Set your watches back… to the future?

The old joke was “Welcome to Ireland; please set your watches back 200 years.” Times they would appear to be changing as Ireland appears to be at the forefront of one of the big human rights developments in the world; the Grey Lady treats us to this discussion of the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland, in light of the impressive (62% to 38%) referendum win for a constitutional amendment permitting same sex marriage in Ireland.
While a huge (and well-deserved) rebuke for one of the most abusive and corrupt religious institutions in the Western world the Church, the Grey Lady’s piece looks, a bit, at the never-ending child abuse scandals that the Church covered up for a long time, I see the Times article failed to mention “Magdalene Laundries,” which persisted for “fallen women” until recently. It does, however, mention the virtual theocratic hold the Church had from rendering homosexual relations a crime to airtight bans on divorce and abortion. But… times, they are a changing.
What I’m trying to figure out, of course, is why a place like Ireland– albeit a small country– is first in the world with something like this. Similar referenda have failed in most American states in which they were posed (the most prominent example being California in 2008, where the vote was largely voted down by millions of people who voted for Barack Obama, himself a staunch opponent of gay marriage at the time), only to have the United States Supreme Court deliberately frustrate the popular will on made-up technical grounds, specifically that the political elites (in the form of California governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown– note the bipartisan nature of elite thought here), didn’t want to defend the referendum result in federal court. And as far as I know, my own State of New York is the largest jurisdiction where gay marriage actually passed the way we are told laws come into being, by a bill passed by both houses of the legislature and then signed by the governor; in most cases gay marriage became law by judicial decision, though the scorecard of 37 states with same-sex marriage shows that 26 were by court decision, eight by legislation (though some of these were as a result of court decision) and three by popular vote.
In some sense, this is what makes Ireland’s referendum all the more startling: this wasn’t one of the perceived uber-liberal places, like Scandinavia or the Netherlands, but somewhere supposedly conservative… and yet, the measure passed by a wide margin.
And that’s kind of where I’m going here. I’ve been blogging now for 13 1/2 years. When I started (days after 9-11), gay marriage was legal nowhere in this country; Hawaii’s Supreme Court had permitted it for a short time in the 1990’s, but the decision was ultimately thwarted by legislation. Then, out of nowhere, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts found that the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that banned same-sex marriage violated that state’s constitution, just in time to create wedge issue to be used against already flawed presidential candidate Senator John Kerry.
But somewhere along the line, elites changed their view on this. Who knows how much of this had to be with former George W. Bush campaign chief (in 2004 no less!) and Republican National Committee Chairman, the now out-as-gay Ken Mehlman, who seems to have spearheaded Republican support of gay marriage? The Grey Lady herself reported on the heavy hitters in finance who were behind the ultimate passage of gay marriage in New York, including my college classmate (the one who isn’t Barack) Dan Loeb, vulture capitalist Paul Singer (whose son is gay) and Cliff Asness.
Thing is, boys and girls, my point is that while same-sex marriage (which has only recently crossed 50% in popularity, and is now around 54% in this country) has its own merits as a matter of, say, “equal protection jurisprudence” (that is to say, it is well-nigh indefensible to assert that a couple consisting of two people of opposite genders can receive a large package of governmentally dictated rights, privileges and benefits from their status as “married” while another couple of two people of the same gender cannot), the grudging and quite recent “popularity” is not what’s driving this issue. What’s driving this issue is that elites– specifically, moneyed White men, usually because someone in their lives happens to be gay– want it to go the way it is. I have noted that this country is no longer even remotely a democracy, but an oligarchy (according to a Princeton study), it makes sense that public policy as such will reflect what elites want– not what non-elites want (or don’t want).
So, it should come as no surprise at all that elites in Ireland got behind the gay marriage referendum, as that’s who supports it here.
I find myself in an interesting position: I agree with the substance of the decision– defenders of “traditional” marriage don’t seem to understand that “tradition” is subjective– other “traditions” include child marriage, arranged marriage, bride price and polygamy– and so, the “tradition of one man and one woman” (note the order!) doesn’t win the day. And issues of institutions devoted to child-rearing, cries of “don’t go there” might be in order in a country where the majority of women under thirty seem to have at least one child out of wedlock. So… the issue itself has, in my view, only one reasonable outcome; there are age differences to be sure in its popularity, but little besides nostalgia for the Ozzie and Harriet era or outright bigotry supports the other side of this issue. Sorry, that’s how I see it. But I have a rather pressing discomfort level…
Gay marriage, which now has the support of the powerful (and hence, is the new status quo, and will presumably become the law of the land in a month or so when the U.S. Supreme Court endorses it by a presumed 5-4 vote), costs the powerful nothing. Indeed, they benefit from it, by being able to show their support for “civil rights.” But, of course, it’s the civil rights of affluent (usually White) people– “those people” aren’t getting married as much. And so, isn’t that interesting? An institution that is becoming the province of the elite as it is– is now opened up to a group that the elites want?
Notice that things that might cost the elites, such as living wages for the working class, single-payer health insurance, or banks paying interest on savings, or public schools that aren’t simply post-industrial baby-sitting services, meaningful food and drug safety testing, and I could go on for days… aren’t happening, by referendum or otherwise.
We can wave a cautionary rainbow flag on this one and celebrate the people of Ireland and their apparent open mindedness; but we have to think about a future where the only things we will be getting are things that the elites want us to have…