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“Who’s to say?”

A relativistic question as an answer for every philosophical difference

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This is the 17th in a series of classic columns (edited for space) by Joel Belz. In this Dec. 13, 2003, column, Joel wrote about a shift he saw in attitudes about same-sex marriage. Almost 20 years later, his take proves prescient.

There’s nothing statistically valid about my polling efforts—but I still like the down-to-earthness of my informal, twice-a-year surveys. I just go next door to Walmart, stand at the main entrance, and collar a few of the folks coming and going. If someone wants to ignore me, that’s fine; there are plenty more who are willing to talk.

This morning, I wanted to ask folks about homo­sexual marriages. My hypothesis was that the big push to legalize marriages between homosexuals is a very un-Walmart idea. Just as Walmart didn’t become the nation’s biggest retailer by putting stores in the suburbs of Boston, so the recent decision of the highest court in Massachusetts isn’t especially a reflection of the social preferences of the blue-collar folks who crowd into Walmart’s big blue-and-gray boxes.

“Goodness, no!” said Martha, the first woman I stopped. She was fortyish and feminine. “It’s one thing to give gays the freedom—the quiet freedom—to do what they do. But no way should we go on and let them call it marriage. Just mark me down as being unalterably against that foolishness.”

And out of 30 responses, Martha’s was most typical. “I want to be tolerant,” Ronnie echoed. Then he grinned. “But don’t push me too far,” he added. “As my grandma used to say, ‘Don’t spoil a good inclination.’”

“There’s just too much we don’t know yet,” said Verona as her two teenage daughters rolled their eyes a bit. “How can we possibly predict what’s going to happen to kids in gay homes? Doesn’t it take 20 years, or maybe even a generation or two, to see what the effects are going to be?”

A solid two-thirds of those I chatted with opposed the idea of legalizing homosexual marriages. And of that group, you couldn’t help being impressed with the emphatic nature of their opposition. On both counts, my findings weren’t much different from recent national polls. Americans at large have responded to recent court rulings by increasing—both in number and in annoyance—their resistance to homosexual marriage. In fact, advocates of the homosexual agenda have worried openly that they may have provoked a backlash by pushing for too much too fast.

But that is hardly the whole story—both in my Walmart survey and in the national statistics. Ginny, a young mother with two toddlers, seemed altogether true to her generation when she told me that while she couldn’t begin to understand anything as “weird” as gay marriage, neither was she the type to stand in the way if that was what they wanted. Indeed, only two people out of the 30 I talked with seemed ready, on principle, to suggest that homosexual marriage is itself a good thing. But a full third of my sample were eager—their own preferences notwithstanding—not to be seen as judgmental or standing in the way of other people’s styles and inclinations. Most tellingly, this smaller group tended to be significantly younger than the majority still willing to stand its ground.

“Really, now,” Al tried to persuade me. “How can ­anybody be sure what the best approach is? Haven’t human beings tried just about every combination? Who’s to say what might prove to be the best answer? Who am I to tell somebody else what’s right and what’s wrong?”

Short-term, I think, the Walmart wisdom is that conventional marriage—between one man and one woman—is safe in America. For now, the homosexual community may indeed have overreached. Their elitism may have backfired, and blue-collar values will prevail.

But probably not for long. Apart from God’s grace, the ratios of those two main schools of thought will change. Sooner than we can imagine, the national motto by which we’ll settle every difference will be that dismaying question: “Who’s to say?”

Joel Belz

Joel Belz (1941–2024) was WORLD’s founder and a regular contributor of commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. He served as editor, publisher, and CEO for more than three decades at WORLD and was the author of Consider These Things.


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