Monday, 29 June 2015

Marriage Equality Is Not Enough

The campaign to legalise gay marriage in Western countries has been wildly successful. Political and popular opposition has crumbled in the face of the reasonable demand for a public justification for banning it. The feeble excuses for arguments trotted out by its opponents - including religious institutions, talking heads, politicians and lawyers in court - are increasingly perceived as mere rationalisations for bigotry. This is democracy as public reasoning at its best (and has been cited as such by political philosophers - e.g.).

As a liberal I find much to celebrate about this victory. Yet, at the risk of offending the righteousness of the left, I also see something to regret. The line of reasoning behind the marriage equality movement is disappointing in the smallness of its ambition. It holds up a mirror to the wider renunciation of radical idealism by what passes for the left these days.

Proponents of marriage equality have overwhelmingly argued that it is unfair to treat homosexual relationships differently from heterosexual ones because they are in every significant respect the same. As a rhetorical strategy to advance marriage rights and the acceptance of homosexuals in general this argument may be justified by its political success. But as public reasoning such a justification is disappointing. It does not really advance the idea of equality of deep freedom: it is a demand to have one's conformity accepted rather than to have one's difference respected.