Friday, February 20, 2004

Looking for an example of a distinction without a difference? Check out Josh Marshall's comments on gay marriage. He says that while he doesn't oppose gay marriage, he doesn't support them. Huh? Here's the full quote:

My reason for not supporting gay marriage -- and I think there's a difference between opposing and not supporting, in this case -- is that it seems like a step that would trigger a backlash that would a) quite possibly prevent the adoption even of civil unions and b) provide a tool for conservatives to win elections and thus prevent or turn back various other progressive reforms that are no less important than this one. (Of course, this hybrid reasoning has all manner of uncomfortable echoes from the middle decades of the 20th century.)

And what exactly are those uncomfortable echoes? Civil rights, perhaps? In fact, Marshall sounds exactly like the supposed "pragmatic" liberals, north and south, who opposed civil rights, arguing that they didn't oppose black rights, it's just that they thought the timing was bad and that by pushing too fast on the issue, they were inviting a reaction that might put previous and future gains at risk.

Such reasoning, then and now, strikes me as utterly condescending. Marshall is putting his own interests ahead of others, even though he's not the one being denied his rights. Moreover, the earlier example of this reasoning proved utterly wrong. And in many cases, it was not just wrong--in many cases it was merely a cover for bigots who lacked the courage of their convictions.

Perhaps Marshall should read Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail, in which King responds to those earlier voices of pragmatism. In particular, this passage comes to mind:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

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