By:Thomas Fleming | March 28, 2013
A great deal of ink is being spilled on the two Supreme Court cases taking up same-sex marriage, but the effect is rather like the ink released by a cuttlefish to cloud the vision of its enemies. To anticipate my conclusion, let me go on record as saying that family-values conservatives have done vastly more harm than good. Their arguments and policies lead only to one end: the nationalization of marriage and the family. Why does the left always win? Because the conservatives do their work for them.
Some of them mean well, I suppose, but one might say the same of Pol Pot. Hell, as the proverb goes, is paved with good intentions, and journalists and activists who do not take the trouble to understand an issue should avoid making public statements or taking part in political controversies. When the ignorant and corrupt are permitted to lead a movement, whether it involves abortion or global warming, Hell is the only destination.
The problem of ignorance is illustrated by articles on Roman marriage being sent around in Catholic circles. I received one today, written by a "Catholic ethicist" named Benjamin Wilker. A few days ago I got a similar piece by someone named Craig Turner. Both articles are written in the breathless tone one associates with people like John Lofton, and both circulate stories of the seamy sex lives of Nero and Elagabalus. There is no consideration of the sources themselves, and neither writer seems to know anything about Roman law or marriage customs. It might be amusing, if a bit depressing, to find the comon source for these and other such exercises in phony erudition.
It does not require a deep knowledge of the classics to understand the utter foolishness of the argument. One need only consider parallels. Would we be justified in basing our opinion of 18th century French Catholic marriage on the works of Choderos de Laclos or the Marquis de Sade? Could we use the shenanigans of Lindsay Lohan, Charley Sheen, or John F. Kennedy as representative examples of the sex lives of ordinary Americans? That such people exist, alas, is true, and their numbers are growing, but I only meet such people occasionally. The Victorian Age had its set of monsters, but it would be ridiculous to imagine that sex orgies were characteristic of the middle-class Victorian family.
If either of these gentlemen were at all interested in knowing anything about Roman marriage, they could turn to contemporary historians such as Richard Saller, Susan Treggiari, and Edward Champlin (among many others), who have thoroughly debunked Hollywood's sensational depiction of sex-crazed Romans. They might also want to look into the case law presented with admirable clarity by Bruce Frier and Thomas McGinn in their A Casebook on Roman Family Law. In these works they would discover the Roman ideal of marriage as an affectionate bond between man and wife, one that is assumed to last until death. In the unlikely event they are interested in learning the truth, I should be happy to supply a lengthy bibliography. Roman husbands and wives often fell short of their ideals, but how is that different from their Christian counterparts?
If American Catholics really cared about preserving Christian marriage, they would quit pointing the finger at imaginary pagans and would, instead, be standing up to the wicked bishops who defend homosexual priests and to the American Catholic annulment industry, surely a graver threat to marriage than a handful of misguided homosexuals and their advocates in the courts.
The real effect of this anti-Roman propaganda is to keep Christian conservatives ignorant of their traditions and alienate them from the civilization within which the Church took shape. In this they are more like the crazed Calvinists who attribute all the ills of Christendom to Constantine. In rejecting Roman traditions, they are rejecting Cicero and Vergil, Roman law and Roman order. Ironically for Catholics, they are also rejecting the structure of the Roman Church.
At the same time as these pernicious screeds have been poisoning the minds of Catholics, political conservatives have been quietly abandoning the battle field. According to an article in Reuters a few days ago, two dozen pro-family conservatives met in Salt Lake City in December. Learning that the Mormons were going to pull the plug on their payrolls, they decided to abandon the fight to preserve normal marriage.
It was only a matter of time before conservatives would give up their phony resistance to same-sex marriage. Right on schedule, Republicans are bailing out on the marriage issue. When they contrived their foolish and dangerous Defense of Marriage Act (1996), I said at the time (and repeated my argument ad nauseam) that the only long-term effect would be to make marriage a national issue that would enable the Left to redefine marriage. All the arguments in DOMA itself are being used by leftist advocates to overturn DOMA--and any state restriction on same-sex marriage.
DOMA was the brainchild of Gary Bauer, one of the GOP's culture warriors who almost always gets everything entirely wrong. Now only seventeen years later, Republican leaders are shifting to the Left, as I always said they would. They have never and will never stick to their guns, and it is an idle dream to hope that ever will.
