Ross Douthat's column this morning reads like a column from someone whose religious and cultural views lead them to oppose marriage equality but can't think of a very good reason for the state to prevent recognition of same-sex marriages. Douthat focuses more on relationships as a whole and not just marriage, noting that marriage as we understand it is hardly an evolutionary imperative, human relationships have evolved with society, and there's something unique and special about two people deciding to love each other for the rest of their lives. In that sense, his reasoning is somewhat similar to that of Judge Vaughn Walker, who overturned the results of California's referendum outlawing same-sex marriage last week.
But if Douthat seems to make an argument similar to Walker's, he actually comes to the opposite conclusion -- that such a commitment between heterosexuals is actually more meaningful and important and that it's only given our depraved modern-day social arrangements that society has no business discriminating against gays and lesbians. But in some sense, he'd like us to continue to do so:
But if we just accept this shift, we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.
But based on Judge Walker’s logic — which suggests that any such distinction is bigoted and un-American — I don’t think a society that declares gay marriage to be a fundamental right will be capable of even entertaining this idea.
I find it very strange to think that gays and lesbians should have to shoulder the burden of preserving "one of the great ideas of Western civilization," by which we ultimately just mean civil marriage exclusive to heterosexuals, by being denied equal recognition of their emotional commitments by the state. Every marriage on earth is "distinct" in its "challenges and potential fruit," its unclear to me why those facing gays and lesbians provoke a government interest in preventing their marriages from happening. Whatever distinction Douthat thinks needs to be made can be made within the religious traditions that reflect his views, without enforcement by the state, which is I think what "public acknowledgment" means above.
I've seen other conservatives take offense to the notion that opposition to marriage rights for gays and lesbians is prejudice. Normally the argument takes two forms -- that so many people hold this view, our current president for example, that it cannot possibly be prejudice. That strikes me as a non sequitur. This country used to trade human beings for property because they were black, and for centuries a minority found this objectionable. Prejudice does not cease to be prejudice because it is widely held. One can belong to a religious tradition that does not recognize same-sex unions, but there is a distinction between that and demanding state prohibition of same-sex marriages based on your religious beliefs.
The second response isn't so much an argument as it is umbrage at the very idea that opposing equal rights for gays and lesbians is prejudice. Douthat ends a thoughtful column with anger at the idea that the likely outcome of the battle over marriage equality is one in which marriages between gays and lesbians are recognized by the state. Douthat doesn't think that the society of such a future can "even entertain" the idea that a straight marriage is "different" and somehow better because it is straight. Someone once said that to the privileged, equal treatment feels like discrimination. It seems odd to me that in a country where millions of people are prevented from having their emotional commitments to one another recognized by the state and are thus denied all the legal privileges that come with such recognition, the final note in Douthat's column would be one of pity for those people whose straight marriages will someday have to coexist with the unions of gays and lesbians.