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The Eye of the Gathering Storm (Also, hear my voice!)

June 27, 2013

Yesterday morning, if you were not aware, the Supreme Court released its opinions on the Defense of Marriage Act and on Proposition 8. If your friends’ group is anything like mine, then you probably heard about this. Multiple times. With great rejoicing about the outcome.

Two evenings ago — the evening before the decisions came out — Greg from Mormon Expositor invited me to take part in a BREAKING NEWS!!!11! edition of Mormon Expositor. I could not refuse, partly because if I did refuse, then it would make my impulse buy of a Blue Yeti microphone seem even sillier than it is. (From listening to the podcast, you can tell that unlike the others, I have no idea what I’m doing as far as sound settings.)

So, if you have a little over an hour, definitely check out Mormon Expositor 43: SCOTUS, DOMA, Prop 8, and the Mormons.

One thing that I will say was kinda surreal (although it seems to be a role I’m playing more and more these days) was being the most sympathetic to the church. Now, for sure, if you listen to the podcast, you’ll be fully aware that we all are a bunch of apostates, myself included. But one thing that the podcast made me realize is that I really need to take some time to formally research my hypothesis of the church’s (inspired?) use of ambiguity and plausible deniability as a change management strategy.

Anyway, as I mentioned on the podcast, although of course I am happy for people, happy for the results, etc., I have looked for the, “But…” And I think that there are definitely “Buts” here.

The National Organization for Marriage (perhaps dramatically) framed the discussion over gay marriage as being “the gathering storm.” However problematic the concept, I feel that if this national conversation can indeed be described in language of a storm, then we are not now out of the storm. At best, we are in the eye, and the current calm (rather: ecstasy, excitement!) is going to give way to a new fight.

What I man is this: the thing I lament about the discussion is that still, neither side is seeing eye to eye. The advocates for gay marriage probably believe that arguments against gay marriage have been sufficiently, thoroughly, and completely vanquished…every potential argument stripped down merely as fancy veneers for homophobia, heterosexism, and/or anti-gay animus.

In contrast, the opponents of gay marriage certainly aren’t convinced by any of these proceedings that their arguments are rejected or disproved. Rather, I’ve seen so many articles to say that mainstream culture has of course lost its way, and so the events that have transpired are natural for a wayward culture. I’ve seen tweets that already formulate the strategy to preserve traditional marriage. (But then again, I’ve also seen stuff from the gay marriage side about what strategies should be used to challenge things like section 2 of the Defense of Marriage Act).

To me, there are just two very different ideas of marriage at play, and while there is often some overlap, fundamentally, the two concepts seem…do I want to say irreconcilable? Tim from LDS & Evangelical Conversations posted the following article from Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George: The Supreme Court, You and Me, and the Future of Marriage.

While part of the article (especially the opening and closing comments) read as a message to “rally the base” (and I bristled at some of the lines accordingly), for the most part, the article is an analysis of what the SCOTUS decisions mean (and what they don’t mean), the different foundations of marriage at play (they are labeled “conjugal marriage” vs “consent-based marriage”), and what supporters of conjugal marriage should do in the future.

I guess I’ll just quote one part (a part that while I certainly would frame very differently, can be reconciled with what I’ve said before):

Before same-sex anything was at stake, our society was already busy dismantling its own foundation, by innovations like no-fault divorce and by a thousand daily decisions to dishonor the norms of marriage that make it apt for family life. Atomization results from these forms of family breakdown—and from the superficially appealing idea that emotional closeness is all that sets marriage apart, which makes it gauche to seek true companionship and love in non-marital bonds. Part of rebuilding marriage will be responding to that atomization—reaching out to friends and neighbors suffering broken hearts or homes, or loneliness, whatever the cause. That, too, will make the conjugal view of marriage shine more brightly as a viable social option.

The thing is, where I disagree with Girgis, Anderson, and George is that I think that the analysis is a little incomplete. Marriage as being about emotional closeness between equals replaces marriage as being about property transfer, or marriage as being a way of moving women from under the protection of a father to the protection of a husband. (I’m not saying that most proponents of conjugal marriage would see things like that, but I do think that’s why many folks don’t find it appealing.) The shift in conceptions of marriage comes along with ideas that many people would not want to roll back — the economic (and social) independence afforded to women through increased educational opportunity and increased participation in the job market being just one.

I mean, really, many people like birth control. But when you like the idea of birth control and like the idea that children are certainly a nice-to-have in marriage but not their fulfillment, that kinda cuts again conjugal marriage.

