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Mar 14 2014

On Equality, the Personal IS the Political

Andrew Sullivan, who has been pushing for marriage equality for 25 years now, long before it was even a minor issue politically, has been having an exchange with Rod Dreher, one of the most reasonable conservatives in the country, over that issue. Sully explains why he thinks Dreher may feel so aggrieved by the whole thing:

Simply put: it’s extremely hard to oppose marriage equality when you know someone who is gay. It requires you to hold a position that clearly treats the human being in front of you as inferior – or at least it sure can feel that way. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a reasoned, theological argument that gays should be denied equal treatment under the law. It simply means that even if you hold that principled position, you will increasingly feel like an isolated asshole with gay friends, family members and colleagues. And few actively want to be an asshole. I think that’s in part what fuels Rod Dreher’s passion. He’s a decent guy, and it anguishes him to think others will think he isn’t. He’s a humane person who nonetheless has to come off as inhumane to almost any gay person and many straight ones.

But when people resolve the struggle between theory and the human person – and it’s only resolved by embracing the whole person, including her sexual orientation – the denial of equality can seem increasingly outrageous. No straight person would ever acquiesce to the idea that he or she does not have a right to marry. Such a denial seems redolent only of slavery’s evil treatment of African-Americans. And who can really demand that another human being never experience love, commitment and intimacy? And so, over time, the country is sorting itself into two camps: most everyone in one camp, and older, white evangelicals – who have often never met a gay person – in the other.

I think this is exactly right. It explains why we see widespread acceptance of equality among younger people, who are far more likely to actually know a gay person than their parents and grandparents. And it’s true for me personally as well. Given my political and philosophical beliefs I would surely be in favor of equality even if I didn’t know any gay people, but I almost certainly would not feel so passionately about it if I didn’t see how bigotry and discrimination affect real people that I care about deeply. It’s never been an abstract issue for me and that is a nearly automatic consequence of knowing and caring about people. I can’t them as Them because they are me and we are us, if that makes sense.

And I think Sully is right that this is one reason why we’re hearing so much outrage from the opponents of equality over what they think is the unfair implication that if they don’t support same-sex marriage then they must be bigots. No one ever wants to see themselves as a bad person. We expend a great deal of mental energy convincing ourselves that we’re good people, even when we know we’ve done, or are doing, something bad. The kind of cognitive dissonance he speaks about is universal and the ways we make it go away — self-justification and rationalization — are as well.

16 comments

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  1. 1
    cjcolucci

    Just to pick a minor nit, I don’t think we’re more likely to know gay people than our parents were; we’re more likely to know we know gay people than our parents were.

  2. 2
    matty1

    This may also explain why opponents of equality tend to equate being gay with gay sex. They are trying to persuade everyone including themselves that they aren’t against people just particular actions.

  3. 3
    left0ver1under

    And I think Sully is right that this is one reason why we’re hearing so much outrage from the opponents of equality over what they think is the unfair implication that if they don’t support same-sex marriage then they must be bigots. No one ever wants to see themselves as a bad person.

    I can only partially agree.

    When most people realize they’re not going to get their way in a discussion, decision or debate, they stop arguing (anything from what’s-for-dinner to politicians winning election) because they want to continue to get along with other people. They accept the fact they have to live with the situation, and they make the best of it in the meantime.

    Many of those spewing anti-gay rhetoric, on the other hand, are also the same types spewing rhetoric intended to incite assassination attempts (e.g. “Obama is the anti-christ!”). Sometimes it seems as much a problem of immaturity as bigotry, the argument of a two year old child (“If I can’t have it, you won’t have it either!”) who throws tantrums when asking didn’t work, destroying things to avoid having to share.

  4. 4
    Crimson Clupeidae

    This doesn’t mean there isn’t a reasoned, theological argument that gays should be denied equal treatment under the law. It simply means that even if you hold that principled position[.]

    I have to quibble with this.

    First, being “sound” theologically (if that’s even possible) does not mean that it is sound logically, or constitutionally in the US. There’s this little thing called the first amendment to the constitution, and lots of case law to support it.

    Secondly, it’s not a principled position, unless he also wants to acknowledge that the KKK and similar organizations were arguing from a principled position just because it could be supported theologically.

  5. 5
    naturalcynic

    Don’t let older black evangelicals off the hook

  6. 6
    Synfandel

    …and older, white evangelicals – who have often never met a gay person – in the other.

