Once again, Ross Douthat has some shrewd observations about the gay marriage debate. This time he talks about the factors that have caused public opinion to change so rapidly over the last ten years. He rightly argues that the law not only reflects society’s values, but it also shapes them. Douthat insists that there is a “link between law and culture” and that “stigma, harassment and legal sanctions” play a crucial role in “changing attitudes and behavior.” He writes:
The cause of gay marriage has indeed advanced because many millions of people have been persuaded of its merits: No cause could move so swiftly from the margins to the mainstream if it didn’t have appealing arguments supporting it and powerful winds at its back. But it has also advanced, and will probably continue to advance, through social pressure, ideological enforcement, and legal restriction. Indeed, the very language of the movement is explicitly designed to exert this kind of pressure: By redefining yesterday’s consensus view of marriage as “bigotry,” and expanding the term “homophobia” to cover support for that older consensus as well as personal discomfort with/animus toward gays, the gay marriage movement isn’t just arguing with its opponents; it’s pathologizing them, raising the personal and professional costs of being associated with traditional views on marriage, and creating the space for exactly the kind of legal sanctions that figures like Thomas Menino and Rahm Emanuel spent last week flirting with.
Our laws reflect our values, but they also influence them. That is why gay activists want to enshrine gay marriage in the laws of our land. When they do, a social stigma attaches to those who only recognize traditional marriage (e.g., Christians), and their influence can be pushed to the margins. If you doubt that what I am describing is true, then you are not paying close attention to this debate. I should mention, by the way, that this agenda is confirmed and celebrated in Linda Hirshman’s new book Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution – How a Despised Minority Pushed Back, Beat Death, Found Love, and Changed America for Everyone (HarperCollins, 2012).
Yes, we must be about changing hearts and minds. For Christians, that involves first and foremost the preaching of the gospel in fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). That is the only means by which heart and minds can be truly changed to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
But in another sense, changing hearts and minds also involves promoting a culture that values marriage as God has defined it. To that end, we should not forget the importance of pressing our democratic privileges in favor of laws and policies that promote human flourishing and the good of our neighbor. In short, we should not give up on keeping traditional marriage privileged in law.