An interesting post on SSM, interesting mostly in that it made something clear to me which I had otherwise not noticed: the debate over same-sex marriage is framed here, and in many similar arguments, as a question of religion, nature, law, culture, or war. What it is not framed as is a question of politics.

The absence of politics is strange, as is the emphasis on principles which can never anywhere be violated. The post is admirable in its commitment to the idea that both sides of the SSM debate are standing on principle and unwilling to compromise. Where it goes off the rails is the suggestion that the unwillingness to compromise is necessary and fundamental:

"The truth about something as important as marriage cannot be the price we pay to live with each other."

The statement is unconvincing because it does not mean what it might obviously be taken to mean: if compromise on marriage is the price we'd pay to live together, and it's not worth paying that price, we should not live together. In addition to being unconvincing, it's opposed to all the basic understandings of how to live in a modern polity. Rawls argues, to my mind correctly, in the introduction to Political Liberalism that the modern political project is launched as a response to the problem of plurality: how do we get people who don't agree on many things to live together? We find deeper, more fundamental principles on which they can agree (these are usually procedural or regulative principles) and build a society that focuses on those. The view expressed in the post is claiming that even a modus vivendi is impossible.

Except, so far as I can tell, that's not the claim: the suggestion is not that the United States should be dissolved, and each side allowed to regroup and found whatever marriage laws it likes. The claim is that, because compromise is impossible, my side should win an absolute victory. It encourages a rhetoric of threatening to take one's ball home unless one gets the ruling one wants; and this seems to me to be antithetical to any vision of pluralist politics, much less liberal or democratic norms. Even the classic examples of people who 'refused to compromise' were flexible on a number of political and policy expressions of their inflexible beliefs: the legislative and institutional histories of abolitionism and the civil rights movement demonstrate this well enough. I myself incline to a Blankenhorn-ish view of the underlying policy questions, in part because I think he understands the politics involved quite well. And, to be clear: the willingness to engage in politics is not compromise, or surrender, or attempting to curry the favor of powerful people in DC or elsewhere: it's choosing to engage in the most basic of obligations of a citizen.

(One of the odd features of conservative commentary on SSM that has been pushing things away from politics is the rise of the 'religious liberty' argument. The right or liberty in question is usually taken to be absolute, to function as a trump, and so to make any attempt to arrange trade-offs involving that right to be impermissible. Except, in my experience of dealing with human rights, there are almost no rights that are conceived of as being immune to trade-offs in all circumstances. The fact that the liberty exists doesn't tell us anything about whether a trade-off is acceptable in a particular case.)

(Also, given how much paragraph 3 of Article 16 of the Universal Declaration: "The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State," is quoted these days, it might be worth looking over the original meaning and legislative intent of the framers, especially with reference to paragraph 1, "Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution," which was intended to extend marriage rights to the maximum set of people possible, and put as few conditions on marriage as possible. Obviously, no one particularly had SSM in mind, but as study will show, the clause was intended to have the broadest possible meaning, a fact not lost on Saudi Arabia, who abstained from the final vote on the UDHR specifically because they were aware of this intended broadness.)

1 comment:

rosebriar said...

I said, "Yes! Exactly!" out loud, repeatedly, while reading this post.