The Corner

Rauch and Gay Marriage

Jonathan Rauch — the very, very smart journalist — has an excellent essay excerpted from his new book Gay Marriage : Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America in the current issue of Reason (which I read on the shuttle down from Boston).

I have Rauch’s book here, but I haven’t had a chance to read it with all of the other things going on these days. But I have to say that this essay is really wonderful. I may be particularly impressed because it reads almost as if it were ained directly at me. My case against gay marriage has never been particularly religious (which has annoyed a lot of readers) and it has never been particularly grounded in social science (which may or may not annoy the Kurtzites) and it’s never been bound-up in anti-homosexual animus (despite what various gay readers and bloggers assert or suggest).

My case has always been explicitly Burkean and Hayekian; you don’t tear apart an institution which serves as a granite-spine to social arrangements overnight. Here’s how I put it at the conclusion of one my earlier

spats with Andrew Sullivan three years ago:

Marriage is an ancient, bedrock institution born thousands of years before anyone even knew how to spell democracy. It is impossible to even guess how many other institutions it supports. As Friedrich Hayek noted, such institutions are the real storehouses of human knowledge: “[M]ore ‘intelligence’ . . . is incorporated in the system of rules of conduct than in man’s thoughts and surroundings.”

And that’s why I’m willing to wait a while longer — to muddle through as we sort all this out — before we radically redesign marriage. If Andrew is right about gay marriage, waiting is no doubt unfair to gays seeking to have their monogamous relationships legitimized by the state. But it was Edmund Burke — the champion of temperamental conservatism — who noted that sometimes we “must bear with infirmities until they fester into crimes.” Indeed, the conservative must point out that the beaches of history are littered not only with the human wreckage of bad ideas rushed out too quickly, but with the wreckage of good ideas rushed out too quickly as well.

Anyway, Rauch’s essay attacks precisely this point from within the Hayekian framework rather than from without and he does a very good job. Ultimately, I think he misses the mark a few places, but it’s an impressive effort nonetheless. When it’s online and I have a bit more time, I’ll try to respond at length in a G-File (way too inside-baseball for the syndicated column).

[Note: I accidentally deleted this, so if you linked to this post earlier, the link won’t work]


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