Nevertheless, I recognize that policies that I find draconian and unacceptable really are very justifiable if one is going for that conjugal marriage ideal. I think that the conjugal marriage side will have its work cut out for them not only in convincing the general population, but in convincing many Christians who aren’t nearly as persuaded on these points (especially when most formulations of the argument simply aren’t as sophisticated as the conjugal marriage side is capable of being.)

I would like to close with an actual moment of lamentation I had on that last point. I thought to myself: how many people are “changing sides” not because they are convinced at all, but simply because they think that the cost-benefit analysis is such that it’s too costly to continue to fight for their beliefs? And that, perhaps to their last days, they may be deeply regretful of how events have unfolded?

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11 Comments
  1. Cylon permalink

    “I thought to myself: how many people are “changing sides” not because they are convinced at all, but simply because they think that the cost-benefit analysis is such that it’s too costly to continue to fight for their beliefs? And that, perhaps to their last days, they may be deeply regretful of how events have unfolded?”

    Many, undoubtedly. And yes, they will be regretful. How is this different from any other large-scale social change? There are always people who are not convinced, and will never be convinced by any combination of argument and emotional appeal. We still have die-hard racists as well as plenty of people who believe women are only fit to stay home and raise children. But when I think of the die-hard anti-marriage equality folks, I just look at the statistics that say 70% of Millennials support gay marriage. There will always be holdouts, but they have a rapidly diminishing window of time to be relevant to public policy.

  2. Cylon,

    I guess I find it sad for all the other large-scale social changes as well. At least, to the extent I do *not* find it sad, I recognize it is an empathetic failure on my part.

    • Cylon permalink

      Is it an empathetic failure to recognize that others are sad, understand why, and yet still feel happy for other reasons? I guess I just don’t see the point in lamenting things like that myself, since the upsides far outweigh the downsides in my opinion. And I’m pretty confident you agree with me on the good outweighing the bad, so I guess I don’t understand what you’re getting at with your last paragraph.

      • I definitely feel bittersweet in this situation, so if there weren’t at least some “bitter” with the “sweet,” I guess I would see that as missing something important.

        Maybe I’ll try to convey my thoughts by sharing a question I’ve been having for a long time: is it possible to truly *understand* a position without agreeing with it? (Why I sometimes think yes: it seems plausible that understanding a thing involves also knowing the subjective aspect of understanding it. If you’re familiar with arguments about qualia, then a good analogy for what I’m thinking is Dennett’s response to the “Mary the Color Scientist” argument.)

        When you put it like, “I don’t see the point in lamenting…” that kind of attitude would personally bother me (although, I guess if I were in the position of not seeing the point, I personally wouldn’t be bothered. this conversation is so meta.)

        In the end, I still feel my positions are “right”, so don’t get me wrong there. So, as you point out, I’m going to think that the upsides outweigh the downsides. But I guess the thing is…I can richly imagine a worldline where things were different, and the worldlines are close enough in nearly every other aspect that the other possibilities don’t seem farfetched or wholly unlikely, even though I don’t believe in them.

  3. First one quick note, the link for “the gathering storm” only opens YouTube, and does not go to a specific video

    Maybe it is just because I haven’t read their book, but I’m not sure from the two articles you linked to, what the three authors think the big difference, and social value of, “conjugal marriage” actually is. The only two I could tease out were, children having a male and female parent and children not being born outside the bonds of marriage. Are there other advantages they are claiming that somehow I missed?

    It seems that their other arguments are strange in their mental gymnastics. Again, the two that seem to be most clear are; first, that people who are part of same sex couples can still love together, have sex, and be soul mates, without the State/however meant needing to be involved because they can’t naturally have children. The second makes less sense to me, especially because it seems to be their rallying cry for everyone to make closer and emotionally intimate (sex or sexuality isn’t mentioned) bonds with people who are not marriage partners, so that those who don’t qualify for a marriage will still be deeply connected to other members of society. Honestly, I don’t understand what they mean, since they are clear that bigamy is not what they are talking about. Do they want married heterosexual partners to also create loving and close bonds with members of the same sex? (Seems like this could make more people aware that they are bisexual, especially if the closeness and intimacy is supposed to be an emotion replacement for not being married.) Is that close and intimate bond of friendship supposed to be with a member of the opposite sex? If so, and if it is to replace the single person being married; hello affairs, children born out of wedlock, etc.

    I have close heterosexual and homosexual friends of both genders. What we all share is that we are in loving, committed relationships, (marriage for some of us of both orientations) or we want/are looking for a loving, committed relationship. While some of these are relationships of long standing, none of us have decided our group of friends meet all of our needs, so there is no reason to look for a husband or wife, especially as we started hitting our late 20s.

