Douthat Responds to Sullivan on Gay Marriage



Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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19 Responses

  1. I’m not convinced. This whole debate seems completely incoherent to me. Shouldn’t people be allowed to do what they want so long as they don’t harm others?

    Also, if you look at the origins of marriage as governmental province, it’s not so blithe as Douthat pretends it to be. The legal basis of marriage was the clear establishment of estate laws, i.e. who gets what once I’m dead codified to ensure there’d be no blood feuds. It’s anything but sacred.Report

  2. Avatar Kyle says:

    “But this is what conservatism is, in the end: The belief that there’s more to a flourishing society than just the claims of autonomous individuals, the conviction that existing prohibitions and taboos may have a purpose that escapes the liberal mind, the sense that cultural ideals can be as important to human affairs as constitutional rights. Marriage is the kind of institution that the conservative mind is supposed to treasure and defend: Complicated and mysterious; legal and cultural; political and pre-political; ancient and modern; half-evolved and half-created. And given its steady decline across the last few decades, it would be a poor conservatism that did not worry at the blithe confidence with which we’re about to redefine it.”

    “gay marriage killed the dinosaurs.”

    Compare and contrast.

    That said it’s a well-crafted conservative response.Report

  3. Avatar Trumwill says:

    Sullivan walked right into this one.

    One of the inconvenient factors for the pro-gay marriage crowd (of which I am a part) is that a lot of our number simply don’t have nearly as much sentimental reverence for the institution of marriage as the other side. When you hear someone making the argument that we should not consider a marriage a failure if it ends in divorce, the argument that indefinite cohabitation is just as respectable as marriage, and so on… it is harder for us to be taken seriously when we say that we want gays to be allowed to marry to strengthen the institution. It’s easier for the other side to paint it as “to hell with the institution, we should get to do what we want” which isn’t a winner.

    That being said, it’s a debate that I do believe we will firmly win over time.Report

  4. Avatar Katherine says:

    It’s an interesting editorial, certainly. The strongest part of it is his argument that marriage will be weakened if a substantial number of gay people opt for “open” married relationships (ie, accepting adultery), particularly as he quotes Sullivan saying that’s likely to happen.

    The first time I really understood why some people are so strongly opposed to same-sex marriage was reading a book on the history of AIDS – it tracked part of the spread through individuals and all the mentions of “and so-and-so had sex with about 200 people in 10 different countries in one year, and this other person had sex with 150 people…” made me see where people were coming from when they said gay people didn’t have generally commit. I have a sense – though I don’t know if it’s correct – that gay culture has changed somewhat since the ’80s and that long-ish term exclusive relationships have become more common among gay people (or gay men, I should say), but I can certainly understand why people from the older generation would still see things as being the way they were decades ago, and so see promiscuity as something inherent to homosexuality.Report

    • Avatar JosephFM says:


      The other thing is, is that that kind of promiscuity was never anywhere near the exclusive province of homosexual men, and still isn’t. I actually think Sullivan is closer to the mark on hetero marriage than Douthat is. But I also think Andrew is engaging in some questionable gender stereotyping there. I’m actually a bit offended by his insinuations that young men are incapable of fidelity, and I think it was a really weird position for him to take. I mean heck, I’ve been in an entirely monogamous heterosexual relationship for three years now…and I’m not exclusively heterosexual.Report

      • Avatar Katherine says:

