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Same-sex marriage: Traditional values are no longer an exclusive club

On Life

Ruminations and provocations.

Same-sex marriage: Traditional values are no longer an exclusive club

Stephen H. Provost

Justice Antonin Scalia is right.

"One would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie," Scalia wrote in his dissent to Friday's announced 5-4 decision overturning same-sex marriage bans nationwide.

What Scalia did was identify marriage as a conservative value. A family value. And he acknowledged that Friday's ruling gave same-sex couples the right to participate in that conservative institution. What self-described conservatives against same-sex marriage won't like about the court's latest ruling is that people they perceive as "the other" have been given the freedom Friday to become part of "their" tribe - as if marriage were somehow exclusively theirs. That's not conservatism, it's elitism.

Opponents of same-sex marriage don't tend to like the "hippies" Scalia ironically quoted as authoritative in this matter, viewing them as promiscuous, irresponsible, pot-smoking layabouts. That is, of course, a grossly unfair stereotype, but it's one that has persisted in right-wing circles for decades. And that's the point: Some self-described hippies don't smoke pot, some are extremely responsible and socially active, and some are just as committed to the idea of monogamy as those who are likely to vote for Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee.

For decades, gays and lesbians were forced to undergo the indignity of whispered exchanges and secret rendezvous in bathhouses or highway rest stops. Like anyone else, they had a strong drive to experience sexual intimacy, but they were forced to pursue that intimacy in settings that encouraged "one-night stands" or what society would label "promiscuous behavior." Society at large came to view promiscuity as a natural part of the gay experience, when in fact it was just the opposite: Gay and lesbian individuals had to settle for such behavior because they couldn't speak openly, court openly, develop long-term intimate partnerships openly. Sure, some enjoyed having multiple partners - just as some "straight" individuals do.

The point is that promiscuity wasn't some kind of "side effect" of being gay, it was a situation enforced upon the gay and lesbian community by a then-majority view of people who "didn't want to see that put in their face." Then, because same-sex partners went underground with their relationships - out of necessity - the members of that same majority mocked them: "See, we told you so! They're a bunch of promiscuous bed-hoppers." Talk about a no-win situation.

What the Supreme Court did Friday ended that. It validated that everyone in the United States has the right to embrace a conservative tradition, regardless of what the self-described conservative "elite" would prefer. Folks with similar views tried to keep African-Americans from eating at certain establishments - and thereby participating in another conservative institution: capitalism.

The opposition to gay marriage, like the opposition to racial equality, isn't about defending conservative principles, it's about keeping others from exercising those principles themselves. Justice Scalia's words Friday ripped the pretense off that motivation and exposed it for the world to see. He also exposed it as the constitutional affront such opposition embodies: a brazen reassertion of the long-discredited "separate but equal" doctrine. 

Most courts across the country had already recognized this. Now, it's writ large for the nation to see in Scalia's own dissent.

Thank you, Mr. Scalia, for showing your true colors. And thank you, Justice Kennedy, for allowing the rest of us to show ours.

Sincerely, a monogamous, straight, white male ally