    So, am I totally missing their point? The “talking past each other” you allude to early on in the post? It may be that the views are irreconcilable, but if these authors are in the front of the “I am sympathetic to gays but here is why they don’t need/shouldn’t be allowed to get married,” I’m afraid it may be that there needs to be better explanations.

    Maybe we need a translator? Honestly, I can’t understand what the harms are that the authors, or most Mormons who are staunch Prop 8 proponents (I have siblings that were in CA at the time and took their small children in strollers to hold signs on freeway overpasses, and am an active member of the Mormon church) that show my any proof that letting gay couples (many who are raising the biological children of at least one partner/spouse) being allowed to be civilly married.

  4. Julia,

    Since the youtube link works for me, I don’t know what’s up. But if you google or even search youtube for The Gathering Storm National Organization for Marriage (or some similar search term), you should find it. This was a very controversial ad when it first came out.

    I’ll respond more later, but I’ll point out that my understanding is based on internet articles, discussions, etc., — I also haven’t read the book.

    But I will put out that ldsphilosopher at Millennial Star has written a good post (with strong support of the conjugal side, so keep that in mind) on the difference. He uses the term “companionate” instead of “consent-based”, but other than that, it seems to be a basic statement of the differences: http://www.millennialstar.org/why-i-support-traditional-marriage/

    • Cylon permalink

      His argument is hamstrung because he refuses to talk about the validity of the research on same-sex parenting. Here is what I posted over there.

      [quoted from ldsphilosophers post] “And, finally, what about the fact that same-sex couples can sometimes adopt children? Well, I believe that children thrive best with a mother and a father, and I believe that we should encode a preference for that arrangement into civil law — even if it means that children in families with two moms and two dads do not have married parents. I simply do not think the state has the same interest in preserving a relationship between two dads or two moms that it has in preserving a relationship between a mother and a father. Again, this is because of my belief that children thrive when they have both a mother and a father available to them in the home. Many politically-biased research communities are trying to leverage the prestige of science to claim that the gender of parents simply does not matter, but this research is inconclusive at best, and at worst riddled with methodological problems and epistemological hubris. But that is a subject for another post. (In other words, comments about the validity of research and children in same-sex families will be deleted, since they will distract from the main point of this article.)”

      [my comment] But your entire argument stands or falls based on the accuracy of this premise! If same-sex couples can be just as effective at parenting as straight couples, then a same-sex marriage could fit quite nicely into either the conjugal or the companionate models. Sure, they require other methods for gaining children than just sexual intercourse within the relationship, but that applies to infertile couples as well, and you already explained how they can fit into the conjugal model. If same-sex couples are effective parents, then you don’t have a leg to stand on for denying them marriage even if children are the main impetus for marriage as an institution. Unless, of course, only children who live with both of their biological parents should be granted the societal protections of marriage.

      • Cylon,

        I agree that a lot of this can be solved empirically. I think that some of this points out, however, that our very definition of what would be good outcomes or bad outcomes is subjective. In other words, I’m guessing that what LDSPhilosopher considers “effective at parenting” might disagree with what you believe.

        (I mean, let’s use a more general example…some folks believe that if their kids leave the faith that they were raised in, that they were bad parents. But for me, I would not view this as indicative of my parenting nor of the child’s development.)

        I don’t think that your attempt to fit gay parents in the mix the same way that ldsphilosopher fits infertile parents into the mix would necessarily convince him…I mean, he’s making a different sort of audience there (that doesn’t work for gay parents.)

        Unless, of course, only children who live with both of their biological parents should be granted the societal protections of marriage.

        [if you noted one of my comments on the post, I pointed out that I was alarmed because ldsphilospher did seem to be privileging children being raised by their biological parents to the detriment of every other situation for a child to be reared in.]

  5. Julia,

    Took a lot longer than I thought to get back:

    The basic gist is that for supporters of conjugal marriage, the government really ultimately only has an interest in the well-being of children. Supporters of conjugal marriage point out that children only come about through heterosexual relationships, so the question is what will happen to them after they are born. The supporters of conjugal marriage use marriage as the social policy tool for the government and society to signal that men and women who have children together should stick together to raise those children — and that this is the ideal most worth supporting.

    As such, marriage isn’t about love between the adults. So, it doesn’t matter if the man and woman are in love or out of love — rather, because their union can produce children, they should stick together to raise those children no matter what (that’s why supporters of conjugal marriage also tend to find divorce suspect.)

