Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The concern trolls are right, but that's nothing to be concerned about

As the Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments on Prop 8 and DOMA in the shadow of a remarkable shift in public opinion in favor of marriage equality, a number of conservatives have noted that if the Court decides in favor of gay rights, this could set back the movement by sparking a backlash. Perhaps, they warn, a judicially imposed resolution means we are moving "too fast."

In response, proponents of marriage equality argue that opponents must have no serious arguments if they are reduced to "concern trolling."

Here's the thing. The concern trolls are right -- at least insofar as they predict a backlash. Opponents of gay marriage will no doubt get frustrated if they are ruled against, in the same way that abortion opponents were angered by Roe v. Wade. (But Roe was surely more of a shock to opponents than a gay marriage decision would be.) So, sure, there will be a backlash. Gay rights and abortion are very different issues, with different patterns in public opinion, but at least this much of the comparison is apt. People on the losing side of political conflict tend to mobilize.

A Court ruling in favor of marriage equality will not resolve all conflict over gay rights. There will still be bullying. There will still be hate crimes. Ask any African American if they think their struggle for equality ended after Loving v. Virginia in 1967. 

Marriage proponents have noted the number of moderate Democrats and Republicans now supporting gay marriage rights. What was once an issue on which only social liberals differed from the rest of the country may soon become an issue on which only social conservatives differ. But they will continue to differ. And that means they will continue to pressure Republicans to be conservative. And some will be responsive.

But that's politics. You take your victories, and you keep struggling. It would be silly to not make progress because the other side will push back. If history judges marriage equality to be progress, it will never judge it to have happened "too quickly" or by the wrong means.


  1. "Ask any African American if they think their struggle for equality ended after Loving v. Virginia in 1967."

    Apples and oranges.

    Loving v. Virginia ended miscegenation laws with very little backlash. The struggle for equality didn't end with Loving, and the gay rights movement won't end either, but the African American struggle for marriage equality did end decisively at that point. Not long before Loving, MLK, Jr. was afraid to push the issue. Within twenty years after Loving, even the most diehard former segregationists in elected office were praising Loving as correctly decided and at least one formerly segregationist U.S. Senator had a staffer who was in a mixed race marriage working in his office.

    This doesn't mean that there wouldn't be backlash to a gay marriage constitutional right ruling. But, neither the Evans v. Romer case, nor the Lawrence case, in which SCOTUS made decisive pro-gay rights rulings, produced meaningful political backlash focused on those decisions.

  2. A third possibility could be that a big sweeping ruling for gay rights could be more like the practical results of Brown v Board in the long term. Brown is of course a very important decision but from a practical stand point it only really ended laws ordering segregation and the reality of school segregation for a breif period in the 60's and 70's. Since then you've seen the federal courts largely back away from things like large scale busing schemes and today many school systems, north and south, are as segregated as they were before Brown. I think it's possible a big marriage equality ruling could result in moving issues like bullying or whatever to the back burner in the same way de facto school segregation is rarely discussed publicly today.