Surrendering On Marriage

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 27 2012 @ 2:58pm

Marriage equality opponent Daniel McCarthy waves the white flag:

For the better part of 2,000 years the meaning of marriage was stable because the authority of Christianity was constant. In an age when the Church no longer supplies the institutional framework for family life, the definition of marriage has become radically uncertain. Into this fluid environment—in which individualism or atomism is once again rising to the fore, as in the Roman Empire—the new fact of homosexuality was gradually introduced. The result, same-sex marriage, has shocked conservatives. But this innovation has moved so far so quickly only because it is not at all out of step with the institutions and ideas of our time.

The whole piece is worth reading because it is an unflinching conservative reckoning with the forces of modernity. Much of its core argument I made in the third chapter of "EdmundBurke1771subject of how to integrate them was not a long-term conservative proposition; and the alternative – more religiously-based repression against a minority rapidly gaining acceptance – was reactionary and spiteful. The point was simply that marriage was the obvious conservative solution: bring gays into this architectonic institution under the Burkean banner of conservative reform. That's what I tried to argue for on conservative and libertarian grounds. Sadly, the neocons and theocons decided to ratchet conservative policy back to the 1950s. It was Bill Kristol who attempted to bring reparative therapy into the conservative mainstream in response to our progress in integration. It was as disgusting a move as it was utterly cynical.

How a reform that "is not at all out of step with the institutions and ideas of our time", in McCarthy's words, should shock "conservatives" is an interesting insight into the intellectual collapse of the right. Reforming institutions to keep them in step with reality is Burke's definition of conservatism. That's why the real social conservatives are not those intent on marginalizing fast-integrating gay people, but those managing that integration by harnessing it to existing institutions, that strengthen the family, encourage responsibility, teach sacrifice and keep the welfare state at bay. A truly conservative party would be pushing marriage equality, as the Tories are in Britain. What the GOP is, in stark contrast, is not a conservative party governing a modern society. It's a radical fundamentalist and anti-government religious movement, dedicated to a core rejection of almost everything modernity brings but money.

(Painting: Edmund Burke.)