The Corner

The Long-Term Future of the Gay Marriage Debate: Stalemate

Shortly after President Obama’s unsurprising announcement yesterday, I read with interest the American Prospect post taking aim at Maggie Gallagher and declaring the “war” (good grief, is everything a war now?) over marriage is “almost over.” That’s an interesting argument to make in the aftermath of the North Carolina landslide and before gay marriage has won really anywhere at the ballot box. But at the same time, one can’t deny that public attitudes at least seem to be shifting (though it’s difficult to square the generic polling with actual election results), and gay marriage is now legal (either by judicial fiat or legislative action) in multiple states.

In the face of these facts, why do gay marriage advocates believe their victory is inevitable? Why do they think gay marriage will — over the long term — escape the ideological polarization that’s gripped America on virtually every other issue of consequence? Isn’t it far more likely that differing attitudes on marriage will merge into the rest of the ideological package that separates red from blue? After all, a critical mass of citizens in our red and blue states not only differ issue by issue, but they have radically different world views. 

The Left’s trump card in the inevitability debate is the alleged legion of young, hip Republicans who have no problem with same-sex marriage. Young people, however, are almost always more liberal then their elders — they have been since time immemorial — and yet America remains stubbornly center-right. That’s because young people tend to grow more conservative with age (in fact, my own ideas about marriage have grown more conservative over time).  

The urban Left says, “You’ll agree with us when you meet more loving gay couples.” The suburban and rural Right asks, “When did I become a bigot for believing the tenets of my faith, and why are you suppressing my religious liberty?” The cultural divide is every bit as wide as it’s become with abortion.  In the Left’s cultural cocoons, Planned Parenthood is the great defender of women’s health, individual sexual autonomy trumps all other liberties (especially religious liberty), and they rarely encounter any rational person who thinks otherwise.  Yet in vast regions of flyover country, Planned Parenthood is an abortion mill, religious liberty is our first liberty, and we’ve grown accustomed (and immune) to the scorn of pop culture and the mainstream media.  

The Left is fooling itself if it thinks the argument for redefining marriage has the same moral or legal force as the battle for racial equality.  After all (as Ross Douthat outlines in his outstanding new book), the civil rights movement depended on Christians for its success. Martin Luther King Jr.’s argument as a Christian to his fellow Christians was overwhelmingly compelling and grounded in the core truths of scripture. That same religious argument is simply not available here, and in fact the Left actively scorns people of faith who oppose redefinition of a sacramental union.

So unless the Supreme Courts invents a right to same-sex marriage in the same way that it invented a right to abortion, we’re looking at the new reality: A majority of states (including virtually every red state and some purple) will define marriage appropriately. A minority (but including large blue states) will continue the sexual revolution and embrace a fundamentally different conception of marriage. 

Barring Supreme Court action or a near-total cultural triumph of one side over the other, the America of 2032 will likely look a great deal like the America of 2012. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the stalemate.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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