Gay Marriage Opponents’ New Rallying Cry: We Lost the Battle, but We’ll Win the War!

An opponent of marriage equality protests in front of the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Detroit.

Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

On Thursday, Ryan T. Anderson—dedicated gay marriage foe and co-author of one of the weirdest, most coitus-obsessed amicus briefs ever filed—made a surprising concession: We have lost, he says. As state after state sees its same-sex marriage ban collapse, this round of battle is, Anderson concedes, essentially over. Yet Anderson’s article is no defeatist threnody. It is, instead, a call to arms to marriage equality opponents, a rallying cry for renewed vigor in the fight. We may have lost the battle, claims Anderson, but time is on our side, and “in the long run, those who defend marriage as the union of a man and woman will prove to be prophetic.”

The nice thing about claiming prophetic powers is that nobody can ever really prove you wrong. If, in 20 or 50 or 100 years, a near-total majority of Americans support marriage equality, the few remaining holdouts can still call their position prophetic and insist that the pendulum is poised to swing back any day now. But if I may push back against Anderson’s presumed prescience just a bit, his divination strikes me as amusingly cloistered and impressively myopic.

Anderson’s argument centers around his belief that “the argument for marriage”—that’s Anderson-speak for the argument against same-sex marriage—“simply hasn’t been heard” by most Americans. Accordingly, “we must make that argument in new and creative ways.” It is undoubtedly Anderson’s right to dream up “creative ways” to oppose marriage equality, though his efforts so far have been notably lackluster. But even if he and his cohorts concoct a fabulously snazzy way to sell their (fundamentally religious) case against gay marriage, they’re pretty much destined to fail.

That’s because, much like the anti-gay marriage movement as a whole, Anderson’s arguments rest on a deep misunderstanding of human nature. Humans as a species are hardwired for empathy; we instinctively relate to our loved ones and often take on their pain as our own. When gay people were predominantly closeted and thus invisible, it was easy for the average American to think they’re all immoral and deserve no rights. Even after the leaps of visibility made in the ’80s and ’90s, gay people remained largely segregated from straight society, and most straight people believed they didn’t know any gay people.

But over the last decade, LGBTQ people have emerged from the closet en masse—and, unsurprisingly, sparked a gay rights revolution. Nowadays, every American probably knows at least one gay person; even vehemently anti-gay Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia admits that “everybody” has gay friends. Even more important, the phenomenon of “out in the city, closeted at home” is quickly dying as more gay people come out to their parents.

How does having a gay friend—or, even better, a gay child—change your view of gay rights? Just ask Republican Sen. Rob Portman, whose anti-gay stance abruptly flipped after his son came out to him. The link between knowing (or loving) gay people and supporting gay rights doesn’t just boil down to a desire to be politically correct, either. Michael LaSala, an associate professor of social work at Rutgers University, who has worked closely with parents of gay children, notes that “the more people realize that somebody close to them or somebody they love is gay, the more sensitive they become to issues of social injustice surrounding sexual orientation.” Their prejudices, stereotypes, and “tendencies to project negative qualities” onto gay people is diminished, replaced by a “transformative” desire to support their loved ones.

This is really common sense. When we love someone, we don’t want to see them degraded by law or society—and the effort to forbid same-sex marriage, as well as the effect of anti-gay laws, publicly demeans gay people’s lives in insidious and wounding ways. That’s what Anderson and his supporters misapprehend: The deep and enduring bonds of love that connect us to our friends and family are vastly stronger than the animus that drives opposition to marriage equality. Anderson asserts that he and his followers are righteous soothsayers. But if all we know about human nature is correct, they’ll soon be revealed as nothing more than false prophets.