    They’ve all met gay people. They just didn’t know that these people were gay. That’s why coming out, as difficult and potentially costly as it may be for the individual, is a powerful act for social change. When you become aware of the gay individuals in your own life, it transforms your perspective.

  7. 7
    freehand

    Drug users are bad, so I don’t do drugs. I just smoke cigarettes, drink coffee, and sometimes the occasional beer.
    .
    I hate big government. We really do need a law to protect this particular American business, however.
    .
    I’m not bigoted at all. But why do they have to flaunt it like that?

  8. 8
    Sastra

    This doesn’t mean there isn’t a reasoned, theological argument that gays should be denied equal treatment under the law.

    Exactly. There most certainly is a reasoned, theological argument that gays should be denied equal treatment under the law, one which stands on principle and scripture.

    That doesn’t mean that there’s a good argument, or even a reasonable one. Instead, it indicates a very serious problem with theological arguments.

    You can support damn near anything with theological reasoning and still hold your pinky out delicately as you thoughtfully sip your tea. “Um, yes … the torture of damnation must indeed be eternal… will that be one lump or two?”

  9. 9
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    @Left0ver1under:

    Many of those spewing anti-gay rhetoric, on the other hand, are also the same types spewing rhetoric intended to incite assassination attempts (e.g. “Obama is the anti-christ!”). Sometimes it seems as much a problem of immaturity as bigotry, the argument of a two year old child (“If I can’t have it, you won’t have it either!”) who throws tantrums when asking didn’t work, destroying things to avoid having to share.

    If I can’t have my way, I’ll issue death threats. This is immaturity? The argument of a two year old child?

    No. This is the argument of a violently abusive parent – usually a father – bent on murder-suicide.

    You don’t deserve these kids. You’ll destroy them with your evil ways. If the court gives you these kids, I’ll kill you before I let you have them.

    That’s the argument that they are making.

  10. 10
    hunter

    “This doesn’t mean there isn’t a reasoned, theological argument that gays should be denied equal treatment under the law.”

    This is one of Sullivan’s blind spots — he just doesn’t seem to get that theological arguments are irrelevant to the law, at least in this country, In fact, in the context of American law, there isn’t a theological argument, reasoned or otherwise, that gays should be denied equal treatment under the law.

  11. 11
    uncephalized

    @9

    “No. This is the argument of a violently abusive parent – usually a father – bent on murder-suicide.”

    Needless smear on men noted. Otherwise, solid post, and I largely agree.

  12. 12
    Michael Heath

    Ed writes:

    [Andrew Sullivan . . .] has been having an exchange with Rod Dreher, one of the most reasonable conservatives in the country . . .

    Perhaps this is true from relative perspective. But Rod Dreher is not reasonable; he depends on logical and rhetorical fallacies to make his illiberal arguments.

    And for those reasonable people who’ve engaged Mr. Dreher and pointed out his many fallacies, they’re fully aware he ignores, avoids, or misrepresents those rebuttals that point this out. He’s merely a low-rent Kathleen Parker.

  13. 13
    colnago80

    Re #12

    Kathleen Parker, even though she is often wrong, is at least worth reading as she is usually a reasonable Conservative, at least compared to the Drehers and the Douthats of the world. Admittedly, that’s a low bar.

  14. 14
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    “No. This is the argument of a violently abusive parent – usually a father – bent on murder-suicide.”

    Needless smear on men noted. Otherwise, solid post, and I largely agree.

    How is it a smear? I believe the evidence that men commit the majority of this kind of overt, physical abuse is pretty clear, and it looks for all the world like a sentence that was originally typed as a “a violently abusive father” and then the author thought about it and retyped it in a way that’s factually correct and inclusive, which I appreciate.

    And they say feminists “go looking for things to be offended by”…

  15. 15
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Perhaps this is true from relative perspective. But Rod Dreher is not reasonable; he depends on logical and rhetorical fallacies to make his illiberal arguments.

    He depends on logical and rhetorical fallacies instead of pounding and/or chewing on the table. That makes him “one of the most reasonable conservatives.” It’s like being “one of the pointiest coconuts.”

  16. 16
    DaveL

    This doesn’t mean there isn’t a reasoned, theological argument that gays should be denied equal treatment under the law.

    Well, of course that isn’t the reason no such argument exists, since such a thing is already contradictory in a secular democracy. There can never be such a thing, in a nation with religious freedom, as a theological argument (whether reasoned or unreasoned) to deny someone equal treatment under the law.

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