Sunday, June 28, 2015

Can there be honorable defeat?

Consider this post an appetizer for my upcoming more comprehensive post on the same sex marriage decision.

I am generally sympathetic, if not downright enthusiastic, toward pleas like Ross Douthat's The Terms of Our Surrender, searching for a path forward where those who opposed (or maybe even stubbornly persist in opposing) same sex marriage can live in a society that has accepted it.

The events in South Carolina fill me with pessimism about this possibility.

It seems like we attempted to give the Conferderacy some level of this, and the results have not been impressive.  We didn't execute its leaders as traitors.  We allowed the legacy of Confederate generals like Lee, Jackson, and Forrest to grow, even with statues in their honor, while also allowing Grant's legacy to be that of the head of a scandal-filled administration, and Sherman to be cursed.  We let them keep their Confederate symbols and nostalgia for the lost cause.

And what did we get for it? A century of Jim Crow segregation and institutional racism that required a heroic Civil Rights movement to overcome.  Continued simmering resentment that occasionally bubbles up to the surface in horrific ways like the massacre in the Charleston church.  It certainly seems possible that the terms for this surrender were entirely too generous.

So, what does that mean for those opposed to same sex marriage? I can certainly understand the argument that it is a ruinous infection of hatred that must be completely eradicated, rather than allowed to live in the hope that it will remain benign.  Those who publicly held these positions must not be allowed positions of leadership. People and businesses who decline to participate in same sex marriages must be punished. Churches and institutions that opposed it must be marginalized.

Much as I may not like to admit it, a good amount of the energy and numbers behind opposition to same sex marriage found its source in anti-gay bigotry rather than firm, deeply held principles about the nature of marriage. This is manifest by the stories of people changing their minds after encountering gay people, and the general state of heterosexual marriage.

Of course, I and many others liked to think I was different. But then many Confederate romanticize-rs protest that their nostalgia is motivated by various noble motives other than an enthusiasm for the subjugation of a race of people to mere property.  It just so happens that this was also the prime motivator of its existence, and that every time Confederate nostalgia surfaces, it is accompanied by virulent racism.

So, it may be possible that generous, or even less than total, terms of surrender may not be possible. Any chance for that will be dependent on the losers being worthy of an honorable defeat.
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