Jonathan Rauch, one of the most consistently reasonable voices in the debate over same-sex marriage, has a column in The Atlantic arguing that we should actually be happy about the most extreme anti-gay voices. At the least, we should recognize that they play a role in advancing equality.
Generational replacement doesn’t explain why people in all age groups, even the elderly, have grown more gay-friendly. Gay people have been coming out for years, but that has been a gradual process, while recent changes in public attitude have been dizzyingly fast. Something else, I believe, was decisive: we won in the realm of ideas. And our antagonists—people who spouted speech we believed was deeply offensive, from Anita Bryant to Jerry Falwell to, yes, Orson Scott Card—helped us win…
History shows that the more open the intellectual environment, the better minorities will do. We learn empirically that women are as intelligent and capable as men; this knowledge strengthens the moral claims of gender equality. We learn from social experience that laws permitting religious pluralism make societies more governable; this knowledge strengthens the moral claims of religious liberty. We learn from critical argument that the notion that some races are fit to be enslaved by others is impossible to defend without recourse to hypocrisy and mendacity; this knowledge strengthens the moral claims of inherent human dignity. To make social learning possible, we need to criticize our adversaries, of course. But no less do we need them to criticize us.
All of which brings me back to Orson Scott Card. Some of the things he has said are execrable. He wrote in 2004 that when gay marriage is allowed, “society will bend all its efforts to seize upon any hint of homosexuality in our young people and encourage it.” That was not quite a flat reiteration of the ancient lie that homosexuals seduce and recruit children—the homophobic equivalent of the anti-Semitic blood libel—but it is about as close as anyone dares to come today.
Fortunately, Card’s claim is false. Better still, it is preposterous. Most fair-minded people who read his screeds will see that they are not proper arguments at all, but merely ill-tempered reflexes. When Card puts his stuff out there, he makes us look good by comparison. The more he talks, and the more we talk, the better we sound.
I think he has a point. The more the bigots scream about how same-sex marriage will destroy the institution of marriage, will lead to the “collapse of the family” and the end of America or even civilization itself, and the more time goes by with none of those things happening, the more ridiculous they look. 14 states now have marriage equality, as do many countries around the world, and none of those dystopic predictions have come true.
I’ve said before that I think the reason we’ve seen such a massive shift in public opinion on this issue in such a relatively short period of time is because most of the people who initially opposed it did so not because they have some deep hatred of gay people but because it just seemed like such a radical change to them. Their opposition to equality was a soft form of bigotry, not a hard one. And as time goes by, the change seems less radical. People start to get used to the idea, especially as more and more states adopt it. And once public opinion shifts enough, a tipping point occurs.
And I think Rauch is right, that at least part of the dynamic driving the shift in public opinion is the utter absurdity of the anti-equality activists. So let us say thank you to Brian Brown, Maggie Gallagher, Bryan Fischer, Alan Keyes, Joseph Farah, Scott Lively and all the other bigots who have unwittingly helped the cause of equality.