        I don’t think Sullivan’s right about how common or accepted cheating is in heterosexual marriages, but I agree with you on the stereotyping. I’m sick of the claim that men aren’t capable of fidelity, whether it’s men saying “we have no self-control” or women saying “men have no self-control.” (Similar things are said about teenagers being unable to control themselves and, having been a teenager, I know that’s not true.) It’s insulting to men; it’s untrue, judging from the men I know; and it’s an excuse for bad behaviour.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      @Katherine, I think this issue is why I avoid jumping into this discussion very often- I’m fully aware that Douthat is right and the vast majority of Americans don’t think couples like me and my wife are “really” married. So what I have to say about gay marriage is easy to discount for a lot of people. I will say that our openly adulterous marriage had very little to do with what we personally felt capable of in terms of controlling our own behavior and a lot to do with what we felt comfortable requiring from each other. It might be because we were friends with independent sex lives for so long before dating and marrying, but neither of us felt any desire to ask for fidelity from the other, and so we never did. If either of us wanted to be monogamous, I think it would be easy- hell most of the time we are by default- but frankly our marriage is already very strong, even if we do violate the law of Leviticus.Report

  5. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    It’s standard Douthat —

    1. He has a story about how marriage should work.
    2. It wasn’t universally true in the past.
    3. It’s certainly not universally true today.
    4. The reasons it’s not universally true
    A. have nothing to do with the issue being discussed.
    B. Aren’t changing any time soon.
    5. Nonetheless, he’s willing to sacrifice the rights of people who are unlike him towards the fulfillment of his story.

    Do a little editing, and you have his column on why freedom of religion doesn’t really apply to Muslims .Report

  6. Avatar Rufus says:

    Call me crazy, but I generally enjoy Douthat. I don’t always agree with him. Actually, I don’t remember ever agreeing entirely with him, but at least I have a good sense of why he believes what he does.

    Here I think he’s right that the institution of marriage is a pillar of society and that Americans have become fairly blithe towards that institution. When my wife and I were engaged for a year and a half, I heard plenty of heterosexual Americans (and Canadians of course) tell me “Well, don’t worry- if it doesn’t work, you can just get divorced!” The problem, of course, is that no marriage “works” all the time. Sometimes it really sucks to be married and you have to plow through and communicate and work your ass off to make it work. But it’s worth it.

    Anyway, I think the general argument is that, given the blitheness towards marriage, we shouldn’t be glib about making another change to the institution. I hear that. I don’t think we should be glib about it either, but gay marriage is already the law in several places and it also seems unfair to hold same-sex marriage responsible for the staggering divorce rate. Correlation is not causality, etc.

    I’ll be honest, it’s generally hard for me to hear the anti-gay-marriage argument as anything but “If just anyone can join the country club what’s the point of going there?” But Douthat, even though I disagree with him, makes me think that’s an unfair reading on my part, and in some sense broadens my thinking. So good for him.Report

    • Avatar Trumwill says:

      @Rufus, very well put. Particularly that second paragraph. To me, the barriers to exit are one of the reasons that marriage is important. In a land where divorce is easy as pie and an ever-present option rather than a last resort is a land where I am less likely to get married in the first place. For marriage to mean anything, there has to be an assumption of permenance. That’s not something everyone is going to live up to, but I am really troubled by this notion of “starter marriages” and I think our cause for marriage equality is undermined when we seek to define marriage down in other, more tangible, ways. It merely proves the point that a lot of us don’t take marriage all that seriously and therefore they shouldn’t trust our opinion as to what will or will not pose a threat to it.Report

  7. Avatar Lee says:

    If people were really interested in “strengthening marriage” rather than stigmatizing gay people, there are a bunch of policy prescriptions they could make that would do that directly (universal paid parental leave springs to mind). The circuitous route they take from being “pro-marriage” to anti-gay marriage displays a skewed set of priorities.Report

  8. Avatar North says:

    I go to Canada for a week and all the league jumps feet first into SSM. Just my luck.
    Douthats whole tract is just the standard conservative objection to any change; there might be negative side effects, better not to change anything lest the sky fall, cats live with dogs and down become up.
    That none of his dire predictions have bourn fruit in the increasing numbers of regions and countries that allow gay couples to marry seems not to register to him. Frankly I find it discouraging that all he has on the subject is a more honestly written Maggie Gallagher knock-off with the knee slapping “Christians will be persecuted” parts cut off.Report