Below is a response to the above linked article in the NYT. I attempted to really rip apart Mr. Douthat’s explanation; however, I used more than my allotted 1500 words. Essentially:
1) “Redefining marriage” is a morally dubious dumbing down of the issue at hand, and is, at heart, playing politics with language.
2) Marriage no, civil unions yes = semantics, not logic or morals. No one owns the word marriage; you and your fellow believers cannot keep it for yourself.
3) Your reasoning avoids the obvious conclusion in favor of attacking the President for dithering. What if, instead, the President and his staff are savvy enough to realize that the slightly longer term solution is BOTH the morally and politically smart move? Leaping to the moral high ground on this issue right now, based just on the reasons you cite, would be both a setback (and thus, immoral in the long run) and political suicide in that it sabotages the near future and long term for an act of self-righteousness in the immediate moment and increases the Repulican party’s chances, thus putting the opposition in more complete control. What you consider dithering (conveniently so), may indeed be realpolitik.
4) Allowing the states and “the market” (people, and thus jobs and money, moving because of state laws) to decide the winners and losers of this debate, while a morally limited strategy in my opinion, would serve to undercut the conservative stance on marriage with a conservative idea, if indeed the polls do correctly indicate a trend towards majority acceptance.
My much more verbose and unedited version is below, if you care to see my longer process of thinking through with words….
1) “In the latest Gallup poll, 50 percent of Americans support redefining marriage to include same-sex couples” - this should be: “50 percent of Americans support ending the practice of discrimination as it has been applied to a specific subset of relationships between consenting adults, thereby limiting their right to equal protection under the law as stated in the Constitution of the United States of America.” (Or perhaps something shorter, I’m not a pollster or newspaper writer.)
There. As they say, I fixed that for you… and Gallup.
2) ”Supporters of same-sex marriage…” “enlightenment and progress against reaction, bigotry and hate. I don’t accept that framing, but I…” “see the conflict over same-sex unions as a clear-cut struggle between good and evil, with no possibility of middle ground.”
Semantics, Mr. Douthat. Just because you are emotionally and intellectually tied to both a religious and ideological/political system of thought that rejects the evolution of human thought, history, and practical reality in favor of unwavering support of outmoded mores and dictates from a personal God you cannot impose upon everyone (and, if you’ve studied at all, you know this isn’t the entirely the case… at least your own religion evolved quite drastically over its first few hundred years)—just because this is your stance, it does not make your statement anything more than a quibble over semantics and a personal lament that you and your fellow believers do not have ultimate power over a single word. This is as politically dubious, and logically more so, than what you are accusing of the president. (Again, sorry for the long and winding sentences, I do not have the time to revise or worry about it, nor do I have a demanding editor over my shoulder.)
3) Your reasoning avoids an obvious conclusion that is both morally viable (if not moral crusading) and politically useful. If we assume that the President and his staff, confidants, etc. are aware of the two reasons you state (rejection of decisions handed down from above, but in favor of the growing change in attitude; and the difficulty with determining reality with polling numbers), then the White House may be employing a realpolitik strategy—a strategy that might seem only politically saavy (and therefore only self-serving) to yourself and others who dislike the President and want to limit him to one term, but is in fact also morally the correct move at this moment if the end goal is to achieve equal protection under the law.
We all know that the law and social norms move at various speeds, depending on the issue, and that declaring something to be law does not make it so in practice. If the President were to declare his opinion on same-sex marriage right now, and either fight for a bill or amendment to be passed or sign an executive order, what good would that do? It would be the moral high ground in the very immediate short term, but what would be the ACTUAL consequences of this moral stance in the for the political and social near future? Very likely, based even on your own premises, it would be a setback. Not only would an instant social backlash occur, but the likelihood of a political backlash in the form of a lost re-election would dramatically increase. Then we would have Mitt Romney as President, and the Republican party in much more control to reverse or stalemate any progress in this moral cause (and a political atmosphere that could filter and distort the social norm progress). Any bill or executive order obtained now would be overturned if this were to happen. A move now would be more of a self-righteous morality rather than a realistic and truly consequential morality.
In addition (and I realize this is tacked on), it is a saavy move by way of allowing states and “the market” to decide this question, and as time evolves, letting the winners (which, I do believe to be on side of same-sex marriage) in this chess game to show themselves. While I personally believe there is a moral limit to this sort of strategy, conservative ideology tends to valorize this mechanism; to “win” by this method would use a conservative idea (and overused talking point) to undermine the conservative stance on marriage.
So, as we see, you allow your political and religious affiliation to mess with your logic here: linguistically in the first two and in the limited scope of your conclusion in the third. Instead, what you are attempting is to discredit the President by focusing on what you believe to be dithering and political maneuvering on what should be a subject of moral clarity. If you want to attack the President, then do so; do not, however, employ an artifice of logic, particularly one that is so transparent.