A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, August 9, 2010

Keeping It Secular


In a rather obtuse New York Times column today Ross Douthat argues that Judge Walker's ruling in favor of same-sex marriage amounts to the abandonment of
one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit. But based on Judge Walker’s logic — which suggests that any such distinction is bigoted and un-American — I don’t think a society that declares gay marriage to be a fundamental right will be capable of even entertaining this idea.
 But is it the business of the courts to protect one supposed "great idea of Western civilization" over another: namely, equality under the law? I submit that opposition to the latter idea is truly "bigoted and un-American," just like Prop 8. 

Responding to Douthat, Glenn Greenwald observes that
one can emphatically embrace every syllable of Judge Walker's ruling while simultaneously insisting on the moral or spiritual superiority of heterosexual marriage.  There would be nothing inconsistent about that.  That's because Judge Walker's ruling is exclusively about the principles of secular law -- the Constitution -- and the legitimate role of the State. 
Exactly the point: We live under a secular government, despite all the blustering from the right (and sometimes from the left).

There are all sorts of things secular law permits which society nonetheless condemns. Engaging in racist speech is a fundamental right but widely scorned. The State is constitutionally required to maintain full neutrality with regard to the relative merits of the various religious sects (and with regard to the question of religion v. non-religion), but certain religions are nonetheless widely respected while others -- along with atheism -- are stigmatized and marginalized. Numerous behaviors which secular law permits -- excessive drinking, adultery, cigarette smoking, inter-faith and inter-racial marriages, homosexual sex -- are viewed negatively by large portions of the population.
Of course, the wingnut defenders of Western civilization will retort that Greenwald, like Judge Walker, is gay. But for the rest of us, here's a wonderful collection of photographs of recently married couples.