A) Not so very long ago, some American states refused to recognize a marriage if the spouses were of different racial backgrounds. Today we all deplore that benighted attitude, and recognize the loving unions of racially mixed couples.
B) Not so very long ago, many American states refused to recognize the loving alliance between a man and his garden tractor as a marriage. Today the states still refuse to see that love—however sincere—as marital. We all support that refusal.
C) Not so very long ago, all American states refused to recognize a union as marriage if the partners were of the same sex. Today opinion is mixed. Two states—or maybe three, depending on the latest court ruling in California— recognize same-sex marriage. Others do not. Some people think same-sex unions should be recognized as marriages in all states. Others think that is nearly as silly as proposing marriage to a garden tractor.
How do we resolve this disagreement? We can turn to Anna Quindlen, who has delivered her magisterial judgment in a Newsweek essay. The piece is entitled “The Loving Decision,” but the subtitle is much more revealing: “Same-sex marriage was beaten back at the ballot box. Now here’s a history lesson on why victory is inevitable in the long run.”
Advancing the Inevitable
Yes, last November voters in several American states approved efforts to define marriage as the union of man and woman. Quindlen concedes that point; it does not trouble her. There was a time, you see, when voters approved efforts to define marriage as a union between a man and woman of the same race. That changed, so this will change. QED.
“The world only spins forward,” writes Quindlen.
And if you know which way the world is spinning, why not give things a shove in the right direction? It’s tough to accept the mutable decisions of a democratic majority, when you have historical inevitability on your side. The courts have used that logic already, implicitly, in calling for acceptance of same sex marriage. Since we’re all going to accept it eventually, we might as well accept it now. Then the enlightened people of the media and academe spring into action to consolidate the progress.
It goes without saying that that historical progress is always beneficial. Things are better today than yesterday, and will be better still tomorrow. Just look at the economy. Oh, wait; don’t look at the economy. But look at philanthropy. Once we had do-gooders like Mother Teresa: a nice person, certainly. But today Angelina Jolie can adopt a starving child in the morning and still look hot at a photo-shoot in the afternoon. Progress. Once we had female writers like Flannery O’Connor: a decent talent. But now we have Anna Quindlen. Just sample the woman’s ability to cut straight to essentials: “As for the notion that allowing gay men and lesbians to marry will destroy conventional marriage, I have found heterosexuals perfectly willing to do that themselves.”
It’s undeniably true: there are malefemale couples who hold valid marriage licenses but make a mess of their lives together. There are also doctors who, despite having won medical licenses, mistreat their patients. Still, if I’m going to have an operation, I’d prefer to know that the surgeon is licensed by the state. And I’d feel better still if the licensing process required that surgeon to show his grasp of fundamental anatomical facts. Such as, for instance, the difference between a male and a female, and the impossibility of fruitful conjugal ties without those differences.