With 80% Friends Like These…

In these dirty dishonest days you expect your political enemies deliberately to misstate your positions. How positively Medieval to restate your opponent’s position better than he can before demolishing it. Now is the day of the straw man, and the flimsier the better.

While you expect this from your enemies, it’s disheartening to see 80% friends acting like 20% enemies. In recent days columnists John Podhoretz and Jennifer Rubin have done just that on the marriage question.

Podhoretz published a column in the New York Post about how each side in the marriage debate is happy to use any argument to win, even arguments they otherwise oppose on principle.

He writes, “Conservative foes of gay marriage oppose it any way they can. My guess is that most of them were horrified by the federal standards imposed on states by the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001—yet have no problem with the federalization of the definition of marriage.” Underscore his claim that conservative supporters of traditional marriage, those who usually believe in state’s rights, are happy to have the federal government impose a definition of marriage on the states.

Jennifer Rubin, the “conservative” columnist for the Washington Post online, says exactly the same thing and more in a column about “How did the right lose on gay marrige.” She writes, “[Supporters of traditional marriage] never explained how same-sex marriage ‘harms’ heterosexual marriage.” And she goes on the make the same claim as Podhoretz, “They insisted on federalizing the issue with the Defense of Marriage Act, leading to the current Supreme Court case and turning federalism (usually a conservative cause) into an argument about federal meddling into marriage.”

Put simply, these arguments are not the arguments of friends. They are the false arguments of the most dishonest and vociferous homosexual advocate.

Let’s deal with the federalism issue first. It is hardly the case that conservative supporters of traditional marriage were the first to federalize marriage. The federal government recognizes marriage more than 1,000 times in federal law and regulations and these laws and regulations predate the 1996 Defense of Marriage act by decades.

To give just one example, the Social Security Administration delivers benefits based on marital status. Living wives get the benefits of dead husbands. This has always been unremarkable until 1993 when the Supreme Court of Hawaii ruled the state must show a “compelling interest” in why homosexual marriage cannot be allowed. The worry then was that Hawaii would lead individual states to rule for homosexual marriage and then using the Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution impose this new definition of marriage not only on the other states but also on the Federal government.

Perhaps Podhoretz and Rubin missed the oral arguments in the Supreme Court on March 26. Here is lawyer Paul Clement defending DOMA before the Supreme Court:

Well, Justice Kennedy, two points. First of all, the very fact that there are 1,100 provisions of federal law that define the terms “marriage” and “spouse” goes a long way to showing that federal law has not just stayed completely out of these issues. It’s gotten involved in them in a variety of contexts where there is an independent federal power that supported that. Now, the second thing is the fact that (the Defense of Marriage Act) involves all 1,100 statutes at once is not really a sign of its irrationality. It is a sign that what it is, and all it has ever purported to be, is a definitional provision. And like every other provision in the Dictionary Act, what it does is it defines the term wherever it appears in federal law in a consistent way. And that was part and parcel of what Congress was trying to accomplish with DOMA in 1996.

The first part of DOMA underscores the federalism argument that marriage is left up to the States and the second part underscores the federalism argument that the federal government gets to decide what is marriage for federal but not state purposes. Podhoretz and Rubin must know all this.

Rubin is far worse than Podhoretz though. She has gone on a jihad against social conservatives in her Washington Post online column. Besides the federalism straw man she also says conservative proponents of traditional marriage, “never explained how same-sex marriage ‘harms’ heterosexual marriage.” Rubin would do well to use Mr. Google. Put that question into Google and dozens of examples pop up dating back to the early aughts including several from a magazine where Rubin has published, the Weekly Standard.

In the Weekly Standard, Stanley Kurtz looked at the Netherlands where homosexual marriage had been allowed for some time and showed it likely had a negative effect on the formation of already shaky heterosexual marriage. Family Research Council published a brochure in more recent days making the same claim. And contra Rubin’s silly claim, there are dozens more examples of conservatives “explaining how same-sex marriage ‘harms’ heterosexual marriage.”

Worse than Podhoretz and Rubin, however, is Bill O’Reilly who in recent days said, unlike pro-lifers, marriage proponents tend to “thump the bible” and are losing the debate because of it. Is Planet O’Reilly nowhere near Earth’s orbit? Has O’Reilly never been to the March for Life or 40 Days for Life or been outside an abortion clinic and seen all the religious imagery and heard the prayers? Has he never deigned to look at the reams of non-religious social science data produced by marriage proponents or even listened to their arguments that are almost purely secular?

Disagreement among friends is one thing. Deliberately lying about or otherwise manhandling an ally’s positions is quite another.  Ronald Reagan famously said, “An 80% friend is not a 20% enemy.” Podhoretz, Rubin and O’Reilly ought to remember that before it’s too late, before a heretofore potent coalition is sundered permanently.

Austin Ruse

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Austin Ruse is a contributing editor to Crisis and president of the Center for Family & Human Rights (C-FAM). He is the author of the upcoming Catholic Case for Trump (Regnery, 2020). You can follow him on Twitter @austinruse.

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