Some of the Republicans are so embarrassed that they do not know what to say. Saxby Chambliss's contradictory and illogical ramblings do the senator credit. He has the decency to be ashamed.
By contrast, Ohio Senator Rob Portman is pleased as punch by the immediate respectability he has gained by advocating Gay "marriage."
Senator, have you no shame? It is bad enough that you are trying to make political capital out of a family misfortune, but even more repellent is the self-serving assumption that underlies your tergiversation. It is all very well to oppose a legal revolution on moral grounds, you are telling us, until you discover it might affect you personally. A senator who advocates the death penalty for raping and murdering young children would then be justified in changing his mind if his brother were convicted of such crimes. No one expects integrity from a US Senator, but we do have a right to demand some decent stab at hypocrisy, and the new breed of Republican is not intelligent enough even to feign hypocrisy.
Conservatives will never win a debate or even make a forceful if unsuccessful defense of their positions until they can clear their heads of the propaganda they have imbibed from the family-values think tanks, which are all too often the defenders of leftist revolutions. Some conservatives are aghast that David Blankenhornm, the revered founder of the Institute for American Values, has changed sides. What did they expect?
Blankenhorn used to be a Vista volunteer and community organizer, in other words, a leftist agitator who collaborated with the far-left Highlander Folk School. Personally, I like and respect the man, as I still respect the many leaders of Highlander I used to know as honest revolutionaries. As a conservative, however, David has never been more than a fellow-traveler, completely out of touch with conservative traditions. To give him his due, he is an intelligent man who always seems ill-at-ease with the pro-family buffoons with whom he is forced to associate in what he imagines to be a good cause. I only wish he were on our side.
Leftists are nearly always sentimental about people they do not know. Blankenhorn spent his leftist youth crusading for rights, privileges, and subsidies for black Americans. To gain the support of such people for a leftist cause, you only have to make the equation: Gays=blacks=women in Muslim countries=baby seals. Once a sucker, always a sucker. It is not an intellectual deficiency but a fault of character.
Blankenhorn’s revolutionary past constitutes some sort of excuse, but scratching beneath the surface of too many conservatives, you are likely to find, at best, the principles of Rousseau and Robespierre and the politics of Franklin Roosevelt. This is true even of all too many Christians, though they have better grounds to stand on. In opposing abortion and same-sex marriage, Christian conservatives, to take the most honorable example, fall into one of two errors.
The more pardonable error is to rely solely on Scripture and/or the authority of the Church, as if we would even be considering such nonsense as Gay Marriage if a significant minority of Republican politicians were any kind of Christian. The argument from religious authority only works with members of the same religion.
When the appeal to authority fails them, Christians--especially Catholics--turn to the revolutionary-leftist language of international human rights. Babies have rights that must be protected, the right to be born and the right to live in a normal family with parents of opposite sexes. Why not throw in the right to parents with good looks, high incomes, and Ivy League educations?
If babies and children have rights, who is to secure them ? Since the children cannot sue in court or demand their rights, overpaid government agents must rescue them by stripping parents of their authority. When the left does this, conservatives call them "child-savers" and denounce the government as a "nanny state," but when conservatives call for exactly the same state intervention, they are defenders of the family.
It is truly a movement of scribblers, pharisees, and actors. Some years ago I had dinner with a leading family-values Christian conservative, a married man and father who spent the evening trying to pick up the pretty waitress, using lines he clearly had practiced. You all recall the recent case of Dinesh D'Souza who claimed not to know that Christians were not supposed to spend the night with a future second wife while they were still married to the first.
But even if they were sincere, as few pro-family conservatives are, the conservative mind today is the leftist mind of a generation ago. Their hearts may well be in the right place, but in their minds they see themselves as crusaders and liberators, defenders of individual rights and downtrodden minorities. Always fighting for last year's revolutionary cause, they are in no shape to fight against the latest phase of the revolution.
Here we are, then, where all the family-values rhetoric has brought us: Catholics who make up wild tales about Rome, Mormons who cut the money off from the anti-same-sex-marriage-movement, and left-minded conservatives who cut their losses and go prowling about the world seeking the ruin of widows' bank accounts.