Folks who are critical of the suggestion that gay marriage will affect the way in which we view marriage may want to consider the impact that the debate has already had. For the first time, I suspect, in American history (outside of Utah), we are having a debate about polygamy. The reaction to HBO's Big Love (which self consciously echoes the gay marriage debate) is not "how awful" but "why not?"
Maggie Gallagher sees this as an example of the academic game of "hawks and doves". Increasingly, those committed to nontraditional lifestyles have become "hawks," aggressively insisting on not only tolerance, but approbation. Those who disapprove become "doves," keeping silent to avoid conflict. Hawks not only dominate doves; they turn doves into hawks.
In a related post, Gallagher writes:
Just as gay people were inspired and informed by black civil rights leaders, who had no intention of endorsing a movement to normalize homosexuality, much less gay marriage, polygamists are being inspired by the gay marriage movement to come out of the closet, and their arguments now strike many cultural elites (such as the editors of the New York Times Arts page) as plausible, worthy of being entertained, because of the way they echo the gay marriage arguments.
This in itself marks a cultural shift. It’s ultimate importance and power of course are yet to be determined. I don’t believe polygamy is an inevitable result of the gay marriage debate. But I think the push for gay marriage has already visibly altered our public culture of marriage. Things that were taken for granted, now must be discussed and defended.
I’m not saying you should be against gay marriage because of this. I am saying, you know, culture happens. Claiming that you can strip marriage of its one virtually universal rule (marriage is a union of male and female) and that cultural consequences are improbable, strikes me as well, head in the sand fantasy, the anti-intellectualism of intellectuals.