The US Congress recently introduced a bill that would require the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages. It is speciously called the “Respect for Marriage Act”. Sadly, respect either way is not on the table, and the point of contention is over what constitutes a marriage or not.
It passed the House with the support of 47 Republicans, which includes some predictable votes, like those from purple districts in NY and PA, as well as some inexcusable ones, like those from conservative western Michigan, or 3/4 of the congressional delegation of Utah.
It’s not 2005 anymore
There are a lot of angles to this discussion, but the worst is the way that the public policy debate is proceeding as though this were 2005.
“No government should tell us who we can love and who we can marry,” wrote one blue-check Twitter account with nearly a million followers. A Democratic lawmaker in Nebraska’s legislature posted: “As the mother of a gay son, I have three comments: Mind your own business. Love is love. Vote for equality in November.” One Tweet that’s gathered more than 50K likes reads, “If you don’t believe in gay marriage, don’t marry someone who’s the same sex.” Even one of the US Senators from Alabama spoke to this same effect.
Then there’s the gay Secretary for Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, who was peddling this emotional misdirection:
I don’t understand how such a majority of House Republicans voted no on our marriage as recently as Tuesday — hours after I was in a room with a lot of them talking about transportation policy …
All of this is beside the point.
For all of the argument-free heat about how “it’s 2022”, (see, once again, Secretary Buttigieg), I have a response: It’s not 2005 anymore. In 2005, the (mostly-cultural, somewhat-legislative) question was whether gay people should stop being stigmatized and should be left in peace to live together and do as they please. Americans came down in favour of tolerance and moved on.
By now, gay marriage has been a legal reality in America for several years. Today’s policy contest is less an issue of leaving people alone. Rather it is the question of whether people who believe that marriage is what our law held it to be for hundreds of years, have any right to retain their beliefs or to live them out in public life.
People, either through cynical falsehood or scornful naivete, had derided the fear that the debate would even come to this. They falsely labelled such fears as instances of the “slippery slope” fallacy. Yet, not even one decade after the Supreme Court answered the question of marriage policy for our democracy, and pronounced the gay marriage side the legal and moral victor, the public education system is boiling over with controversy about the presence of sexual content and values transmission emerging in every age bracket.
Private, silently held beliefs are enough to make a person ‘othered’
One textbook used to train teachers, published by Harvard Education Press, is Safe Is Not Enough: Better Schools for LGBTQ Students (Youth Development and Education Series). This guidebook for “integrating LGBTQ issues in the classroom” (and much more) was deemed “as useful as it is essential” by the School Library Journal. One Amazon-verified reviewer based in Baltimore commented, “I had bought this book for a book report that I was required to do in order to pass an internship within the city schools in my city.”
It was a direct and short path from the American government approving same-sex marriages to taxpayer-funded education actively promoting this lifestyle to young children. What legal arrangements the government should offer to adults is a different policy question from what values it is going to inculcate in children. At least prior to the changes in law, many Americans supported legal same-sex marriage while believing it wrong as a question of morality (and therefore, we can only infer, not suitable to teach to children).
I’m highlighting that one specific example because there is a tendency among some agenda-driven firebrands to baldly deny the existence of any such instruction and to challenge people to identify specific instances from memory. This works like the late-night trick of confronting a stranger on the sidewalk and asking them to “name a woman”, whereupon their mind goes blank. For that reason, I thought it worthwhile to provide the reader with one specific example, though there are of course many others.
At the end of the day this was foreseeable. Political philosopher Ryan Anderson and his colleagues pointed this out years ago, for the simple reason that, if American law decreed that marriage was nothing more than an intensely emotional pairing that two individuals could enter into irrespective of sex, then America’s deeply-rooted passion for equality would level any distinctions made about marriage anywhere else in public life. We’ve been seeing that happen: private, silently held beliefs about marriage being between one man and one woman are enough to make a person “othered”.
That’s not to mention how this furore for equal treatment has swamped photography, event venue, bakery and other businesses in all corners of the US (Washington, Colorado, Albany) — let alone the treatment of charities, specifically religious adoption charities, that have sought to provide children with the sort of household Christians believe that God designed for them to enjoy.
Yet the public debate over this present legislation is pretending that the last 15 years or so never happened. The talking points all suggest that material harm will rain down on “married” LGBTQ folks like Secretary Buttigieg if some level of government no longer recognizes his marriage. That’s not the landscape, at all.
The government granting recognition to these pairings as marriages is not the difference between their living happy, fulfilled lives in peace versus their being persecuted, being told that they aren’t allowed to love someone, or learning that their living arrangements can’t continue. The difference at stake is between our tolerant and pluralistic society allowing any room for disagreeing with this popular but historically outlying view on marriage, versus persecuting those flyover folks — excluding them from public life, conducting business, or even performing charity.
It’s not 2005 anymore.
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