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