Proponents of gay marriage should read a little American history because they’re on the verge of repeating some of it to their detriment. When what you demand you get, you can call it success, but success has baggage. Ask Southerners who wouldn’t leave well enough alone but insisted upon, and got, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and then lost everything in the end.
Proponents have the Big Mo coming out of this week’s Supreme Court hearings on California’s Proposition 8, which defines marriage in that state as between one man and one woman, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which limits the definition of marriage for federal purposes to a legal union between one man and one woman.
They’ve earned their success. They worked hard for years to advance their cause. They were committed, visible, noisy and politically effective. They’re even winning at the ballot box, something thought unthinkable as recently as 18 months ago.
Opponents of gay marriage, on the other hand, smugly took for granted always having the wind at their back on the issue. They didn’t bother talking to many outside their own circles – mostly churches – didn’t bother moving among those in the secular culture to persuade them that traditional social values were worth preserving and flat failed to do the politics well. They have nobody to blame but themselves.
I’m not alone in saying it either. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly was as blunt as a brick in the face when he said gay-marriage proponents offered a compelling argument in favor of it while opponents did little more than “thump the Bible.”
Bible thumping may work when it’s from the preacher in the pulpit to the people in the pews, but it falls on deaf ears to the growing number of unchurched Americans who are probably also the same growing number of Americans who are comfortable with gay marriage.
But even if proponents run the table at the Supreme Court, it’s not game over. Because they can’t help themselves, they risk snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Whenever the left achieves a big victory, they spike the ball, and when they do it comes back to bite them in the behind. Their utter disdain for those who don’t march lockstep with them doesn’t help either. Arrogance and contempt are bad enough but put them together and rub everyone else’s noses in it and your victory can sour.
That’s what Pre-Civil War Southerners did with the Fugitive Slave Act, which turned the ambivalence and benign neglect of much of the North toward slavery into open hostility and an eventual willingness to shed Northern blood to end it.
The act required law enforcement officials and others throughout the country to participate in capturing and returning runaway slaves to their owners. It didn’t matter if it was in Michigan or Maine — they were obligated to become agents of slave owners in subjugating and re-enslaving human beings who, in most cases, were free persons under the laws of the states in which they were captured. Furthermore, the act didn’t allow a hearing for the purported “slave,” but relied exclusively on a slave owner’s say so.
The South’s insistence upon the act hardened Northern suspicions that the expansion of slavery was unstoppable. By having their noses rubbed in it, Northerners who were opposed to slavery where they lived, but willing to let others have it elsewhere, became galvanized in their opposition. One result was the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. The rest is history.
Had Southerners left well enough alone and respected the free-soil leanings of Northerners that became inflamed by Southern bullying into abolitionist radicalism, scorched-earth Civil War and Reconstruction vengeance, things might not have ended so badly for them. Self-inflicted blowback is a real bitch, a lesson as valid then as it is today.
One of the compelling arguments in favor of gay marriage was fairness: Gays should be treated the same as straights when it comes to marriage. But “fairness” now includes bullying people who want to be left alone. When you force them to get involved, they may do so against you and turn the sympathy you got yesterday into tomorrow’s antipathy
What’s gained by strong-arming a florist or photographer into participating in a gay wedding that deeply and profoundly offends the person’s religious beliefs? Why do that when all you’ll get are ugly flowers and lousy pictures? Aren’t there tons of other florists or photographers or caterers or wedding venues who would love to have your business?
If your goal was equality with straight couples on martially-based benefits and legal rights, what’s wrong with civil unions that do that? If Pope Francis, who is firmly opposed to gay marriage, can compromise and live with them, why can’t you? Or do you want to bust him one since he’s the new guy on the block? It’s not as if Catholics aren’t justifiably feeling put upon these days, so add this in for good measure?
And what’s with the whole gay-is-the-new-black thing? Did you run that by those in the black community who regard that as a total crock?
Why press the case to where it stops being about equality for you and becomes a jihad against those who hold to a cultural norm that has existed for thousands of years – your holy war to eradicate anybody and anything that doesn’t bend the knee to your orthodoxy? You wanted respect, so why can’t you show respect?
Or do you need to pile it on and run up the score?
Can’t you take a lesson from Abraham Lincoln who, more than anyone, had a bone to pick with the Fugitive Slave Act-loving South, but instead reached out “with malice toward none, with charity for all…to bind up the nation’s wounds”? Or do you want to rub everyone’s nose in it?
Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.
Scott St. Clair is a journalist, rhetorical pugilist, agent provocateur, aider and abbetor of James O’Keefe and a former competitive Highland piper. He says what he thinks, means what he says and doesn’t suffer fools. He’s also a member of the Victoria Taft Blogforce. His opinions are entirely his own, and you shouldn’t expect them to mirror yours.