I’m hearing a lot — pro and con — about my column today on the Homosexual Bourgeoisie, or “HoBos.”
I don’t want to get into a whole long thing about this, but there are a couple points worth responding to as a matter of personal privilege.
The first is the complaint that I rely on the crutch of “inevitability.” As a couple readers put it, National Review writers, of all people, shouldn’t be talking about “inevitability.” We’re the ones who stand athwart inevitability yelling, “Stop.”
I like the point and I think it’s a fair one to some extent. But all I can say in my defense is that I think I’m right about the inevitability of gay marriage or at least very strong civil unions (which would ultimately lead to gay marriage, anyway). I don’t take this position because I’m dodging, or caving, or playing games of some kind. I just happen to think it’s true (barring some scientific developments down the road). Moreover, as I suggest in my column today, I don’t consider inevitability to be synonymous with conservative defeat and liberal victory, because what we mean by such things can be a lot more complicated than what the daily chatter reduces them too.
And that gets me to a second point. Lots of readers on both the left and right, accuse me of changing my position to fit the times like some famous “Rinos” out there. All I can say is that my position on gay marriage and civil unions is the same as it’s always been. I would prefer civil unions for all the reasons people following this debate already know, but I suspect that eventually the state(s) will require that we call these unions marriages and that the sky will not fall as a result. I think that delaying that eventuality would still be good for society, but I’m sympathetic to the impatience of gays who believe that justice delayed is justice denied.
This was my position a decade ago and I’ve offered it countless times, and been attacked for it from the right, too. I repeated it in Liberal Fascism, a book that is hardly counted as a sop to the left.
Here’s how I put in a 2001 exchange with Andrew Sullivan, back in the days when I respected him and we were friendly (needless to say, my views of Andrew have changed a lot more than my views on gay marriage have):
Where I disagree with Andrew is that we should therefore immediately conclude that gay marriage is, automatically, the right and only solution. He’s adamant that civil unions — or any other middle-ground compromises — are completely unacceptable. I think he’s wrong. But going into all of my reasons at this point would make another unforgivably long column even longer. Rather, I would like to go back to conservatism.
Andrew writes: “My nuanced argument for gay equality, for example, is not some knee-jerk pro-gay polemic, but a carefully constructed, classically liberal, temperamentally conservative argument.” He’s right in every sense, save perhaps one. I’m not so sure his case is “temperamentally conservative.”
The core of temperamental conservatism is patience and careful discrimination. (Which, by the way, is why I agree that pot should be legalized but most other drugs shouldn’t. But I’ll save that for another time.) That’s why Disraeli defined his brand of conservatism as “muddling through.”
It was only in 1973 and 1975 that the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, respectively, removed homosexuality from their lists of mental disorders. I fully believe that was the right decision, but it does go to show you how profoundly young a “mainstream” gay culture is. Andrew, however, believes the time is already long past due for rewriting the charters of all of our fundamental institutions, in order to incorporate homosexuals fully and completely into our culture. As I said, I am sympathetic to many of Andrew’s arguments — but, unlike him, I’m unwilling to say I know this is the right step (which is why I think he’s more ideological on this issue than I am).
Marriage is an ancient, bedrock institution born thousands of years before anyone even knew how to spell democracy. It is impossible to even guess how many other institutions it supports. As Friedrich Hayek noted, such institutions are the real storehouses of human knowledge: “[M]ore ‘intelligence’ . . . is incorporated in the system of rules of conduct than in man’s thoughts and surroundings.”
And that’s why I’m willing to wait a while longer — to muddle through as we sort all this out — before we radically redesign marriage. If Andrew is right about gay marriage, waiting is no doubt unfair to gays seeking to have their monogamous relationships legitimized by the state. But it was Edmund Burke — the champion of temperamental conservatism — who noted that sometimes we “must bear with infirmities until they fester into crimes.” Indeed, the conservative must point out that the beaches of history are littered not only with the human wreckage of bad ideas rushed out too quickly, but with the wreckage of good ideas rushed out too quickly as well.
I might change the emphasis here or there, but that’s still pretty much my position (though I probably underestimated the rapidity of the rise of HoBos and the mainstreaming of the issue).
This hardly ends the conversation, but it’s a good place for me to stop today.