The Briefing, Wednesday, November 14, 2012

TODAY: Has America made a great moral shift?  / How democracies decide divisive questions. / Was Gen. Petraeus a victim of “Sexual McCarthyism?” / When Football and fatherhood collide. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. Has America Experienced a Moral Shift on Marriage?

Same-sex marriage is back on the front page of The New York Times, with reporter Erik Eckholm presenting a major story in which the advocates of same-sex marriage argue that the national tide has turned in their direction.

Eckholm writes:

“Elated by their first ballot victories, in four states, advocates of same-sex marriage rights plan to push legislatures in half a dozen more states toward legalization as they also press their cause in federal courts. They are also preparing for what they hope will be another milestone: the electoral reversal of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman, in Oregon in 2014.”

Those pushing for same-sex marriage acknowledge low support for their position in regions such as the South, but they clearly think that a major shift is happening in the nation. They are targeting several states for new efforts to legalize gay marriage, including Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and New Jersey.

Eckholm explains that same-sex marriage advocates claim a fundamental change in national opinion:

“A rapid shift in public opinion is bolstering their cause as more people grow used to the idea of same-sex marriage and become acquainted with openly gay people and couples. “The pace of the change in opinions has picked up over the last few years,” said Michael Dimock, associate research director of the Pew Research Center in Washington, ‘and as the younger generation becomes a larger share of the electorate, the writing is on the wall.’”

This is exactly the kind of article we should now expect to appear, and this argument will become more and more familiar. Of course, there is good reason for the advocates of gay marriage to see a turning tide. They won four of four contests last Tuesday, after losing more than 30 consecutive votes in previous years. There is a clear sense that something fundamental is shifting, and the defenders of natural marriage had better understand this.

There is political advantage in claiming a sense of momentum, but this does not mean that their claims are without merit. It is far too early to argue that “the writing is on the wall” across the United States, but that prospect does now loom before us.

Moral shifts of this magnitude do not happen quickly, but the pace is fast at the end of that process. Marriage has been weakened by cultural, legal, and moral alterations over the last century — changes without which same-sex marriage would still be unthinkable.

This article in The New York Times — a fair and responsible piece of journalism — contains a sobering message for us all. It also contains a threat of sorts from one Republican strategist, who argues that his party should not sign a “death pact” with opponents of same-sex marriage.

2. How Democracies Decide Divisive Questions

The editors of The Wall Street Journal also addressed the same-sex marriage issue in light of last week’s election. They argue that the decisions made in Maine, Maryland, Washington State, and Minnesota were made by the right people — the voters.

They write:

“Whatever one’s views of a legally sanctioned union between people of the same sex, the process is itself a victory. A contentious issue is working its way through the political system and being resolved in a manner that both sides can accept as legitimate. This ought to give pause to judges who want to legislate a premature social consensus from the bench and the activists who cheer them on. Social change is more durable when it isn’t imposed from the top.”

This is an important argument. The editors implicitly warn the U.S. Supreme Court that it ought not to hand down a decision on gay marriage tantamount to a new Roe v. Wade. Intending to “settle” the abortion question. In that case the Court divided the nation.

The editors continued:

“As views on gay marriage change, and a growing number of Americans support it, politics will follow. This is how it’s supposed to work. Even if democracy can be slow or cumbersome, everyone plays by the same rules and lives with the result.”

There is wisdom in their remarks, and a message for the defenders of marriage. We will have to convince our fellow citizens of our cause. The evidence is that we face a huge challenge in this respect, but we must face it honestly and directly. Furthermore, we must face that challenge respectfully, as befits the democratic process.

At the end of the day, the side with the better argument wins. At the same time, there can be any number of sad setbacks along the way. Even if same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, the argument is not over.

3. Was Gen. Petraeus Felled by “Sexual McCarthyism?”

Writing in Investors Business Daily, columnist Richard Cohen argues that Gen. David Petraeus was brought down, not by his adultery, but by the nation’s “sexual McCarthyism.” Cohen argues that Petraeus “only betrayed his wife.”

That is an amazing argument, but Cohen makes it boldly. He accuses Americans of a form of sexual extremism and hypocrisy, claiming that it is ruining the careers of good people. He is not the first to charge the nation with “sexual McCarthyism,” nor will he be the last.

Cohen argues that adultery is a merely private affair with no public significance. Petraeus betrayed his wife, not his country, Cohen argues. His adultery would have little or no public significance in other countries. “A Frenchman cannot be blackmailed on account of sex,” he asserts.

That is largely true of many European nations, and France especially. We will note, however, that French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn did recently ruin his career after revelations of a particularly lascivious sort. Even the French have their limits.

But is all this merely “sexual McCarthyism?” Americans retain a high respect for marriage, even in confused times. Beyond this, they recognize that adultery is never merely private. At no point in his article does Cohen concede the moral compromise that destroyed David Petraeus’ career, nor does he ever acknowledge that leadership and character are inseparable. We know better.

4. Football Collides with Fatherhood

Charles Tillman, who plays cornerback for the Chicago Bears, found himself on the field of controversy last week when he told an interviewer that, if his pregnant wife was ready to deliver their child over the weekend, he would not play in the Chicago game against Houston. As it turned out, Tillman did not miss the game, and the baby was born early this week — with Tillman present.

But many in the football world expressed outrage that Tillman would put fatherhood before the game. One NBC reporter went so far as to argue that NFL players should be considerate enough to schedule pregnancies so that births would not interfere with the season.

That argument is a breathtaking display if inverted values, but that inversion is not found only in football, or even in sports.

Any time a man stands to make a priority of supporting his wife and children, he should be celebrated, not second-guessed.

The story was well covered by Jason Gay of The Wall Street Journal.

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen Here.

Links to all articles cited also provided.