As I read today’s op-ed piece by Ross Douthat in the New York Times, I found myself nodding approvingly–until I realized how flawed is his logic and conflicting are his arguments.
The columnist refers to a “particular sexual ideal” that “holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings.” He goes on to say that the ideal of “lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best” can offer “a microcosm of civilization. . . that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support.”
Without once mentioning the nation’s 50 percent rate of divorce or the prevalence of cheating men and women, Douthat acknowledges that his version of the ideal has evolved into a “more accommodating approach, defined by no-fault divorce, frequent out-of-wedlock births, and serial monogamy.”
He says further that critics of gay marriage are wrong in believing it would lead to a kind of “postmodern polygamy” because we’re already there.
While going so far as declaring that “the lifelong commitment of a gay couple is more impressive than the serial monogamy of straights,” Douthat implies that acceptance of Judge Walker’s logic in overturning Prop 8 will destroy civilization:
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.
But based on Judge Walker’s logic — which suggests that any such distinction is bigoted and un-American — I don’t think a society that declares gay marriage to be a fundamental right will be capable of even entertaining this idea.
Just whose sexual ideal does Douthat claim to describe? And where is the supporting evidence of his contention that heterosexual marriage is a microcosm of civilization? Perhaps he’s right–if the columnist likes to think of civilization as rife with warring parties and rampant with transgressions. Nowhere does Douthat explore his ideal at its worst.
As for his conclusion, I fail to see how accepting gay marriage also means giving up on one of Western civilization’s great ideas. Why can’t two great ideas–oh I don’t know, say, tolerance and acceptance of difference along with Douthat’s “ideal”–co-exist and even thrive? For that matter, why are the values of Western civilization loftier than those of Eastern civilization?
In addition, what is the point of celebrating lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate? Where is it written that such an estate has greater importance than equal rights for everyone?
Ross Douthat seems to want to have it both ways: Let’s acknowledge the difference between heterosexual and gay relationships, but let’s also note that allowing gay people to marry will destroy civilization.
I’ll be charitable in assuming that the columnist’s reference to potential “fruit” was an unconsciously nasty pun, but it was a galling one in the context of the opinions that Douthat expresses.
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