The world ended last week, in the eyes of a lot of American conservatives. But then again, life seems always to go on. When Adam Smith was told of General Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga, someone told him that Britain was ruined. “There’s a lot of ruin in a nation,” was Smith’s reply.
So let’s look for the silver lining. Andrew Sullivan, who combined the unlikely attributes of gayness, Tory principles and Catholicism, argued that a right to marriage would make gays more conservative. If that means no public displays of nipple rings on Gay Pride Day, I’m all for it. And perhaps gays can get back to being fabulous again. Chi-chi restos, antique stores, cutting-edge plays and cheese shops. Lately they’ve been none of that, instead triumphalist, intolerant. and above all boring.
Politics does that to one. Yeats thought it had done that to a woman he loved, Maud Gonne, and hated it.
Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of Plenty’s horn
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind.
Formerly gays had a special mission to entertain, not to bore. One day someone told Noel Coward about a toreador who had been injured in the bullring. “What did you say?” asked the anxious Coward. Told that the man had been gored, Coward was much relieved. “Thank God,” he said. “I thought you said he had been bored.”
I can see how some might think that my objection to the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday denies gays the dignity to which they are, as of Friday last, constitutionally entitled. Not so. Rather, I think that all of us have a moral obligation to be entertaining, lest we bore each other, and I regret when some of us are no longer up to it.
And while we’re on the subject of dignity, recall how Justice Kennedy teased a right to gay marriage from his belief that it is central to individual dignity. “The plaintiffs ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right,” he concluded. That’s the law, and there’s no point arguing with it, but I’d like to see just how far the right to dignity can be protected.
Kennedy said that “marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations.” Well, yes, but there are a lot of other things that are equally central to our lives, such as the love of art and music, and just think of the indignities to which we are daily subjected in those realms. How can one speak of an abstract right to dignity, while Lady Gaga is permitted to perform? She is a bucket of cold water on every aesthetic sentiment, and the same goes for Brutalist architecture, Reality TV shows and Obama’s interview on the WTF show.
Justice Scalia thought that Kennedy’s vaporizings about dignity had the intellectual content of the “mystical aphorisms of a fortune cookie.” But that’s only because we haven’t operationalized them yet.
There’s one other thing, for which conservatives can take heart. As the gay lobby now extends its battles against religious liberty and freedom of association, economic and social conservatives will recognize that they’re in the same fight. All libertarians too will see that, the gay marriage fight won, they must now oppose the gay rights lobby and its efforts to limit the right of people to follow their religion. All libertarians, that is, except the Jacobin anticlericals for whom freedom for gays was a useful banner for their illiberal purposes.
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