Gay Marriage: The Direction of History?
Photo by Nicholas Blechman
In an otherwise fascinating NYT article by Bill Keller, "A Brief for Justice Kennedy" (May 27, 2012) , speculating upon how Justice Kennedy might vote on gay marriage, I encountered some expressions concerning the justices of the Supreme Court as a whole that -- speaking as a historian -- I dislike:
They can thwart history. They could rule that states are free to recognize only heterosexual marriages. This would be a disheartening setback, though I imagine it would energize the movement for marriage rights.What do I dislike? The expressions "thwart history" and "postpone history" for their implication that history has a direction. If history did have a direction -- say, an inevitable progression toward some earthly utopia -- we could simply sit back and wait for that couture-in-the-future to arrive, but it has no direction other than the one we press for. Otherwise, the struggle for human rights in this world wouldn't be so hard.
They can postpone history. This is the easy way out. The court could endorse the narrowly worded appellate court ruling on Prop 8, either by actively affirming it or simply declining to hear it. By restoring marriage rights in California, this would instantly double, to 23 percent, the percentage of Americans living in states that treat gays as equals. But it would put off the day when this right is afforded to all Americans.
To be fair, I suppose that some individuals who use a phrase like "the wrong side of history" intend it as shorthand for "contrary to the aims toward which we have been striving" -- which, of course, raises the question of who "we" is, but leave that aside for now.
Personally, I expect gay marriage to be legalized nationwide in the US relatively soon. The younger generation sees it as a civil rights issue -- even a human rights issue -- and this tends to be the case among evangelicals as well. The older generation of evangelicals treated gay rights as something to oppose in the culture wars, but the younger generation has grown up knowing openly gay individuals and lacks animus toward them. Churches, even the conservative ones, are often more open about sexual issues these days. I've heard entire sermons on addiction to pornography in which preachers acknowledge that the percentage of those addicted is identical among non-Christians and evangelical Christians. My point is that sexuality is discussed explicitly among evangelicals these days with an openness and degree of understanding that would have shocked evangelicals of the 1980s.
Evangelicals know that gays attend church, even conservative churches -- this recognition stems from the greater openness about sex -- and I rarely hear even older evangelicals express animus toward gays. Not that they approve of the lifestyle, but they often understand that gays probably aren't choosing to be homosexual, not anymore than a heterosexual made a choice to be straight. They accept the orientation but oppose the act. That's the older generation of evangelicals, I emphasize. The younger generation tend to agree that the private acts of gays are nobody's business, that gay sexuality is an issue between a gay individual and God, precisely as with other sexual issues among consenting adults.
Such are my impressions, anyway. There are probably statistics on this, but I've not looked for any since I wanted this post to be based on my own subjective impressions, but if any knowledgeable people can link to stats on this issue, feel free, for I'm curious if my impressions correspond to larger trends among evangelicals or if they imply that the evangelical churches I've attended have instead been outliers.
But I suspect that evangelicals in the West are simply reflecting the larger cultural shift . . .