I myself am not comfortable with the language of stigma. I do not like to condemn, but to uplift. I spent several decades participating in an effort to see if we could create a new moral consensus around marriage without stigmatizing single mothers -- to make the ideal powerful enough that we could dispense with stigmas and yet protect children. It was a hopeful, innovative, thoroughly American effort, but today as a targeted object of an attempt to exercise the power of new stigma, I am not sure whether it can work.
A civilization's core values consist of what it considers non-debatable, unthinkable.
The great disruption, as Frances Fukuyama called it, consisted of making sexual norms themselves the object of stigma. In the years since the 1960s, elites have recovered something of a marriage culture for their own children.
The educated still marry far more often, divorce far less, and rarely have out-of-wedlock children. So their children have more access to "private norms" -- a form of social capital. Meanwhile, the almost punitive culture of work also pushes the educated young toward marriage as the natural fallback -- you cannot rise to high-status jobs or maintain them while catting about town very easily, at least not as the tiredness of middle age approaches!
But the elites so created continue to refuse to do what they need to do: help create norms of success for the whole society around sex and marriage.
And they stand by and watch while a tiny minority attempts to raise the cost of speaking out in favor of these norms and values.
Here's the simple truth for me -- about why I continue to withstand the abuse:
Because I think our traditional understanding of sex and marriage is good. Because I will not volunteer to live in a world where these ideas are treated as bad and discriminatory.
Others may well be able to create such a world -- that's a matter of power.
But legitimacy -- that's something that exists in the inner sanctum of the soul -- something precious that each of us controls and can give or withhold.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.
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