Published for www.commentarymagazine.com, May 10, 2012
Wherever one stands on the issue of same-sex marriage, having the president of the United States endorse the concept is a major achievement for the gay rights movement. And it didn’t happen by accident.
The shift in the public’s attitudes toward gay marriage, and the subsequent alteration of the political landscape, is arguably the most significant we’ve seen in the last quarter-century. And among the people who are most responsible for this moment is Jonathan Rauch, a former columnist for National Journal and a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution.
I first met Jonathan in 1994, at a lunch with William Bennett. We wanted to meet Rauch because of his book Demosclerosis: The Silent Killer of American Government. The three of us talked about that book – but Rauch also made the case for why homosexuality is no threat to family or conservatism. A short time later he published a Wall Street Journalop-ed on that matter – and he later wrote articles (see here), books (see here), and op-eds (see here and here) making the case for same-sex marriage.
There are three elements to Rauch’s work worth highlighting. The first is the ingenuity of the argument. His great insight, which he shared with Andrew Sullivan (another extremely significant figure in the fight for gay marriage), was to recast the goals of the gay rights movement away from sexual libertinism toward conservatism, from radicalism toward traditionalism. Same-sex marriage, this argument goes, would bond gays into committed, stable relationships and promote monogamy. The gay rights agenda went from being an assault on the institution to an effort to become part of it.