Amanda Marcotte’s article on the opposition to marriage equality is very good. It’s always been strange to hear their arguments — I couldn’t believe they were so stupid to think that seeing gay men getting married would destroy heterosexual marriages. And they’re not! They’re just afraid to come right out and say what really frightens them.
This argument, that same-sex marriage somehow undermines “traditional” marriage, never really made sense to many Americans, for good reason. Since conservatives would rarely define what they meant by “traditional”—saying that it’s about a man and a woman and declining to elaborate beyond that—it ended up sounding like they were saying that if gay people were allowed to marry, then straight people would all get divorced or something. This makes conservatives sound like idiots and ended up backfiring on them, helping many fence-sitters to figure if that’s the best they’ve got, then they must have nothing.
In reality, however, there was a subterranean argument that actually is logical and makes perfect sense. It was never just about man-woman marriages. The tradition that is disappearing is the belief that marriage is a duty, especially for women. As Douthat argues, Americans are rejecting “the old rules, its own hopes of joy and happiness to chase.”
It also becomes obvious why they don’t come right out and say what they mean.
In this sense, Douthat isn’t wrong that “support for same-sex marriage and the decline of straight marital norms exist in a kind of feedback loop.” To accept same-sex marriage is to accept this modern idea that marriage is about love and partnership, instead of about dutiful procreation and female submission. Traditional gender roles where husbands rule over wives are disintegrating and that process is definitely helped along by these new laws allowing that marriage doesn’t have to be a gendered institution at all.
Even they are smart enough to realize that admitting what makes them queasy, that the modern ideal of marriage is about equal partnership rather than a hierarchal master/servant relationship, is objectionable. And to give them a little credit, I think the more enlightened of them are also queasy about rejecting that modern ideal. They may have genuine love for their spouses, and aren’t about to deny that, but at the same time they want that relationship to be about making children and cleaning house. And that’s why all their words about marriage look like vomit on the page, because the whole subject leaves them nauseous with no good solution, for them.