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Congratulations, gay marriage campaigners-you have destroyed meaning of marriage

Congratulations, gay marriage campaigners - you have completely destroyed the meaning of social progress

By Brendan O'Neill
May 22nd, 2013

I know the only thing you're allowed to say about gay marriage is "Yay." and that if you say anything else you're a weirdo hateful bigot. But permit to make just one non-yay-based observation about it. Which is this: gay marriage has utterly transformed, for the worse, the meaning of social progress.

Throughout modern history, big, democratic, civil rightsy leaps forward have had two things in common. First, they were demanded by very large and often very angry sections of the public; and second, it took ages and ages for the political classes to concede to them. And when they did eventually cave in and legislate for the new liberty or opportunity being demanded by the hordes, they tended to do so begrudgingly, often while wearing a sneer.

Born from mass, passionate demands from below and later instituted very reluctantly by those up above - that is the history of socially progressive developments. From the mass gatherings of hundreds of thousands of working men demanding the right to vote in the 1800s, to the long marches and harebrained stunts of the Suffragette movement in the early 20th century, to the painful and violent slog for equality by black civil rights activists in 1950s America, social progress was for generations understood as something demanded by the little people in the face of stubborn, fearful, unenlightened elites.

The gay marriage campaign absolutely eviscerates that view of social progress. It turns it completely on its head. It redefines social progress to mean the polar opposite of what it meant for most of the modern period: no longer the struggle of the man in the street against illiberal officialdom, but rather the struggle of right-on officials against the prejudices and idiocy of the man in the street.

It is remarkable how lacking in mass action the gay marriage campaign has been. There have been no public demonstrations at all: no gatherings in Hyde Park, no marches on parliament, no handcuffing to railings. The push for gay marriage has taken place entirely at the level of respectable society, being spearheaded by tiny handfuls of sharp-suited gay lobbyists, lawyers, celebrities, commentators and the Notting Hill/Hampstead sections of the political class.

And what have these brave warriors for justice spent their time and spilled their macchiatos raging against? Primarily, public ignorance, old-fashioned attitudes, the bigotry, as they see it, of the more unenlightened, possibly even religious (eurgh) sections of society. Indeed, backers of gay marriage explicitly counsel the upper echelons of society not to be swayed by the uninformed views of the masses. They say it is the mark of true statesmanship to ignore "majoritarian opinion" and forge ahead with "civilising measures" like gay marriage, because they are "the right thing to do".

Gay marriage campaigners frequently fret about the allegedly tyrannical views of the populace. John D'Emilio, a former director of America's National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, has written about gay marriage campaigners' obsession with protecting themselves and their rights against what they look upon as "the tyranny of the majority". Convinced that the public consists of lots of boneheaded bigots, gay marriage activists have become convinced that "[the law] is the way to change the world", says D'Emilio, even though such a belief "would have been considered unusual for much of American history", when it was mass action, not lawyerly diktat, that truly transformed society.

Campaigners' fears of the public explain why they're so averse to holding referendums on gay marriage. In the words of one activist, referendums allow "the majority [to become] the arbitrator for what is just", when "that is the court's role". In short, it's the job of the allegedly enlightened sections of society - judges, politicians, commentators - to decide what is right and to force it through in the face of possible public backwardness.

In essence, gay marriage has redefined "social progress" to mean imposing an elite block on tyrannical public passions, to mean having the right-minded rulers of society keep in check the wrongheadedness of society's inhabitants. This echoes the social engineering disguised as social progress that was promoted by Fabian types in the early 20th century far more than it does the true social progress pursued by the Suffragettes or Rosa Parks. It is not social progress at all, really - it is social demarcation, a way for the great and the good to distinguish themselves from the thick and the old.


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