Friday, August 13, 2010

Ezra vs. Douthat - next rounds

Ezra yesterday:  
In other words, America does not currently conceive of marriage in the way that Douthat and Tushnet would like it to conceive of marriage, and in the way it would need to conceive of marriage in order for there to be a good reason the institution can't accommodate gays. So to oppose gay marriage, Douthat and Tushnet must first construct an alternative version of marriage, and then argue that if real marriage opens to gays, that's another step away from the idealized marriage that would be closed to gays.
I'm sticking to my assertion that not even Douthat conceives of marriage in the way he's put forth, because if he really, really did, then he'd advocate for marriage to be available only to the procreating. In fact, he'd need to advocate for the establishment of government sex panels to make sure married couples were engaging in practices that might result in procreation, or risk losing their marriage status. (Truly, I could go on and on with the absurdities that would follow if Douthat's notions of the real purpose of marriage were correct.)

Back to Ezra:
Deep into his essay, Douthat admits that this is a difficult argument to mount. "This thickness issue also helps explain what often sounds like tongue-tiedness and/or desperation from social conservatives when they’re asked to explain what, exactly, it is about marriage that makes it distinctively heterosexual," he says. That's an important insight, but I think it cuts in the other direction. When you hold a position that you feel very deeply but can't justify with persuasive facts or clear theory, it's generally a signal that something is awry in the underlying position.
Ezra analogizes that the move toward acceptance of gay marriage is like the shift from VCR to DVD.

Douthat responds to Ezra today:

Douthat quibbles with Ezra's pick for analogy and says it's more like Betamax vs. VCR.  
Like the Betamax supporters,  social conservatives are convinced that they have a superior product — in this case, a conception of marriage that ultimately leads to greater overall human flourishing than the newer, thinner understanding. But having a theoretically superior product isn’t always enough: You have to be able to persuade the world to buy it, or buy into it, and you have to adjust as the world changes and some of the forces that gave your model a structural advantage in the marketplace shrink or disappear. And on both fronts conservatives have been conspicuously failing.

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