A survey released last month by the Pew Research Center showed that a steadily increasing majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage.
What a difference a few years makes.
When the firm began asking the question in 2001, our nation was against legalizing same-sex marriage by a margin of 57% to 35%.
As of this summer, 62% support same-sex marriage while only 32% oppose it, and Gallup reports nearly identical numbers. The trend is visible no matter how one segments the population – by age, gender, race, income, political philosophy, and faith – and it shows no signs of reversing or even stalling.
In terms of how we’ve long defined the most significant relationship in society – a marriage – it’s nothing short of an abrupt and wholesale revolution. It took millennia to firmly establish the tradition as being solely between one man and one woman, but it was fundamentally transformed in less than the lifespan of a chimpanzee.
That’s why conservatives, regardless of their personal preferences, are justified, perhaps even required, to greet this radical departure with skepticism because of our principle of tradition. This principle basically states that our starting position is to defer to that which has been established by immemorial usage.
That doesn’t necessarily mean anyone who holds such a view is close-minded or completely resistant to any change. It simply means that conservatives believe that our ancestors slowly created many of our long-standing traditions, like traditional marriage, because they were eventually found to be the best way of establishing and sustaining safe, healthy, and prosperous communities.
A progressive looks at many of these age-old customs and conventions and judges them to be mostly wrong, and mostly because they don’t fit within their specific generation’s sense of morality or justice. However, a conservative looks at the same traditions and judges them to be mostly right, and mostly because they’ve stood the test of time.
It’s something like the survival of the fittest, but for ideas. Through thousands of years and in thousands of cultures worldwide, certain ways of living were found to produce the best results and thus survived. Others weren’t and were rightly forgotten. Its natural selection at work, and as William F. Buckley wrote in Up From Liberalism, it has helped mankind to “arrive at certain great conclusions.”
“We believe that millenniums of intellection have served an objective purpose,” he wrote. “Certain problems have been disposed of. Certain questions are closed.”
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it … especially not hastily or completely because we have no idea of the unintended consequences.
“Conservatives are champions of custom, convention, and continuity because they prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t know,” wrote Russell Kirk in his famous essay on the ten principles of conservatism. “Order and justice and freedom … are the artificial products of a long social experience, the result of centuries of trial and reflection and sacrifice.”
Kirk further warned that society “is no machine, to be treated mechanically. The continuity, the life-blood, of a society must not be interrupted.”
Edmund Burke wrote of this life-blood in his Reflections on the Revolution in France as a type of partnership “between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”
We inherited nearly every aspect of our society, good and bad, from our ancestors. It took them thousands of years of experimentation to create some of them, traditional marriage being only one of many. Others, like the unique American traditions found in our Bill of Rights, are only centuries old but based upon millennia of experience. All are hard won, and most deserve respect or at least our appreciation for their role in our slow rise from anarchy and barbarism.
We’ve all inherited a wealth of traditions and have certainly benefitted from their existence. Should we preserve them for our descendants, or squander them like spoiled trust fund babies, only thinking of ourselves?
In this, the false promise of progressivism is laid bare. With it, we risk taking a giant leap … backwards.
Kirk warned about this, too, noting that when customs, conventions, and continuity are overthrown, the revolutionaries inevitably replace them with other customs, conventions, and continuities, usually untested and often much worse.
And that’s why conservatives have a tradition of valuing tradition.