The XX Factor

Conservative Pundits Now Concern Trolling Same-Sex Marriage

Conservative pundits are now saying they just want what’s best for the pro-gay movement

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments about the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop 8 on Tuesday and Wednesday, and things aren’t looking good for the anti-gay side. This weekend, conservative pundits engaged in the last resort of those who know they can’t make the case for their point of view any longer: concern trolling. 

Concern trolling started off as an Internet term to describe people who tried to sow doubt by claiming to be allied to a cause and yet concerned that its supporters are going about it all wrong. Wise Geek describes how it works:

Artful concern trolling involves developing a believable persona as a supporter of a cause who has legitimate concerns. In an example of concern trolling, a group of people might be having a political discussion on a website about a candidate they support. The concern troll would log on and say “I’m concerned that this candidate might not be strong enough to beat the opposition,” or “I’m worried that the candidate’s history in the legislature might be a problem in the election.”

Concern trolls are largely people who know that they can’t argue their viewpoint on its merits, so instead they try to undermine the persuasively argued viewpoint with their “concerns.” A common strategy is to claim that someone else—certainly not them, but someone who is impervious to the logical superiority of the winning side’s arguments!—is being turned away from the logically superior arguments by the tactics of supporters. 

The Sunday morning news shows were littered with concern trolls this past weekend. Karl Rove, Peggy Noonan, and David Brooks all suggested that if the court rules that same-sex marriage is a right, it will somehow set back the cause of same-sex marriage by making the homophobes very angry. “Americans don’t take it well and don’t accept it as a resolution when their black-robed masters in Washington decide to put on them what they decide is the right thing,” said Noonan, claiming that this is what happened with Roe v. Wade

The claim is a specific subset of concern trolling, popular with conservatives: the “too soon” troll. The idea behind it is that if you’re gentle with the bigots and let them get their way long enough, they will eventually soften and cave on an issue. But if you push progress through the courts, their resentment will poison them against you forever. This argument has been forwarded in defense of everything from slavery to bans on abortion. Apparently, all those protesters yelling invective at women entering abortion clinics just wish they were given more time to come around to the idea that women deserve full human rights. 

Scott Lemieux at the American Prospect and Irin Carmon at Salon have dealt in more depth with this claim, so I’ll just add this: It’s been 44 years since the riots of Stonewall pushed the gay rights agenda into the public consciousness in a big way. Since then, Mick Jagger went from dangerous sex symbol to the guy dancing in a Maroon 5 video, hip-hop was invented, and the fashionable jean silhouette has changed roughly 187 times. We’ve given the homophobes plenty of time to think this over. It’s time to move on without them.

Of course, just because conservatives can’t mount direct arguments against gay marriage anymore doesn’t mean that the court will decide correctly, but right now, pro-gay forces have reason to keep their hopes high.