Thursday, August 19, 2010

What Rush Limbaugh doesn't understand about the history of same-sex marriage

Rush Limbaugh says, in a monologue about California's Proposition 8:

Thousands of years of discriminatory homophobia has led to gay people not being allowed to marry, and this judge (finally someone enlightened) has come along and seen it. Wrong.
Later in the monologue, he says that "leftists . . . are cheering a judge who has just said that Prop 8, voted on by seven million Californians is unconstitutional because of decades -- generations, thousands of years -- of homophobia and discrimination practiced by heterosexuals."

Though he doesn't quite say this explicitly, his implication is that supporters of same-sex marriage hold an underlying belief that people throughout almost all of human history have been irrational in their opposition to same-sex marriage.

This is a powerful way of framing his opponents. Who are these liberals to deem almost all of humanity irrational? Maybe they're the irrational ones. But this is a confused way to think about the issue of same-sex marriage.

Limbaugh -- along with many others on his side -- seems to be assuming that by not having same-sex marriage, people throughout history have thought about same-sex marriage and decided that they don't want it happen. But just because something is an issue now doesn't mean it was an issue in the past. For most of human history, people didn't think about "same-sex marriage" or "same-sex civil unions" or even the concept of "sexual orientation."

By recognizing these facts, I'm not putting down people throughout history as irrational; I'm excusing their behavior. If they hadn't even advanced to the level of being conscious of their decisions, they're not very culpable for what they did or didn't do.

How long has this issue been actively on most people's minds? I'd say about 20 years at most, and for the beginning of that period it was fairly theoretical possibility. The issue has mainly picked up steam in this millennium. I find it pretty amazing how much the law has changed in the direction of same-sex marriage in that extremely short period of time -- including in some unlikely places. (For instance, Argentina, a predominantly Catholic country, recently instituted same-sex marriage; the United States is a relatively conservative country and already has same-sex marriage in 6 states.) Since support for same-sex marriage is heavily concentrated among the young, we can expect this trend to intensify in the coming decades.

The question isn't why same-sex marriage supporters are so critical of most people who have ever existed. The question is why same-sex marriage opponents are so pessimistic about the direction in which the world is clearly headed.


Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

A large percentage of Native American tribes had institutionalized transgendered roles that included marriage between a transgendered male and a traditionally gendered male. Westerners used the term "berdache" for this; the more p.c. term is now "two-spirit."

John Althouse Cohen said...

Reminds me of the Albanian "men." (Blogged.) But they didn't go ahead and marry as they otherwise would have; they were celibate.