A reader writes:
Is it really so puzzling why lower middle class people go to church but have higher rates of abortion, illegitimacy, and divorce? Very often people who lack a quality are the ones who obsess ostentatiously about it. That applies, not just to family virtue, but to many other traits -- intellect, culture, beauty, class, professional achievement. People who insecure about possessing a quality compensate by displaying conspicuous signs that they have it.
A paralegal, for example, anxious about her class, will carry a Gucci handbag to try to show that she is rich and fashionable. An aristocrat, living on inherited money earned four generations ago, is more confident and wears a favorite five year old jacket when she walks outside in the snow.
The same pattern applies to family virtue.
A liberal who lives in Boston and has been married to the same woman for twenty years has no need to proclaim his virtue; it is evident in his own life. The man from Alabama who has divorced and fathered a child out of wedlock is acutely conscious of his lack of virtue and is nervous about the impression it will give to other people. He covers his soiled family life with the clean blanket of churchgoing and vocal participation in groups devoted to conservative causes.
But why does this lead to opposition to gay marriage, when gay marriage promotes the virtues of fidelity and stability? I strongly support gay marriage and believe that it promotes family virtue. But if we are trying to explain (but not excuse) why the churchgoing divorcees oppose it, the answer is that they see homosexuality, married or not, as non-traditional. The churchgoing divorcees are not asserting their family virtue, logically conceived, but their family virtue as traditionally defined. It is the traditional definition of family virtue that prevails in the communities where the churchgoing divorcees are trying to ingratiate themselves, as a way to compensate for and cover their fractured family lives. And while an argument can be made that gay marriage is compatible with tradition, gay marriage is not the same as that tradition, which has historically been bitterly bigoted and hostile towards homosexuality.