Now that President Obama has "evolved" on the matter of same-sex marriage to the position favored by "enlightened" Americans, this would seem to be a good time for some rhetorical hygiene.
There are modest and civil proponents of same-sex marriage. But the tone of many advocates has been shrill to the point of frothing. The Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, put the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council on its 2010 list of "hate groups" because of their opposition to gay marriage.
A religion professor at a Midwest state university explained Catholic opposition to same-sex marriage and found himself denounced for "hate speech" and fired from his teaching position (he was later reinstated). The Hastings Law School denied funding and recognition to a chapter of the Christian Legal Society because it required its members to conform their sexual behavior to traditional Christian teachings.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., called the Defense of Marriage Act "a stain on our democracy."
To be sure, there is overheated language among some opponents of gay marriage as well, though not among the leadership. The vitriol on the left arises from one simple source -- the misappropriation of the race analogy. Once you convince yourself that same-sex marriage is the great civil rights cause of our time, it then follows logically that opponents are the moral equivalents of racists. That's what gay activist Dan Savage said explicitly:
"We need a cultural reckoning around gay and lesbian issues. There was once two sides to the race debate ... you could ... argue for segregation. You could argue against interracial marriage, against the Civil Rights Act, against extending voting rights to African Americans, and that used to be treated as one side . . . of a pressing national debate, and it isn't anymore. And we really need to reach that point with gay and lesbian issues. There are no 'two sides' to the issues about gay and lesbian rights."
Here's a question for Rep. Lewis and Dan Savage and the SPLC and the rest: Does your intolerance for disagreement extend to pre-May 10 Barack Obama? Before Obama evolved back (he had been pro same-sex marriage before he was against it), was he spewing "hate"? When he said, at the Saddleback Church in 2008, "I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian ... it is also a sacred union. God's in the mix." Was that a "stain on our democracy"?
No? Then how about a modicum of respect for those who continue to hold the views that Obama abandoned only yesterday?
Six states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. Thirty-two states prohibit it -- some by statute and others by state constitutions. The nation is doing what both Obama and Romney say they prefer, dealing with the question state by state.
Romney's description of the issue as "tender and sensitive" was apt. But it should be possible for mature adults to discuss even sensitive subjects without descending into name-calling.
My personal resistance to same-sex marriage arises not from any dislike of gays and lesbians but from the belief that traditional marriage is too important to be toyed with. When gays say, "marriage isn't doing well among heterosexuals," they have a point. Heterosexuals are making a mess of marriage. But that's all the more reason to be cautious about adding another blow.
Traditional marriage is recognized and to some degree privileged by society because it performs the most essential task of any civilization -- providing the optimal environment for raising children. Men and women bring different and complementary qualities to parenthood. The genetic tie, which both heterosexual parents have to their children, while not essential (I speak as an adoptive mother), is helpful in maintaining loyalty and support for the long haul. Having parents of opposite sexes gives children male and female role models. And the sexes differ in a thousand little ways that, when blended, tend to redound to kids' welfare. Just to name a few: mothers are more protective, fathers more challenging; mothers are more comforting, fathers more stimulating; mothers are more related, fathers more disciplinary.
Permitting people of the same sex to marry changes the nature of the institution. Rather than the optimal vehicle for raising children, it becomes just the social ratification of the relationship between two adults -- a seal of approval. Having your love validated by the larger society may seem important if you are gay. But marriage, rightly understood, is not really about love. It includes love. But it's really about stability and raising children.
That's what Obama said he believed, until yesterday. It wasn't bigotry then, and it isn't now.