Poulos is bothered that judges may legislate America into gay marriage. But he's an intellectual, so not for him the usual goldurn-activist-judges yak.
"The problem isn't that judges are usurping the role of legislators," he says, "but that they're really usurping the role of philosophers. So as far as I see it, there's no way to get the gay marriage outcome through the courts without basically importing a new metaphysical view into the law as it stands."
Goldberg seems to like this "metaphysic" thing -- sounds fancy! -- and so lunges, grabs it, drops it, and watches it roll through a sewer grate. This section I reproduce entire:
…we now expect judges to do things that judges are not particularly well inclined to do. If you're gonna have people decide on a new metaphysic, if you're gonna have people decide, what were the crazy Kennedy decision about the sweet mystery of life kind of thing where they're gonna define what it means to be a human being in the universe? Then why have guys who go to law school do that? I mean it's sort of crazy. Why not have philosophers on there or theologians or just all-around really wise people from different walks of life?This confirms my suspicion that Goldberg writes his columns by dictation.
Ultimately, Goldberg would "just push [gay marriage] all the way down to the most local level possible and if states or communities that don't want to recognize gay marriage don't want to recognize it, then they don't have to and vice versa." So he's sorta okay with gay marriage so long as it comes with states' rights. Or vice-versa, which I suspect for him means "whatever."
Poulos rolls a clip of Robert Scheer discussing gay marriage and saying "people define their own sense of happiness." Aha, says Poulos: "That leap from separation of church and state to separation of our individual sense of happiness from the content of the law, this is, as you I think hinted, Planned Parenthood vs. Casey all over again" -- now Goldberg's thinking, I gotta call this guy next time I forget junk like that -- "the plurality opinion there, about sort of the mystical experience of defining your own personal happiness. The idea, though, that law has no authority to reflect an understanding about the meaning of life, that itself is a metaphysical or religious idea, isn't it?"
"This is more your stomping ground than mine," says Goldberg, clearly dazzled. "I mean, but you cannot get out of the business of establishing sort of sweeping truths -- if you say the court can't impose sweeping truths, you're essentially establishing a sweeping truth, and all those sophomoric games we can play. The thing that bothers me about this -- or one of the things, I should say…"
Among the subsequent flailings: Atheists in the 19th century would find gay marriage absurd; Barney Frank is a hypocrite because he doesn't support polygamy; and "the difference between men and women are according to every biological textbook grounded quite firmly in nature."
Also, it's "ultimately an argument about elite populism," a term new to me, which Goldberg helpfully explains: "There's just a lot of people who now have decided that they want to redefine what the institution of marriage is, and because they have numbers and influence on their side they can make an argument that actually doesn't persuade very much I think on purely rational terms simply because it's a matter of power politics." So: Elite populism occurs when lots of people support an idea, which yet remains an elite opinion because Goldberg doesn't agree with it.
Poulos interprets the Frank anecdote as a sign of "tension that exists on the left," presumably between the left's warring monogamist and polygamist factions. Then he asks Goldberg what he thinks marriage is for.
"Historically, up until about five minutes ago, marriage was for forming the core basis of the family, right?" says Goldberg. "I mean I think that's sort of evolutionarily, historically the most obvious statement. It was a matter of forming a unit of two, a team of companions..."
Poulos, showing some spine, says yeah, but what does Goldberg think? The ploy seems to unnerve Goldberg:
"I'm more open-minded about some of this stuff," he stammers. "I mean marriage ultimately is what people who are married say it is, right? At some point a lot of these political institutions, they take on the meaning that people invest in them. And I am not the guy you want to have on if you want to me to make can objective have voice of God theological argument for the institution of marriage, even though I have great respect for that version of it…"
I'll be damned: Goldberg has imbibed some of that new metaphysic, and become a squish on gay marriage! But you know it can't last:
"In the Judeo-Christian Western tradition, marriage has meant something very specific for a very long time," he remembers to say, and so "from a libertarian perspective, I have great amount of trepidation about reaching in and just yanking out and messing around with an institution like that --"
(Libertarian perspective? Forget it, he's on a roll.)
"-- when you don't know what all the consequences are. It brings to mind Chesterton's famous parable about the fence…" Oh God.
"I hear your view on this," says Poulos charitably. He agrees that everyone's going gay and "this was captured in the Oscar-nominated film The Kids Are All Right," which he finds "an icon of where I think we're at in terms of mainstream culture right now. But culture is a funny thing, right, it can be stubbornly unofficial in some ways." (I pause to appreciate this rare acknowledgement by a culture warrior that culture may not be, at least on some occasions, within reach of his lance.)
"So you can have a very tolerant or even celebratory culture toward gay marriage," Poulos continues, "where nevertheless people tacitly understand that there is some kind of qualitative difference, between a gay household and a family with a biological dad and mom and kids…" Ah, rapprochement -- you can have your gay marriage, so long as we can keep our disgust at it.
"So a lot of conservatives I think would ultimately settle for that if that's where it ended," Poulos offers, "but not a lot of liberals would settle for that, I don't think."
Goldberg seems to recognize his cue, but not what to do with it. He points out that he's been in favor of civil unions for 10 years, but are the liberals happy? No, he says; "you have the left bring up hospital visitation rights for gay couples" -- Goldberg actually smirks at this -- " for 20 years now, when this has almost always been --" A spasm of uncertainly seems to seize him: "I think there were some real horrible cases in the very beginning, but for the last 15 years it's been a complete red herring made-up thing, but it so offends people's sensibilities that you can't have the people you love in the hospital room that they want to bring it up." It's amazing how conservatives suffer in the struggle for equality, and the visitation rights thing hardly ever happens.
Suddenly Goldberg remembers he's anti-gay-marriage again! "Let's not call these things marriage," he says, "because marriage is this word and this institution with this other meaning and history." Not only that, Obama's "lying in public" about his "evolving" stand on gay marriage, because really "he's in favor of gay marriage but he wants to get there incrementally." Between this sham anti-gay-marriage stand and Goldberg's forthright if sporadic anti-gay-marriage stand, it's clear which America would endorse if liberals hadn't hornswaggled them with elite populism.
Then Goldberg remembers when gays were against marriage and just wanted to get fucked at the Ramrod, presumably based on his extensive interviews of them, and denounces Andrew Sullivan for his "pro-cruising and anonymous gay sex position, which he was in favor of simultaneously while supporting marriage, which always seemed to me a pretty damning contradiction." Poulos gets excited, states that bourgeois straights as well as gays "especially want to do this kind of oscillating back and forth between the comfy enclosures of their domestic zone and the experience of transgression that they swore off as a full-time lifestyle when they went bourgeois. Case in point, Charlie Sheen…"
Charlie Sheen! Goldberg does his bit to make things worse: "One of the reasons why we're in trouble in this country is that we don't have as healthy institutions as we should, to create more decent people," he says. "Though I still think this is an inherently decent country with vast reservoirs of -- not to keep repeating the word -- decency to draw upon, but when you have people like Charlie Sheen…"
Oh Jesus -- Charlie Sheen is what's wrong with America! Him and gay marriage! Goldberg rolls off to a second lunch, leaving Poulos to editorialize about Marxism, democracy, Plato, and Charlie Sheen, and to declare that "gay marriage is a salient issue but it's not a root issue," and to predict is "homosexuality will only be as mainstreamed, in America at least, as far as Christianity will allow it to go. Judging by the sea change in sexual attitudes we're already witnessing in the churches, that might, at least in the very near future, be rather far indeed." Always leave 'em laughing! Next week: Natalie Portman's fetus and the left's tension over abortion.