I thank Matthew Franck for taking the time to reply to my post about Richard Grenell, Mitt Romney’s gay foreign-policy aide. Taking at least one aspect of his criticism to heart, I will endeavor to be less bland in my remarks this time.
Let me begin by confessing that I detest the gay-marriage debate. It is a dispute for days of peace and plenty, not for times such as these. My own position on the question is that it is not so much a controversy as a contradiction — I think it was John O’Sullivan who wrote that speaking of same-sex marriage is like speaking of same-sex mixed-doubles tennis, more a lexical question than a political one. You can call a same-sex union a marriage, or you can call it four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie, but changing words does not change reality, even if you wear a very impressive black robe and sit in a high place at 1 First Street NE, Washington, D.C. I would be perfectly happy to see reforms that facilitate same-sex couples’ holding joint property, sharing insurance or other benefits, enjoying hospital-visitation rights, etc., just as I would be happy to see reforms that facilitate anybody else’s ability to arrange his private affairs as he sees fit. That is not marriage, even if the government says it is.
I might be more interested in the politics of marriage if the legal standing of the institution were not already degraded to the point of triviality. Here is an experiment: Imagine that you have a marriage that you wish to escape and $50,000 of credit-card debt that you do not wish to pay — which claim do you imagine will prove more enduring? Or try unilaterally canceling a contract with an employee, without showing any fault on his part, simply because he no longer suits your taste. Your contract with your cell-phone provider is legally enforceable, and your marriage vows — “forsaking all others until death do us part” and all that — are not. Our present-day defenders of the sanctity of marriage aren’t exactly Thomas More standing up to Henry VIII; they are huddled around the husk of an institution long debased. Marriage has been shot through the head, and they are calling the dentist. What we call “marriage” today is certainly not the marriage of the New Testament, the Christian tradition, or our Anglo-European heritage. When you go to political institutions to define your social norms, this is what you get. Democracy is kind of stupid that way.
It is worth bearing in mind that it wasn’t the Supreme Court or congressional liberals who ruined marriage, but the people themselves. When Governor Reagan signed the first no-fault divorce law in 1969, he was only certifying what the people had decided, which was that they no longer desired to be bound by the institution of marriage as it had been understood by their ancestors. Reagan regretted his decision, and no doubt the people will regret theirs, too, our present form of neo-pagan soft polygamy having rendered much of our society brutish and unstable. But the deed was done long ago, and all this angst and wailing over “saving marriage” is a pantomime. You might as well form a committee to save the Habsburg empire. The thing that puzzles me about the gay-marriage debate is that gays would much care about access to such an anemic legal institution, but then again the mysteries of romance often are lost on me.
Perhaps Mr. Franck is correct and Mr. Grenell’s career as a Republican foreign-policy hand is deeply rooted in his desire to use the United Nations to enshrine homosexuality in international law. As impressive as U.N. declarations may be, I myself will continue to look toward Rome for guidance on such issues, and not to Turtle Bay. In any case, an all-consuming obsession with gay marriage does not seem to me the most likely explanation of a man’s service in the Bush administration.
Mr. Franck charges that Mr. Grenell is a fanatic, afflicted with “unhinged devotion” to the cause of gay marriage. Mr. Grenell, as noted, recently was employed in Bush’s state department, whereas Mr. Franck’s occupation is to further a particular view of the role of religion in American political life as the director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute. His views on the subject of religion and the public sphere are ones that I broadly share, but surely to preemptively attack an aide to Mitt Romney because he disagrees with you on a single issue — an issue that is not a very large part of the foreign-policy portfolio, one that ought to be about No. 13,479 on our national to-worry-about list — might to the uncharitable eye appear to be something like “unhinged devotion,” and in any case those of us who work at think tanks or journals of opinion might want to be a bit circumspect when arguing that a man should be distrusted because his devotion to a cause is too zealous.
The possibility of Speaker Boehner sending a national gay-marriage mandate to the desk of President Romney while Mr. Grenell plays the lavender Svengali behind the Oval Office drapery is not one over which I expect to lose much sleep, though I suppose it is a welcome distraction from such unpleasantness as our national insolvency, Chinese ambition, bloodthirsty jihadists, our defective educational system, Syria, Iran . . .