Can Gay Rights and Gay Marriage Be Stopped?

Gay Marriage
Gay Marriage. Justin Sullivan, Getty Images News

What do conservative religious critics hope to accomplish in their opposition to gay rights and gay marriage? William F. Buckley has described the basic principle of conservatism as "To stand athwart history yelling 'Stop!'" Do they, though, really expect to succeed in this when it comes to homosexuality?

How many genuinely believe that the progress of more and more equality for gays will even be halted, much less rolled back to what it was like in the 1950s? How many genuinely believe that gay marriage will never be legal across the nation, despite the growing number of other countries in which gay marriage is legal and recognized?

In , Jonathan Rauch writes:

Conservatives seem to believe that, if they stop same-sex marriage, they will stop all sorts of other gay-friendly change along with it. They talk as if the alternative to same-sex marriage were to go back to 1950, or at least 1980. With or without gay marriage, however, the world is changing and will continue to change.
Every day more homosexuals are coming out to their friends and families, and so every day more heterosexuals number homosexuals among their loved ones. Not many Americans — not a majority, in any case — wish for their sons and daughters and sisters and brothers and friends a partnerless life in a sexual underworld; they want gay people, like straight people, to have a clean shot at happiness, including partnership.

It's plausible that conservatives' efforts will slow the advance of gay rights, but that's hardly a noble goal or something that anyone will ever be able to look back upon with pride. Are there any conservatives who are willing to boast today about their success in delaying civil rights and desegregation? I certainly hope not.

In an important sense, the genie has been let out of the bottle. Gays are accepted enough in society by now that it's no longer quite so tragic to come out of the closet — certainly not like it was merely twenty or thirty years ago. It remains difficult, there is no question about it, but the idea of being gay is no longer unheard of and there are many social structures in place designed to help gays and lesbians when they find themselves in difficulty because of discrimination and bigotry.

Gay Americans have become a significant presence in politics, sports, the workplace, and in millions of families all over the nation. They still have a long way to go, but prospects of widespread bigotry and discrimination no longer seems credible — and since that's the ultimate consequence of what conservatives would have happen, this means that the conservative agenda on homosexuality is not credible.

The clock will not be turned back. Time will not be reversed. Gay rights and gay marriage will become more and more of a reality, that is inevitable so long as America remains a secular democracy — nothing short of a religious dictatorship will significantly alter the course of events. It's unfortunate that that's exactly what some religious conservatives would like to see happen, but it's not very likely and few are willing to admit openly that this is what they are working towards.

Conservatives need to make peace with the fact that gay and lesbians will be accepted as equals in American society, even when it comes to institutions like marriage. Instead of fighting a losing battle like they did with segregation, they'd be better off finding ways to ensure that their concerns are part of the long-term solution. If they don't, they will remain a reactionary anchor that must be dragged along like so much dead weight.