Thingish Things

In Defense of the ‘Neanderthals’

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - May• 11•12

The amount of vile spewed against conservative Republicans for opposing gay marriage is head scratching. In a period of fewer than 10 years, the doctrinaire politically correct police have discovered the issue, come to agree with it, and declared opponents of same sex marriage knuckle-dragging Neanderthals. In the 1990’s, no one was talking about this issue. Civil unions was all the rage. But in a decade, gay marriage became so obvious and one-sided to some people that all who opposed it became fascista. That’s ridiculous.

Let me get one thing off the table. I have actively supported same sex marriage for years — even in the 1990’s. I have written about it on this blog countless times and I have privately argued in its favor in the deep, dark recesses of conservative Republican huddles. I am one of the people who sees this issue as obvious — I think it’s a civil rights issue — but never once have I misunderstood or painted those who oppose it as characteristically evil. Because they are not.

Conservatives are supposed to oppose radical changes like gay marriage. The core of their philosophy is to slow down change. Indeed, conservatism is not even an ideology; it is a guiding inclination to stick with what has worked over a period of generations. Abraham Lincoln summed it up in the simplest words: “Conservatism is the tried and true against the new and untried,” he said.

Conservatives don’t throw out time-tested institutions lightly because they understand that abrupt change can be disastrous. The law of unintended consequences is always lurking. When we mess with established truths, we gamble with history itself. We gamble with the future in ways we can’t possibly understand.

Or as Santayana said: “We never know how near to the taproot of the tree we are hacking.”

Traditional marriage  is the taproot of Western Civilization.  How can conservatives not be wary of the sudden alteration of an institution at the core of the word’s social structure for millennia?

You can go ahead and support gay marriage.  I do. But trying to paint opponents as behemoths is wrongheaded and hypocritical.  If the issue is so cut and dry, why wasn’t everyone arguing for it in the 80’s? 

P.S.  I’m going to write more fully about this in my Monday Newsday Westchester column. 

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  1. Me says:

    Given that the percentage of married Americans is at a record low, perhaps the conservatives need to look at this as the shoring up of that taproot…

  2. William J Ryan says:

    Good points Bill. I have always felt that marriage is, while a legal state, is mostly a religious institution. In a nation where church and state are separate why not leave marriage as a matter for the churches and remove it from the civil sphere?

    So if you and your partner wish to have a civil union recognized by the state with all the civil and legal benefits and liabilities conferred by marriage – so be it – no matter the gender of your partner. Marriage then could take place in a church – if that church felt that your relationship was acceptable for marriage. If gay couples wish to marry they would need to find faiths that accept that – and plenty would. Others would not and that faith-based decision would be respected (by most) and protected (constitutionally).

    I guess the point is – get the government out of the whole marriage business.

  3. Urban Conservative says:

    There are a few questions and answers that I think conservatives should consider on this matter.

    1. What is government’s purpose of being in the marriage business?
    Answer: Marriage is a contract and there are legal rights within the contract that government needs to define. When a contract needs to be modified, cancelled or voided, an arbiter needs to assist in settling matters. Think of it like joint-tenancy in real estate. Since this contract is recognized by a license, government also feels the need to tax individuals differently when entered into the contract.

    2. Does marriage have any other significance?
    Answer: To government, I can’t really think of anything other than legal contract and tax reasons. Bill, if you can think of another reason, please include in your upcoming op-ed.
    As for the many different religions of the world, marriage has a lot more significance. If we are a Nation that respects religious liberty, then the opinions of a church or mosque or synagogue should be taken into account.

    3. So how do we solve this problem, because in essence, government should not be restricting the contract rights of two people who are partners. If we have full rights to property in a joint tenancy, we should have full rights with a person we share our lives with?

    Does government really care so much to define this contract with the word “marriage?”
    Shouldn’t government simply let the religious organizations call their union of two people decree a marriage and government simply uses it as a document of proof for issuing a license? A license that could universally be called – say – a Civil Union?

    By doing this, everyone who enters into such contract receives a Recognition of Civil Union by Government. If they want it to be a “marriage” they have to go into a house of God to make it an actual “marriage.” If that House of God is open to same sex couples then fine. It’s that church’s freedom to do so. If you are catholic and want to marry someone of the same sex, guess what? Catholic churches don’t need to perform the service or recognize it. I hear there are Episcopal Churches that might be open to allowing same sex couples to enter marriage, so I suggest being open to changing religions.
    And if you go down to City Hall to get hitched, it might not be a “marriage” to a church and government may call it something else when they send the license, but you can call it whatever you want. So what?

    This is the only true conservative way to approach this issue. You want less government, then government should not be defining things. our First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law establishing a religion.” Well, Marriage used to be a contract to between two patriarchs and it developed into a strong religious meaning way before our very young Nation entered into civilization. If our laws were the last to set terms to this contract then eh, why should the United States of America care to call the contract a marriage?

    Now if you want to know what I think about the check boxes of ‘single’ and ‘married’ on your tax returns, that’s another long discussion.

  4. Gordon Katz says:

    Bill, I agree that those who oppose same sex marriage should not be labeled as neanderthals. They are more likely social or moral conservatives.

    I dont think they are opposing it due to a methodical and reasoned judgement that altering the civil-law -social-fabric before the country is ready will bring major pragmatic challenges. i.e. most are not saying, “we can make this change but lets wait a while until everyone is ready.”

    They are saying,” we should never make this change.” They are morally opposed to it. That is a very different version of conservatism than you are presenting. Its politically expedient to couch their opposition under the eloquent words of Lincoln or Santayana. But thats not why they are really dong it.

  5. Justin Kahm says:

    Is the issue of opposing slavery “cut and dry”? If so, why wasn’t everyone arguing for it in the 1780’s?

  6. Bill says:

    Fair point, Justin. But that, indeed, was being debated in the 1760’s, my only point being that more time was involved in deliberation. But again, fair point,

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