone's memoir as a sexually confused teen, right?

KarenUhOh (#19)

I'm deep-breathing here, to get my ass around this.

He's saying, isn't he, that marriage is the social analog of the Chicken In Every Pot paradigm, except the chicken is June Cleaver? Or the pot?

Moff (#28)

If it's just pot, it's obviously really good pot.

deepomega (#1,720)

June Cleaver is the garage.

Kevin Patterson (#5,933)

Breathing deeply helps, let's now try poppers.

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

He needs some manscaping advice from the suave David Brooks. Now that is how New York Times readers want their conservative columnists to look.

Van Buren Boy (#1,233)

I love it how he painstakingly tries to say that he isn't homophobic ("The lifelong commitment of a gay couple is more impressive than the serial monogamy of straights") but then basically says "Haha just kidding, I don't want you to have equal rights." What an asshole.

deepomega (#1,720)

"More impressive, but not in a way which I find societally valuable. I will leave the explanation of this as an exercise for the reader."

Fruit futures are up $1.74 a bushel on the Chicago Commodities Exchange.

PropSword (#2,870)

Why's everyone coming down so hard on Foghat? I read that Opinion piece as an emotional appeal (from a conservative) for compromise. I think it all comes down to a battle over a word — marriage — and all the religious baggage it carries.

But, you see, marriage at the legal level should have nothing to do with religion. It would be bad if our state were to legislate on the basis of religious definitions, no? I thought that's the best way to run a pluralistic society, to remain neutral on religious endorsements.

Moff (#28)

Well, and also, marriage on a purely cultural level is a meaningful concept to a lot of people who aren't religious. Religious folks don't have a special claim on the word.

kneetoe (#1,881)

I'll bite. What's the compromise he's after, and where in his argument does he lay it out? His conclusion seems pretty all or nothing to me.

PropSword (#2,870)

I think the court decision speaks for itself. What I am talking about is a practical approach to trying to smooth out the arguments against homosexuals enjoying all the benefits they are entitled to if they choose to get married. And really, I think it comes down to a word — marriage. Can you imagine the wind that would be taken out of the sails of all those intolerant jerkoffs if "GAY MARRIAGE" wasn't such an easy alarm button to smash anymore? Now, I'm not gonna pretend I know the right way to tackle this approach. But I dunno… Union Partnership? It's just a word, and that kind of compromise would eliminate a lot of headache.

PropSword (#2,870)

EDIT: missed a question mark…supposed to read "Union? Partnership?".

Moff (#28)

@PropSword: So would using different water fountains! But, uh, a lot of people don't feel like compromising about being recognized as fundamentally equal human beings, strangely.

kneetoe (#1,881)

@PropSword: He may be open to compromise (and I'm not saying comromise is ok), but he fails to say that. He says "I don't think a society that declares gay marriage to be a fundamental right will be capable of even entertaining this idea." That's not compromise language.

Abe Sauer (#148)

@Prop: I agree with you for the most part. If the govt. changed the license it issues from "Marriage" to "Spousal union" or some antiseptic thing and issued ALL documents as such, this would be easier. But at the same time, it's a tough philosophical compromise to say, "Yeah, we should change the system to appease those who oppose greater civil rights."

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@PropSword: Language is kind of funny this way. Because it IS just a word. But words are what we've got to make sense of and describe our world, so what we call things as consequential as the perpetual union of two loving and consenting adults, with all the legal and financial rights that union entails, is very important. What's sauce for the goose has got to be sauce for the gander, and the likelihood of all heterosexual married couples agreeing to call themselves "united" or "partnered" is pretty slim. Marriage is the fight we've got.

Moff (#28)

@Abe: But again: There are many, many nonreligious straight people to whom "marriage," as a word and concept, is deeply important. Even if the government started referring only to "civil unions," and even if that appeased religious fundamentalists (NOT LIKELY), it would be a highly unsatisfactory solution.

And I get why "spousal union" or "civil union" seems more antiseptic than "marriage" on the surface, but the truth is that nonreligious marriage has been around for a long time (longer than the English word itself, I would imagine!). Religious people have no special claim on the word.

La Cieca (#1,110)

And then have to listen to decades of culture warrior talking heads shrieking about how that most fundamental institution of Western civilization, marriage, was destroyed by homosexual anti-family activists? How long before Tea Parties started waving around placards reading "GOD created my MARRIAGE, not THE GOV'T!"

Moff (#28)

@Cieca: Exactly. Neither a feasible solution, nor a likely effective one.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Moff: Yes. Agreed. I was only recognizing the easy solution.

PropSword (#2,870)

@Moff I don't think the knee-jerk segregation comparison is apt. @knee Compromise is okay! It's the only way to get shit done. Perhaps I am too practical when it comes to this. @Abe Appeasement? Perhaps. I prefer to think of it as taking the wind out of the sails. @boy I guess I am trying to figure out how to not make it a fight.

