I like Mark Oppenheimer and his work. He writes the Faith column and also specializes in profiling that strange beast the conservative for the New York Times and sometimes other places (like Salon, in which he profiled me).
But sometimes he is just silly, as in this satirical piece, “You can’t talk traditional marriage without shaming divorce.”
First he suggests that the act of seeking to retain our historic understanding of marriage is really an effort to “shame” gay people. Therefore he argues “shaming divorcees” is the first step to demonstrating a sincere respect for “traditional marriage.” And especially “traditionalists” to prove their bone fides by shaming Republicans, and especially Ronald Reagan.
Where to begin? Oh can no progressive anywhere distinguish between “public policy,” “moral argument” and “shaming and stigma?” Apparently not. I have tried hard to say we should treat gay people with respect as friends, neighbors and fellow-citizens. But I have been thwarted by progressives’ insistence that the opposite of “agreeing with me” must be “shaming me.”
Secondly, people get divorced without any act of wrongdoing (or choice) on their own part, so its hard to see how one can morally (under unilateral divorce laws) shame people for being divorced.
I myself have never sought to “shame” either divorcees or unwed mothers as a class, even while arguing forcefully that marriage is intended to protect children and adults have a serious obligation to sacrifice, if necessary to obtain a mother and father in one home for their kids. (I mean I did this for 15 years before gay marriage was an issue).
I do not believe in “shaming” unwed mothers, because not having an abortion is a good thing, even though having a child out of wedlock is not good for children. Or women. Or men. Or communities. Or taxpayers. Or anyone really.
Finally Mark’s lame effort to blame divorced Ronald Reagan for the rise in acceptance of divorce because he was elected president in 1980 is just dumb. The divorce rate skyrocketed between 1965 and 1980, declining thereafter. Perhaps Reagan’s willingness to champion “family values,” as they were called then, might even be part of the reason. I doubt it but its more plausible on its face than blaming his election for the massive increase in divorce and divorce acceptance championed by liberals that preceded his election.
People like me participated in a serious effort between 1990 and 2003 to find a way to strengthen marriage as an idea and an ideal without stigma or shame.
It seemed to be working, until the gay marriage juggernaut came around, as the NYT’s Ross Douthat points out.