Inevitability, History, and the Moral Universe

Rob Tisinai

February 10th, 2013

Self-described Catholic blogger Brandon Vogt recently published Rebuttals to arguments for same-sex marriageHe tries to disprove 10 common same-sex-marriage arguments, but merely highlights the most common mistakes of his own camp. I’m addressing each of his 10 points in separate posts as a kind of back-to-basics review of our opposition.

Vogt’s offers this tenth item in his list of “our” arguments:

10. Same-sex marriage is inevitable, so we should stand on the right side of history.

Do we actually say this? If so, stop it!

I believe that same-sex marriage is inevitable. I believe we’re on the right side of history. But Vogt’s phrasing of #10 suggests we think people should believe something simply because everyone else is starting to. That would be ridiculous. Granted, Vogt himself engaged in that kind of thinking when he made a big deal over the 70% of African-Americans he (falsely) claimed voted for Prop 8, but I’m glad he’s given up that reasoning here.

Personally, I’d phrase #10 like this: If you find people are changing their minds and abandoning your position, even people whom your side once held up as its best experts, then perhaps you should take a moment to recheck your arguments — ask whether you’re holding on to them out of habit and poor information rather than reason.

And that’s not just advice for Vogt. That’s sound policy in general, good mental housekeeping, even if you don’t end up changing your mind.

Most of Vogt’s #10, however, he spends trying to convince us to join him in denial:

Many advocates of same-sex marriage considered [the votes in Maine, Maryland, Washington, and Minnesota] a sign that the marriage tides are turning. But is that true? And if so, how does that shift impact the case for same-sex marriage?

First, if the tide is in fact turning, it’s still little more than a ripple.

What comes next is fascinating. He offers a series of facts, and each one of them strikes down what he’s trying to prove.

The states that voted in November to redefine marriage did so with slim margins, none garnering more than 53 percent of the vote.

Our side has gone from lop-sided defeats, to slim defeats, to slim but uncontested wins. You know what that means? The tide is turning.

The tiny victories were despite record-breaking funding advantages, sitting governors campaigning for same-sex marriage and strong support among the media.

A record-breaking fundraising advantage for our side? The tide is turning.

Sitting governors campaigning for same-sex marriage, when just a few years ago they frantically avoided the issue? The tide is turning.

Before these four aberrations, 32 states had voted on the definition of marriage. Each and every time they voted to affirm marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Of the six states that recognized same-sex marriage before the November election, none arrived there through a vote by the people.

I love his characterization of these wins as “aberrations.” That, of course, is what he’s trying to prove, yet he just sticks the word in as if he’s earned it. But anyway:  After a long series of defeats, our side wins not one, not two, not three, but four out of four victories in the same election? The tide is turning!

Each redefinition [before those victories] was imposed by state legislatures and courts.

So now our side’s winning strategies include not just legislatures and courts, but direct votes by the people as well? The tide is turning, turning, turning.

I don’t know what Vogt is thinking with these paragraphs. If I created a new blog post titled, “The Tide is Turning,” I could use Vogt’s litany of facts as a great and persuasive outline (heck, I just did!). This, folks, is what desperation looks like.

Speaking of desperation, Vogt continues:

Overall, Americans remain strongly in favor of traditional marriage. Most polls show roughly two-thirds of the country wants to keep marriage as it is.

Hello? This is the point at which a link would be valuable. Some sort of — any sort of — evidence. For instance, if I were to argue that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, I might link to a poll by CBS. Or ABC and the Washington Post. Or Gallup. I might use those links to show this is a tremendous jump in support. I might toss in a graph showing this radical shift. Even better, I might point out that not only is support for marriage equality getting stronger in each age group, but that people get more supportive as they age, contrary to expectations that they ought to be getting more conservative.

But Vogt does none of that. He makes a silly claim about “most polls” and gives us not a shred of evidence. Unless…

Unless he’s saying that most polls taken in the past 20 years are solidly against same-sex marriage. But that wouldn’t work for him either; it would just highlight the big shift going on now. It would just highlight turning of the tide.