On the third hand, France only recognizes civil marriages (religious ceremonies are entirely optional, can only be held after the civil ceremony, and confer no additional legal status), but it still doesn't allow same-sex marriages.

… in other words, bringing marriage strictly into the civil sphere doesn't guarantee the outcome you're interested in.

PropSword (#2,870)

@Gef This is what I'm talking about. Here's a solution that almost works, but it's still fucked. From Wikipedia:

"In France, a pacte civil de solidarité (English: "civil pact of solidarity") commonly known as a PACS /paks/ (or PaCS, and now also pacse, see below), is a form of civil union between two adults (same-sex or opposite-sex) for organising their joint life. It brings rights and responsibilities, but less so than marriage."

Okay, right idea… but that last part is fucking stupid. Why less so? You're halfway there, France! If there were the same legal rights, this issue could be put soundly to bed. I dunno, I think it's in the interest of a lot of powerful people to keep this social powder keg alive, because it's a powerful tool. But now I'm sounding all paranoidy. Sacrebleu.

Moff (#28)

@PropSword: It's absolutely apt. It's saying: "x is a basic right for these people, but — for no empirically justifiable reason — it's not OK for these other people. They can have something different from the main group!" It's still a matter of exclusion; the implicit notion is "You're not normal; you're not as worthy." The only salient difference is that the right to drink out of a public water fountain is actually nowhere near as important as the right to marriage.

And why would we not make it a fight? Sure, a lot of things aren't worth fighting over, but civil rights are. And it's been a fight every other time. Hopefully this will continue to be a not especially violent fight, but there is going to be a conflict here, because one side is right, and one is wrong.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Striking the word "marriage" from all laws isn't a compromise, as I see it: that's actually the unattainable ideal. The government should have no role whatsoever in that aspect of people's lives. It's an artifact of religion (sorry Moff but I just straight-up disagree), and even for the nonreligious who have picked it up through cultural osmosis, it's an expression of culture that easily falls under free speech. What possible function can government involvement in that sphere serve?

PropSword (#2,870)

@Moff I don't think these issues can be put in such black-and-white terms.

Moff (#28)

@Doc: You can straight-up disagree, but that doesn't change the facts. Nonreligious marriage has been around a long time. Further, just because something has a certain provenance, that doesn't mean its cultural valence can't shift over time.

Anyway, it's certainly arguable that the government ought not to recognize any sort of spousal partnership under any name. (The argument for such recognition is generally, I believe, that such partnerships promote societal stability; I don't really have an opinion on that.) But if the government does recognize such partnerships, then they all go by one name. No separate but equal bullshit here.

Moff (#28)

@PropSword: I don't think most issues can! But to date, there's been no empirically justifiable, logically sound, disinterested, and consistent argument for forbidding same-sex marriage, any more than there was any such argument for why women or black people shouldn't vote.

In other words, there is nothing in the Western tradition of thought that Ross Douthat is so allegedly fond of that justifies keeping gay people from marrying each other. So, no: One side is wrong. It is that black-and-white.

But Abe, Judge Walker insisted that gay couples deserve the same "social meaning" attached to their unions as straights, regardless of legal equality.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

@Moff: I completely agree that they could shift from their religious origins to a purely secular affair – like, say, most universities of any age – but it hasn't happened yet.

How many marriages happen in a house of worship, as opposed to elsewhere? How many are presided over by clergy, as opposed to others? How many I-do's are preceded by "so help you God?"

Granting that non-religious marriage has been around for a while (although I don't count a religious ceremony involving non-religious players), it has never unseated the mainstream primacy of religion in the ceremony. Even explicitly non-religious weddings closely imitate the religious ceremony more often than not.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations is my favorite part. I almost feel stupid having to write this out, because I thought it was plainly self-evident to anyone who graduated from grammar school, but is there anything inherently good or bad, desirable or undesirable, about "an organic connection between human generations"? Doesn't the value judgment emerge from what comes from the connections we have? All you have to do is meet a guy who hasn't talked to his abusive father in a decade, but who would take a bullet for his best friend, to understand that "organic connections" aren't necessarily things to be sanctified.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Cultural conservatives would disagree. "That abusive man is still your father" etc. And getting values to transition from generation to generation is the overarching goal of all conservatism, when you think about it.

Not saying they're right; just saying that you're digging all the way down to bedrock values, and sometimes that shit is beyond debate.

synchronia (#3,755)

I think Douthat is also alluding to the idea that it's a problem for people to use egg/sperm donors, since that usually cuts children off from their biological ties. Many conservative people think that there's such an association between procreation and marriage (why, necessarily?) that if you let people marry you couldn't legally stop them from trying to procreate, so to stop the use of the reproductive technology you just have to say they can't marry.

