As with so much of the content over at the New Republic, I have a love-hate relationship with Jonathan Chait. He’s a liberal hawk in the AIPAC mold, which inevitably means I disagree with him about a few important foreign policy issues (that goes for you too, Marty Peretz) but for the most part, he’s a great person to have rebutting silly Republican arguments. Today he has a new piece up on the site detailing the inherent irrationality in the arguments made against gay marriage:
The anti-gay-marriage soundbite. . . makes no attempt at persuasion. It’s like saying you oppose the Bush tax cuts because “I believe the top tax rate should be 39.6 percent.” You believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman? Okay! But why?
The ubiquity of this hollow formulation tells us something about the state of anti-gay-marriage thought. It’s a body of opinion held largely by people who either don’t know why they oppose gay marriage or don’t feel comfortable explicating their case.
Likewise, marriage proponents might worry about anything that expands childbearing to the non-married, but they have no reason to fear expanding marriage to the non-childbearing. This is why approximately zero people in the history of the human race have ever expressed concern about allowing old or otherwise infertile heterosexuals to marry, even though they account for a far larger percentage of marriages than gays ever could.
The most striking thing about anti-gay-marriage arguments is that they dwell exclusively on how heterosexuals would be affected. Heather Mac Donald of the conservative Manhattan Institute writes, “I fear that it will be harder than usual to persuade black men of the obligation to marry the mother of their children if the inevitable media saturation coverage associates marriage with homosexuals.”
I suppose you could imagine, somewhere, a black man telling his friends he’s going to propose to his pregnant girlfriend, only to be taunted, “Marriage? That’s so gay,” and think better of it. I don’t find this very likely. Neither does Mac Donald, actually. “[I]f someone can persuade me that the chances are zero, then I would be much more sanguine,” she writes. “But anything more than zero, I am reluctant to risk.”
This is the One Percent Doctrine of social policy.
Sorry to quote Chait at length, but he enumerates the idea better than I can. He essentially concludes that the reason people are “opposed” to gay marriage (at least those who aren’t explicity, religiously or otherwise, anti-gay) is because it’s not something they’re used to. They heard about gay marriage at a time when the idea was sort of radical, and need some time to adjust to the idea that the notion itself isn’t at all radical. That’s why young people today don’t feel the same way about gay marriage as older generations — I myself can’t really think of a time when gay marriage wasn’t on the table.
I remember Vermont legalizing gay civil unions, my first gay friend coming out to me when I was thirteen (so liberal, I know) — the idea that two men should be able to get married is so unoffensive to me because it’s been a part of my consciousness.