In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell recognizing a non-existent right to gay marriage in the Constitution, there have been numerous articles stating that America has accepted gay marriage and that social conservatives should now shut up. A variation of this theme has been taken up by certain social conservatives such as Rod Dreher, except they call it “The Benedict Option.” It is a little hard to tell exactly what “The Benedict Option” is, but it does seem to involve at least some withdrawal from public life by conservative Christians.
A poll came out last week casting some doubt on both of these narratives, though. The Associated Press reported that its own poll showed that, far from accepting gay marriage, American remained deeply divided on the issue, with 42% agreeing with homosexual marriage and 40% opposing it. This represented a drop from 48% approval in the prior AP poll on the topic. With respect to the Supreme Court’s decision, 41% expressed disapproval and 39% voiced support. On related issues, there was even less support for the fabricated right Americans had supposedly accepted: 56% indicated that it was more important to support religious liberty than to support gay rights, with just 39% saying it was more important to support gay rights. 59% said that owners of wedding-related businesses with a religious objection to gay marriage should be allowed to refuse service to homosexual couples, and 46% even said that all businesses should be able to refuse service to gay couples.
It is true, of course, that it has proven very difficult to overturn bad decisions of the Supreme Court. Roe v Wade was a poorly reasoned exercise of “raw judicial power,” as Byron White observed in his cogent dissent, but it still has not been overturned, some 42 years later. And a principal reason for this is the cynicism of Republican politicians, who regularly seek the votes of pro-lifers but do little for them. Indeed, as Robert Novak related in his magnificent memoir, The Prince of Darkness, George H.W. Bush appointed David Souter to the Supreme Court knowing that he was pro-abortion. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Republicans find the abortion status quo very convenient: they can make some noises about abortion every time the White House is at stake, all the while doing basically nothing about it because of a Supreme Court decision that, somehow, never seems to go away, despite all the justices appointed to the Supreme Court by Republican presidents since Roe and despite Congress’ power to strip federal courts of jurisdiction, set forth in Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution.
But there is another way of looking at this. One of the reasons the Republicans find the abortion status quo convenient is because abortion remains a live issue. They know that millions of people vote for Republican candidates because of their pro-life convictions, and they also know that many of these people would stop voting Republican if the party officially became pro-abortion or authoritatively conceded that the battle to give legal protection to the unborn was over. No matter how cynically politicians treat abortion, it is hard to say that any position has become dominant in America when a major political party claims to take the opposite position, its presidents and presidential candidates profess to support the opposite position, and at least some of the justices on the Supreme Court continue to dissent from the decision that is the focus of the opposition. Indeed, no one who pays any attention at all to American life can fail to notice that a substantial portion of the population does not accept the morality of abortion.
By contrast, the opposition to the Supreme Court decision cited most often in Obergefell, Loving v. Virginia, has essentially disappeared. Although many Americans were quite skeptical of interracial marriage when Loving was decided, no major party embraced their opinion or openly sought their votes. They did not mount major marches in Washington that were addressed by significant political figures, and even presidents, as pro-lifers have done. No major party platform even paid lip service to overturning Loving, nor do any Supreme Court justices indicate their continuing dissent from Loving. The result is that, today, the issue addressed by Loving is treated as a dead one, both politically and morally. And abstract appeals to religious liberty provided no protection even to those who opposed the result in Loving on sincere religious grounds, as Bob Jones University found out when it lost its tax-exempt status because it read the Bible as prohibiting interracial dating.
If “The Benedict Option” means a withdrawal from public life, that is where I fear it will l lead: with the issue addressed by Obergefell treated as a dead one, both politically and morally. That is not where we are today, whatever the New York Times and the Washington Post may want us to believe. Advocates of “The Benedict Option” may want to consider this before heading for the hills.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.