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

My favorite thing about this column is that it could essentially be printed in a radical queer theory reader without any alterations and fit in perfectly. Queer people and straight people are different, you see! And straight people get married, while queer people have orgies and things! Queer people aren't meant to be monogamous! So they should stay out of straight marriage so straight people can deal with it rather than having a bunch of licentious queers running around confusing things. Let the straights deal with their shit!

doubled277 (#2,783)

to be fair, while his over-arching argument does imply this, he does take care to specifically say that gay people can have life-long relationships that are more committed than straight-people.

mishaps (#5,779)

OK, as far as I understand this, and I slept poorly last night so maybe I'm wrong here, but – isn't his argument that heterosexual marriage is an unnatural institution that no one acting on their own interests would ever voluntarily enter into, and THAT's why it needs to be held up as a special and privileged category? Seriously, what the fuck?

gabba_gabba_hey (#6,046)

It's pretty funny to read this next to Mark Greif's thing in n+1 a few months back about how gay marriage maybe isn't the greatest precisely because straight marriage sucks, and we should just get over the whole marriage thing as a culture, anyway. It still rests on some wobbly and unsupported ideas of What Is Good, but a much better read.

Oh, and this is what I'm talking about:


I repressed that sentimentalism pretty hard.

Abe Sauer (#148)


Bryan Keller (#3,804)

Like much conservative nonsense, this argument is running out of options so the die hards are reduced to just making shit up. Pathetic.

That was more WTF-inducing than anything Tom Friedman's ever written. Gay marriage must be opposed because straights are into serial monogamy?

carig (#4,986)

So if Douthat had his way, the gays couldn't get married and the straights couldn't get divorced. Did I get that right?

carig (#4,986)

Also, if evolution requires me to have "the female interest in mating with the highest-status male available," does that mean conservatives are now ok with gold-diggers? Or just that I should pursue that while searching for a mate?

kneetoe (#1,881)

Dude needs to re-read his Darwin.

C_Webb (#855)

As a woman, if I'm ok with mating with a "middle-status" male, does that mean I'm actually gay?

kneetoe (#1,881)

Depends entirely on the size of his penis.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

Dude, conservatives are all about gold digging. Their view of ideal mating would be: rank all males by money, rank all females by looks, match them by the rank.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Yeah, Niko, I was going to say! You think Newt Gingrich keeps finding mistresses on the basis of his sparkling personality?

brent_cox (#40)

I would say that he's sandbagging, if I thought he was capable.

La Cieca (#1,110)

No, I don't think he wants people to be happy. He wants "society" to be happy, or "Western society" to live up to its ideals, or "civilization" to follow its inevitable course, or some other such abstraction. People just get in the way.

I see Ross Douthat's Platonic ideal of society as a sort of philosophical front sitting room with plastic covering all the furniture and lampshades, that room your grandmother never let you enter because it's for "company."

La Cieca (#1,110)

Though, then again, maybe such a distinctly privilege-based and essentially inhuman argument is right at home in a newspaper that publishes a deliberately provocative piece, and then almost immediately clamps down on reader comments. Pageviews? What need we pageviews?

@La Cieca: And that's how you make a good metaphor.

deepomega (#1,720)

Plato's Sitting Room. A++

Ananke (#3,223)

When I read that marriage is, "one of the great ideas of Western civilization," it really reminded me of my childhood growing up in a neighborhood where most families were defined to some degree by physical, emotional and sexual abuse plus alcoholism, drugs, infidelity, mental instability and outright criminality. Hey, that was what it was, but I really have to wonder what sort of family Ross grew up in.

6h057 (#1,914)

I would assume the real reason Ross Douthat can't deal with Gay Marriage(TM)is because once someone explained to him what fletching entails. So now every time it's explained how men are now allowed to form a civil and spiritual union the only thing he can think of is one man siphoning the seaman out of the other man's anus!.

Grow the fuck up, Ross Douthat. Grow. The. Fuck. Up.

ish (#3,041)

Siphoning a seaman out of the other man's anus sounds like a whole lot of awesome though I'm sure you meant "semen." And it's felching, not fletching.

But I'm sure your point is correct!

Speaking of felching, was Douthat's column an unbelievable dribble of drivel?

deepomega (#1,720)

PS: Needs more eagles in that photo. Maybe two more dude eagles banging while the third eagle looks on and weeps?

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I'm sitting here with work to do and also Photoshop and you are not helping.

keisertroll (#1,117)

Also, not enough Twin Towers.

C_Webb (#855)

Some baby eagles doing drugs while trapped in low-achieving schools would also help, I think.

chrisafer (#1,322)

When will Hallmark make a "Congratulations on the mutual surrender, arguably, of your reproductive self-interest" card?

There is a wedding I will be going to later this year and I am TOTALLY MAKING THAT CARD.

garge (#736)

Needs more needlepoint.

I would buy that card in bulk.

iplaudius (#1,066)

Feh about the supposed "fruits" of heterosexual unions. Homosexual married couples can at the very least adopt heterosexuals' unwanted children — and many do.

Society benefits from the stability of homosexual marriages, because that stability has the potential to improve the social and professional lives of the married people. If you have a stable home life, you are probably more likely to invest in your community and succeed in your career.

Post a Comment