What's the opposite of a full-throated argument? A half-throated argument? A stuff-something-down-his-throated argument? Whatever it is, Ross Douthat makes one today in defense of reserving marriage rights for opposite-sex couples. Douthat opens by conceding that all of the pro-discrimination arguments made by his fellow conservatives are stale bullshit patties:
Marriage is an ancient institution that has always been defined as the union of one man and one woman, and we meddle with that definition at our peril. Lifelong heterosexual monogamy is natural; gay relationships are not. The nuclear family is the universal, time-tested path to forming families and raising children.... These arguments have lost because they’re wrong. What we think of as “traditional marriage” is not universal. The default family arrangement in many cultures, modern as well as ancient, has been polygamy, not monogamy. The default mode of child-rearing is often communal, rather than two parents nurturing their biological children.
Nor is lifelong heterosexual monogamy obviously natural in the way that most Americans understand the term. If “natural” is defined to mean “congruent with our biological instincts,” it’s arguably one of the more unnatural arrangements imaginable.
But Douthat does not come out in favor of marriage equality. He doesn't come right out and back discrimination—he's too decent for that—but instead argues that gay marriage falls short of the "sexual ideal" of marriage:
This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings—a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest—as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.
Douthat believes that his preferred kind of marriage—the ideal kind of marriage—is in danger of being "vanquished" by a more modern concept of marriage thanks to "no-fault divorce, frequent out-of-wedlock births, and serial monogamy." If the newer definition of marriage should vanquish the older marital ideal—that would be the married-for-life, no-divorce-allowed, very-strictly-monogamous—then gay marriage will become not only acceptable but "morally necessary." Douthat:
But if we just accept this shift, we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.
Um... Ross? I think we've accepted the shift. Seeing as there is no movement to ban straight divorce, seeing as there has been no effort to stigmatize Bristol Palin's bastard(s), seeing as there is no move to make heterosexual adultery a felony or in any way penalize straight people who fail at "lifelong heterosexual monogamy"—Gingrich, King, Limbaugh, et al—it's clear that straight people see heterosexual monogamy as highly dispensable. Straight people long ago gave up on "one of the great ideas of Western civilization," a.k.a. "one man, one woman, for life." And there are no signs that straight people want to return to the bad old days of impossible-to-dissolve marriages that frequently owed their longevity to the economic and legal enslavement of women.
I'm willing to acknowledge that gay and straight unions are different—the differences have more to do with gender than with heterosexuality or homosexuality—but marriage is not about kids or monogamy or the "mutual surrender" of anyone's "reproductive self-interest" anymore because straight people decided a long time ago that it wasn't. But straight people, Douthat argues, should prevent same-sex couples from marrying—and deprive our children of the security and protections of marriage—because discriminating against a gay widower losing his home after his husband dies honors a marital "ideal" that straight people themselves routinely piss all over.
Denying same-sex couples equal rights under the law for falling short of the "sexual ideal" of marriage while straight people who repeatedly fall short get pass after pass—and marriage license after marriage license—may strike an empty symbolic blow for the way things ought to be. But unless Douthat is prepared to call for laws that would compel straight people to live up to the same "sexual ideal" of marriage that somehow justifies discrimination against same-sex couples—and call for laws that would punish straight people who fail to live up to that ideal (no more marriage licenses for you, Mr. Limbaugh)—then Douthat's case for discrimination is just another serving of bullshit patties (albeit a fresher one) and Douthat himself is just another conservative scaremonger scapegoating gay people for the failings of straight people.