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Dreher, Linker, Sullivan, Ctd.

Rod Dreher has posted a further response in the discussion of gay marriage and the legitimacy of homosexuality that I wrote about earlier this week. Andrew and Damon will no doubt have responses of their own, but I did want to highlight a couple of portions of Dreher's post. First, on the subject that most astonished me, his conflation of homosexuality with the extreme adolescent promiscuity and sexually destructive behavior of schoolkids in Rockdale* County, Dreher has this to say:

[I]f you can radically redefine marriage based on human desire, nothing is solid -- which is why I said earlier if you accept gay marriage, you should be prepared to apologize to the Lost Children of Rockland* County, as there will be no firm grounds on which to tell them that their mutually consenting relationships were wrong.

I'm sorry, but this strikes me as abject nonsense. Can Dreher honestly believe he has no grounds to criticize group sex and drug use by young teens apart from appealing to the authority of scripture and tradition? Let's begin with the obvious: They're kids, and there are many, many things we do not trust kids to do until they reach a certain age, sex being at or near the top of the list. There is a widespread consensus on this point, and I see no reason to believe it likely to change. Second, and only slightly less obvious: These kids' behaviors were clearly enormously self-destructive, in medical as well as psychological terms.

Now, had these kids been college students rather than high school kids, the first objection would not have applied (at least not in full force) and there may not be much parents could have done to stop it (apart from declining to pay tuition). But even then such activities still could, and would, have been viewed as a horrifying scandal for the latter reasons--i.e., that these are risky, self-destructive behaviors likely to leave lasting scars.

Which brings me back to Dreher's central conflation. There was a time, not that long ago, when it was possible to imagine, however inaccurately, that gay sex was in and of itself a self-destructive pathology, something no happy, healthy person would willingly engage in. That time is past. The evidence of stable, loving relationships between well-adjusted, successful people is all around us. Indeed, this abundant evidence--and not the tides of the sexual revolution, which peaked more than three decades ago and have since receded--is the reason that gay rights, and in particular the question of gay marriage, have moved so quickly in recent years. Dreher fails to grasp this, prefering to imagine a straight line from the sexual experimentation of the 1960s and '70s to the gay marriage question of today to the, yes, polygamy debates of tomorrow:

The question is: does gay marriage serve to incorporate same-sex couples into the moral order, or does it, in ways that may not be easily apparent, radically undermine the foundation of our moral order? I keep saying that gay marriage is only the logical extension of a change that overtook our society after the Second World War, specifically in the Sixties, led by heterosexuals. The next logical step is legalized polygamy, or a more generalized and bourgeoisified version of whatever you call the anarchy they have in the inner city. But the social radicalizers would never admit this, and may not see it themselves. Then again, if you had said back in the Sixties and Seventies that abandoning traditional standards of marriage and sexual relations would lead to gay marriage, few people would have believed you. Ideas have consequences, as traditionalists know.

This is an argument impossible to falsify, but it's worth noting that Dreher's assertion that actions often have unanticipated consequences (and, again, I think gay rights are only peripherally a consequence of '60s sexual liberation) isn't an argument for the consequences Dreher foresees, it's an argument that the consequences may be unanticipated.

Dreher imagines that the "next logical step" is polygamy, an assertion for which there is no evidence beyond Dreher's own apocalyptic vision, and a goal for which there is virtually no support among proponents of gay marriage. I, by contrast, believe we will see the incorporation of same-sex couples into what Dreher calls the "moral order," an assertion for which I think there is already considerable evidence, and a goal explicitly held by virtually all gay marriage proponents. We will see who is proven correct.

Update: Dreher mistakenly refered to Rockland County instead of Rockdale, and I mistakenly followed his lead until corrected by commenter colablease.

--Christopher Orr