16 May 2008

Reducing Morality To "Style."

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese reaches out from beyond the grave  to comment on the specious legal reasoning and cultural context and ramifications of the California "right to marriage" decision:
The language of individual choice or individual right has proven extraordinarily seductive both as an invitation to do as one pleases with a clear conscience and as a deterrent against disapproval of the choices of others, which are grouped under the preposterously euphemistic blanket of “lifestyle” choices. Lifestyle choices, it turns out, include every imaginable sexual practice, including a new addition — “questioning” — as well as those older preferences which, not so long ago, were known by such judgmental terms as incest, pedophilia, statutory rape, necrophilia, and bestiality. Some older ones, like fornication and sodomy, seem virtually to have disappeared from our vocabulary. Lifestyle choices also include the choice to abort or not to abort, to marry or not to marry, to bear a child within marriage or outside of marriage, to cohabit or not to cohabit, and on ad infinitum. Logically, there is no reason not to add to this list polygamy and polyandry. The notion of marriage as the union of one woman and one man has been dissolved in a flood of options, reduced to the status of one “choice” among many. And if the gravest and most sacred features of human existence are reduced to matters of style, why should we care which styles others may choose?

We have reached a precipice, over which many seem eager to plunge, some maliciously, others blindly: Having reduced the most intimate personal relations, including those that have been our most reliable social bonds, to styles, we have banished morality from serious public discourse. The insistence upon viewing the world — including all forms of social and personal relations — from a purely subjective perspective has led us to embrace, as the Court in Casey encouraged us to do, the comfortable position that the weightiest questions about the value of human life are matters of purely personal concern — to be decided by each individual for himself or herself. With moral norms for personal relations swept aside like accumulated dustheaps and cobwebs, the ground on which to oppose same-sex marriage has been eroding. In the previous two chapters, I offered a functional and evolutionary view of marriage as a social institution, and it would be easy to assume that my intention was to endorse it. What could be more natural than to reason that, since marriage has constituted a primary social bond in different societies, it is only natural for marriage to continue to adapt to changing social, economic, and political conditions?
Here's the whole thing.  It is an excerpt from the posthumously published Marriage: The Dream That Refuses to Die.  Also, here's Fox-Genovese' conversion story, parts of which have dripped into sermons.


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