Of course, at the beginning of this piece I didn’t merely say the tide is turning. I said I believe same-sex marriage is inevitable, and we’re on the right side of history. You might think I’m invoking Martin Luther King’s quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” But I’m skeptical of that. It’s more of a hope and aspiration than a prediction. I prefer this quote by the great man:

Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this ‘hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.

Same-sex marriage is inevitable because of the tireless efforts, the hard work, the valiant and dangerous battle already foughtby those who came before us, the battle to set us free of the closet. Once that happened, once straight people realized they counted us among their colleagues, their family, their friends, then their bias against us began to collapse, with a cultural acceptance rising in its place, leading now to a legal acceptance as well.

Same-sex marriage is inevitable because our efforts, our work, our battle is built on their achievement. All we need to do is live outside that closet, step through the door they opened for us, and live true, authentic lives. We’ll gather more straight allies; everything else will follow. And in our lifetimes we’ll be able to say the arc of the moral universe was long, but it bended toward justice.

Next: Vogt on bigotry, homophobia and religious hatred.


February 10th, 2013

Great post Rob!

In regards to the other side being outspent, love how they’re suddenly complaining about this. We’ve always outspent them, and now they’re saying it’s why they lost?


February 10th, 2013

Rob–excellent as always. My two cents:

“…none arrived there through a vote by the people.”

Of course he implies that people’s civil rights SHOULD be put to a popular vote. We know how that would have worked for African Americans in the 1960s. I think it took 30 years for the last state to repeal their actual anti-miscegenation laws (post-Loving v. Virgina) and polls showed that–in several states–a repeal would have been MASSIVELY defeated if left to the popular vote.

“Overall, Americans remain strongly in favor of traditional marriage.”

Heck–count me as one. I am ALSO for Marriage Equality. His labels don’t quite work and I’d be extremely interested to see the wording in the polls–assuming they didn’t just come from his rectum.


February 10th, 2013

Same-sex marriage is inevitable because marriage developed through a tradition of same-sex illegality. We couldn’t marry because even a relationship was illegal, not because of any overt declaration that marriage had to be one man, one woman.

Same-sex marriage is toward the end of our journey from illegality to equality. Inability to marry is a legacy of illegality. It has to pass.


February 11th, 2013

Great post once again. I think Vogt is on soild ground for trying to refute the argument. I hear/read some variation of “don’t be on the wrong side of history” pretty often. Although yes, it does get to the heart of the issue.

Odd how often the religious raises the legislature issue. As if elected officials are somehow illegitimate.


February 13th, 2013

“The states that voted in November to redefine marriage did so with slim margins, none garnering more than 53 percent of the vote.”

He can’t even get the basic facts right. R74 in Washington passed with 53.7% of the vote, when all the votes were finally tallied by the end of November. He probably just lazily grabbed the numbers that were reported on election night.

Also, in MN, if you count the blank ballots as no votes, as MN law requires, more than 53% of the vote came down on our side. It is also worth noting that the judicial retention election in IA served as a proxy vote on marriage and more than 53% voted to retain. BTW, our side was outspent in IA, so money was not the issue.

These margins are comparable to, or better, than their margin of victory in CA, ME, AZ, and SD.

Also, a lot of the really big wins that they racked up in 1998-2006 were uncontested elections. Something like 2/3 of these contests involved no serious campaign. In those early days, our side knew that we would likely lose and there was little incentive to put in a lot of time and money in order to improve our margin of defeat by 5 or 10 points. I don’t see why a string of uncontested elections from 8-10 years ago has more legitimacy than intensively contested elections from 4 months ago.

It will be interesting to see what happens in OR in 2014. OR passed its amendment in 2004 with 56.5% and an election on the same issue in the same state exactly 10 years later will be a great way to frame and understand the change in the public’s view of this issue.

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