The Corner

Douthat, Greenwald, and Marriage

I thought that Ross did a fine job in his column on gay marriage. Glenn Greenwald doesn’t. I normally ignore the guy, but a reader sent me his post and I thought this was an interesting argument for someone on the left to be making. Greenwald writes that Ross’s argument is “radically wrong, and its two principal errors nicely highlight why the case against marriage equality is so misguided.”

First, the mere fact that the State does not use the mandates of law to enforce Principle X does not preclude Principle X from being advocated or even prevailing.  Conversely, the fact that the State recognizes the right of an individual to choose to engage in Act Y does not mean Act Y will be accepted as equal.  There are all sorts of things secular law permits which society nonetheless condemns.  Engaging in racist speech is a fundamental right but widely scorned.  The State is constitutionally required to maintain full neutrality with regard to the relative merits of the various religious sects (and with regard to the question of religion v. non-religion), but certain religions are nonetheless widely respected while others — along with atheism — are stigmatized and marginalized.  Numerous behaviors which secular law permits — excessive drinking, adultery, cigarette smoking, inter-faith and inter-racial marriages, homosexual sex — are viewed negatively by large portions of the population.

Now, I gather that Greenwald is a pretty radical civil libertarian (of the hard leftist variety, of course), but we aren’t talking about his preferences. When he writes that racist speech is a fundamental right that is (and should be) widely scorned, I’m with him. But is it really treated as a fundamental right? What about speech codes? Hate-crimes laws? Similarly, secular law does permit cigarette smoking, but lots of states regulate it and essentially ban it in all public areas. Try smoking in public in California. Try getting a job at some hospitals if you smoke.  Meanwhile, tax dollars are routinely used to stigmatize smoking and excessive drinking. And then there are the countless exhortations in public schools and elsewhere against racist speech and attitudes as well. Whatever the merits of these policies, I don’t see anything like the state neutrality Greenwald is alluding to and he would certainly be livid if the state of California (or the federal government) countenanced public-service advertisements against gay marriage or homosexual behavior (I wouldn’t like it either, for the record) or if government treated gay couples the way it treats smokers (“Do that in the privacy of your own home, but not on the job or near children!”).

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