The Seinfeld Effect

Not that this is directly “on point” for Bench Memos, but given the propensities of our courts as organs of elite opinion, readers may want to see “Same-Sex Marriage and Public Opinion: Spirals, Frames, and the Seinfeld Effect,” a piece on which I collaborated with my wife Gwen Brown, at Public Discourse.  A sample:

In the 1993 Seinfeld episode “The Outing,” a female reporter mistakes Jerry Seinfeld and his friend George Costanza for homosexual partners. When her misunderstanding dawns on them, they vehemently deny that they are gay, yet constantly punctuate their denials with the rote expression “not that there’s anything wrong with that!” As heterosexual men, Jerry and George are both keen to be taken for what they are, but there’s more to it than that: they can’t entirely inhibit revulsion at the idea that others think they are homosexual, and perhaps revulsion at the very idea of being homosexual.

Their repeated exclamation “not that there’s anything wrong with that!”—invariably uttered with far less passion than their denials—is a socially conditioned response. Somewhere they have learned that it is unacceptable to cast aspersions on homosexuality, and that the politically correct response is to say (as Jerry does at one point, albeit rather too excitedly), “People’s personal sexual preferences are nobody’s business but their own!” Jerry and George struggle to suppress what they really think with what they have been taught to think is “enlightened opinion.” Call it the Seinfeld Effect.

Seventeen years later, the advocates of same-sex marriage are making “people’s personal sexual preferences” everybody’s business, and are counting on the Seinfeld Effect to suppress what most Americans really think about same-sex marriage. They are waging their struggle, after all, not just in courts of law but also in the court of public opinion, and the advocates’ success with certain judges will not be secure unless most Americans are with them. So how are they doing?

By the way, starting today Public Discourse (published by the Witherspoon Institute, where I now work) is going from two new articles a week (on Tuesday and Friday) to three new articles a week (on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).  But you won’t miss anything if you get that RSS feed . . .

Matthew J. Franck — Matthew J. Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.

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