Debating Marriage

Nathan’s post yesterday highlighting Prof. Todd Hartch’s story of his stand for marriage at Eastern Kentucky University and my ADF Center for Academic Freedom colleague Jordan Lorence’s post describing a recent debate at the University of Virginia Law School were timely reminders of a point I’ve been wanting to make for some time. I’d submit that a significant amount of the much-vaunted youth support for same-sex marriage is less the result of considered cultural change than years of one-sided, often inaccurate indoctrination.

Like Jordan, I spend quite a bit of time debating and speaking at some of our country’s finest schools, and while the students are undoubtedly bright, their ignorance of alternative arguments is often stunning. And it’s been stunning for some time. When I was in law school, I’d sometimes make the most basic social-conservative arguments only to be told by classmates, “I’ve never heard that perspective before.” Fundamental facts about Israeli history were missing from debates about the Middle East, even the most grotesquely inflated statistics about rape and sexual assault were swallowed and regurgitated without hesitation, and students would sometimes seem almost willfully blind to biological realities that humanized unborn children. Even worse, because of their years of work at the nation’s best universities, students were convinced they knew more than they did. They didn’t seek knowledge because they didn’t feel ignorant.  

In the contemporary marriage debate (as Jordan details), students don’t know the facts of Loving v. Virginia, one of the leading Supreme Court marriage cases and yet argue their mistaken understanding with extreme confidence. Similarly, they often accept, without any real scrutiny, the notion that there’s no meaningful difference between race-based and gender-based distinctions in the marriage context — in other words, they simply assume one of the core disputes in the entire cultural conflict. If you asked many students at even our best schools, to state the core argument for marriage as the union of a man and woman, they’re highly likely to create a fire-breathing fundamentalist straw man out of the secular Left’s worst dystopian nightmare.

In fact, if you drill down into virtually every political or cultural debate of real consequence, you’ll find a veritable ocean of ignorance in our elite universities. Regardless of whether the topic is Islam, marriage, “torture,” war, economics, or any other issue of real consequence, the ideological monoculture of the academy is better suited for producing partisans, activists, and Internet comment board trolls than informed and thoughtful citizens.  

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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