Joseph Bottum, once the editor of this magazine, has unburdened himself of a change of mind on the subject of same-sex marriage, in Commonweal (and thereby earned himself also a grateful, and perfectly timed,  pilgrimage by a New York Times writer to his home in South Dakota). Others who really know the author may wish to comment at greater length on an essay that is avowedly very personal. But what I detect in it is the work of someone who was never all that interested in investigating the arguments on either side of the same-sex marriage debate; whose scant interest in it has now been fully exhausted, both intellectually and morally; and whose present conclusions hover in mid-air without anything to support them other than a wistful regret that he has lost a hoedown partner in a gay man who has come fairly unglued over the issue.

Nothing other than intellectual and moral exhaustion (I am sure it cannot be native incapacity) can explain such howlers as this: “under any principle of governmental fairness available today, the equities are all on the side of same-sex marriage. There is no coherent jurisprudential argument against it—no principled legal view that can resist it.” No one with the least comprehension of legal reasoning who has followed the actual jurisprudential arguments in the relevant cases could have written such lines. Bottum refers later to the “infamous ‘mystery passage’” in the 1992 Casey ruling, and he seems to know what nonsense it was. But since it is actually the best constitutional argument for a right of same-sex marriage—and it fails entirely to be an argument—what then are we to make of his bold pronouncements on what is and is not a “coherent jurisprudential argument”?

At one point in this bloated, interminable essay, meandering hither and yon, Bottum allows as how the authors of the Manhattan Declaration were chiefly thinkers and not writers. Never was it more obvious that the reverse is true of Bottum.

Articles by Matthew J. Franck

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