Marriage Equality: Turning the Tide Towards an Idea Whose Time Has Come
by Rabbi Rick Brody
As one who has never been quiet about my advocacy for equal rights and inclusion for the queer (LGBTQ) community, including marriage equality, and as the unnamed husband in a popular submission on the Huffington Post from a rabbi who staunchly promotes those same values, I figured it was time for me to offer up a post of my own.
A Facebook friend shared a communication from MoveOn.org about marriage equality and criticized it for being propaganda that conflated a notion of inevitability (“You can’t stop an idea whose time has come”) with the need for a “revolutionary vanguard” (his words) to push the revolution (“Help us turn the tide”). He then compared this phenomenon of “turning the tide” to that of the Bolsheviks. He also mistakenly spoke about the “pushing” of “gay marriage.”
Here is the post in question, followed by an adaptation of my response to my friend. I should clarify from the outset that I have no affiliation with MoveOn.org and, while I agree with many of the stances the organization takes, I make no official endorsement of anything it says or does:
While I make no hesitation in expressing my absolute conviction in the moral necessity for marriage equality, I’m not interested in debating the “merits” of my views or criticizing someone else’s; what I am interested in doing is clarifying the way you framed the issue and the particular “propaganda” you have criticized above because I believe you have severely misunderstood and distorted the message:
No one is “pushing” for “gay marriage.” The issue is equality under the law. I’m not pushing for atheism when I demand that Christian bias be removed from public textbooks and classrooms. Nor am I pushing for abortion when I demand that a woman be left free to care for her own body as she so chooses without the government getting between her doctor and her vagina. As many have said, “If you’re opposed to abortion, then don’t have one.” And, “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married.” The “implementation of a policy” that you’re referring to is not about a revolutionary change. It’s about taking the rights afforded to some and extending them to all, equally. Perhaps more to the point, it’s about ending a particular policy, one of discrimination. No one ever spoke about heterosexual marriage as a “policy,” at least not until people began challenging hetero-only marriage as a discriminatory policy. It just simply was, and nobody gave any thought to that reality being any different, because enough brave people hadn’t yet spoken up and begun living their lives openly and honestly, demonstrating to the world that there is no logical, rational, or ethical reason to prohibit them from having the same access and entitlements to this “policy.” Those of us arguing for marriage equality are saying that the new status quo of equal protection under the law also should not be a “policy;” it simply should be what it is.
As for “the idea whose time has come,” I understand the comment to be not in conflict with the notion of “turning the tide.” I see it this way: A critical mass of people obviously already exists to challenge the status quo, raise the consciousness of others, and expand the conversation about marriage equality. It is part of the national conversation; the courts have established this fact by their repeated hearing of the legal challenges at various levels of the judicial system, the majority of state legislatures have felt the need to address the issue one way or another in their laws (while, again, 30 years ago it was a non-issue), and the president has commented on it repeatedly. So, undoubtedly, the idea has “arrived.” One of the only things in its way is bigoted lawmakers who refuse to see the ethical necessity of accepting this idea. MoveOn is saying, “the idea is here and we, supporters of equality, are not going to let it go away because we believe in it unflinchingly.” So it’s not a comment about descriptive inevitability–even though it is a fact that regularly, more and more people, especially younger people, poll in growing numbers in favor of marriage equality. The comment is one of the ethical appeal of the idea and the fact that supporters of it will not rest until the idea becomes the law.
Call that propaganda if you like, but Thomas Paine was an extraordinary propagandist and he helped us enshrine an idea (an independent democracy free of royal tyranny) that I hear few people in this country complaining about well over 200 years later. The suffragists of a century ago also succeeded in spreading the necessary propaganda for dismantling gender-based discrimination in voting rights. Not every “idea whose time has come” is another Bolshevik disaster. Sometimes it’s just a matter of what’s right. And helping “turn the tide” to ensure the success of an idea whose time has come is also just the right thing to do.