Roger Scruton has a typically conservative column in the NYT warning against the dangers of sweeping social and institutional changes, which were often well-intentioned but brought misery. World War One, Afghanistan and maybe even the Arab Spring seem like arguably reasonable examples. But he ludicrously adds to this gloomy list the movement for marriage equality:
What could be more sensible than to extend marriage to homosexuals, granting them the security of an institution devoted to lifelong partnership? The result will be improvements all around – not just improved toleration of homosexuals, but improvement in the lives of gay couples, as they adapt to established norms. Optimists have therefore united to promote this cause, and, as is so often the case, have turned persecuting stares on those who dissent from it, dismissing them as intolerant, “homophobic,” “bigoted,” offenders against the principles of liberal democracy. Of course the optimists may be right. The important fact, however, is that hope is more important to them than truth.
People interested in truth seek out those who disagree with them. They look for rival opinions, awkward facts and the grounds that might engender hesitation.
I can tolerate and even often embrace a conservatism which urges caution when pushing for progressive values without concern for their likely consequences. And I’d even go further than most in strongly defending Scruton against the allegation that his position is built on bigotry. But it does become very hard to take his objections to marriage equality sincerely when he implicitly compares it to the Bolshevik Revolution. The failure of his argument lies in his own claim that the movement is built on hope whilst being blind to truth. The reason marriage reform differs so drastically from all the catastrophic social projects he highlights is that we do have evidence that it won’t cause harm. And that means that the weight of the liberal arguments should even convince conservatives, unless they insist on the sort of implausibly severe skepticism that Scruton seems to support.
I think David Frum’s transformation on this issue captures the point best:
[T]he case against same-sex marriage has been tested against reality. The case has not passed its test.
Since 1997, same-sex marriage has evolved from talk to fact.
If people like me had been right, we should have seen the American family become radically more unstable over the subsequent decade and a half.
Instead — while American family stability has continued to deteriorate — it has deteriorated much more slowly than it did in the 1970s and 1980s before same-sex marriage was ever seriously thought of.
What is Scruton’s response to this? How is it that marriage equality’s defenders do not care about the truth? As Ezra Klein noted this week, opponents cannot even rely on the lack of a sociological consensus about the impact gay couples adopting has on children. This is from the American Sociological Association’s amicus curiae brief, submitted to the Supreme Court:
The claim that same-sex parents produce less positive child outcomes than opposite-sex parents—either because such families lack both a male and female parent or because both parents are not the biological parents of their children—contradicts abundant social science research. Decades of methodologically sound social science research, especially multiple nationally representative studies and the expert evidence introduced in the district courts below, confirm that positive child wellbeing is the product of stability in the relationship between the two parents, stability in the relationship between the parents and child, and greater parental socioeconomic resources. Whether a child is raised by same-sex or opposite-sex parents has no bearing on a child’s wellbeing.
The clear and consistent consensus in the social science profession is that across a wide range of indicators, children fare just as well when they are raised by same-sex parents when compared to children raised by opposite-sex parent.
(Video: a Dish reader asks Andrew Sullivan if any empirical evidence would change his mind about marriage equality.)