    As a supporting/related/secondary point, supporters of conjugal marriage typically argue that since heterosexual unions are the only unions that produce children, those should be privileged especially. This is why, depending on the person you talk to, non-procreative forms of sex may also be viewed as suspect — because those aren’t the kinds of activities that could even possibly result in children.

    So, to answer one of your points:

    The second makes less sense to me, especially because it seems to be their rallying cry for everyone to make closer and emotionally intimate (sex or sexuality isn’t mentioned) bonds with people who are not marriage partners, so that those who don’t qualify for a marriage will still be deeply connected to other members of society. Honestly, I don’t understand what they mean, since they are clear that bigamy is not what they are talking about. Do they want married heterosexual partners to also create loving and close bonds with members of the same sex? (Seems like this could make more people aware that they are bisexual, especially if the closeness and intimacy is supposed to be an emotion replacement for not being married.)

    One thing that I see from a lot of folks advocating for conjugal marriage is the idea that, because of the supporting/related/secondary point I raised above, they often think that society in general has an improper understanding of sexuality. In some conjugal worldviews, sexuality is reserved for the married, heterosexual unions open to having children. In this case, to speak of sexuality in other contexts is inappropriate.

    So, I guess that when they talk about everyone making closer and emotionally intimate bonds with people who aren’t marriage partners, they aren’t suggesting a more open sexuality or more sexual relationships. Rather, they would probably be making the (contentious) claim that people escalate a lot of emotional bond things to marriage that can/could/should be in really good friendships. Depending on the person you talked to, I guess there would be variances on whether sexuality would be advised or not. (e.g., a more religious viewpoint of conjugal marriage would probably be that sexuality shouldn’t be a part of any non-procreative, non-marital relationship. but a less religious viewpoint might simply be that sure, you can have sexuality and emotional intimacy, but those things alone do not make a marriage.)

    However, as you raise here:

    Is that close and intimate bond of friendship supposed to be with a member of the opposite sex? If so, and if it is to replace the single person being married; hello affairs, children born out of wedlock, etc.

    I think that for sex that has the possibility for procreation, there would be a strong emphasis on reserving that within marriage.

    I have close heterosexual and homosexual friends of both genders. What we all share is that we are in loving, committed relationships, (marriage for some of us of both orientations) or we want/are looking for a loving, committed relationship. While some of these are relationships of long standing, none of us have decided our group of friends meet all of our needs, so there is no reason to look for a husband or wife, especially as we started hitting our late 20s.

    To answer your question of whether you are missing the point, I would point out that the language you use here is “loving, committed relationships.” This is precisely the difference — the conjugal advocate isn’t focused on whether a relationship is loving or committed, but whether it’s open to the bearing of children.

    Honestly, I can’t understand what the harms are that the authors, or most Mormons who are staunch Prop 8 proponents (I have siblings that were in CA at the time and took their small children in strollers to hold signs on freeway overpasses, and am an active member of the Mormon church) that show my any proof that letting gay couples (many who are raising the biological children of at least one partner/spouse) being allowed to be civilly married.

    If one views marriage as being the social/legal framework to incentive childbearing (and incentive that the biological parents stick together), then the issue is that privileging other arrangements (e.g., marriage for “loving, committed relationships”) doesn’t focus on the kids.

    Gay marriage isn’t the start of this, but it’s certainly a symptom.

  6. I thought to myself: how many people are “changing sides” not because they are convinced at all, but simply because they think that the cost-benefit analysis is such that it’s too costly to continue to fight for their beliefs?

    An “economic” feeling is probably behind the Church’s snarky response to the rulings, as well as Orson Scott Card’s feigned indifference to the boycott of his upcoming Ender’s Game movie. The economics of gay marriage — “it’s good for business” — are also why many Republicans are jumping on board, saying things like “I personally believe marriage is b/w a man and woman, BUT…”

    RE those still against it: It’s not just that people die with a death-grip on their beliefs, but evangelicals have successfully made it patriotic to disagree with what all three branches of our “representative” government do. No doubt gay marriage will create a divide like abortion, no matter how slowly the Court implements it for the whole country. Mormons are a little different, as one can tell from Card’s statement (one can almost read the 12th Article of Faith in his words): basically, “the battle is over, the law is the law.” How the Church will react to gay marriage (and gay kinship) once it’s the national law of the land is yet to be seen, but those who are kids today will be the Church leaders then, while the leaders today will probably die with a death-grip on their beliefs — leaving a theological mess for future generations to clean up.

  7. ninelegyak,

    So sorry I didn’t see your comment got caught in spam until just now.

    The OSC response to Ender’s Game backlash is particularly interesting.

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