Many observers have criticized the approach of using litigation to achieve social change ever since a Hawaii court ruled in 1993 that the denial of marriage benefits to same-sex couples was unconstitutional—criticism that only accelerated after Massachusetts's landmark Goodridge decision in 2003 ruling that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. Much of this criticism takes the form of what I call the "countermobilization myth"—that is, the idea that victories won through the courts produce a unique amount of political backlash that make them counterproductive. The remarkable wave of success for LGBT rights on Election Day, combined with a steady increase in support for same-sex marriage, makes the countermobilization myth even more untenable. Michael Klarman's invaluable new book, From the Closet to the Altar, remains ambivalent about the use of litigation to advance same-sex marriage. But ultimately, it provides a powerful case that in the right circumstances, litigation can be an effective tool for social reform.
- Scott Lemieux, "Don't Fear The Backlash", The American Prospect, Nov. 15 2012
I make a very poor Grammar Nazi, and I'm only a so-so Usage Slut... but "invaluable" just annoys me. It's that thing about "disingenuous" where people usually mean the thing without "dis" but want to sound classy. I had to look up "invaluable" because I was just so annoyed (and I do find, in this insta-phone age, that my usage querulousness is faster and more easily confirmed - and yes, you can look that up, too), and a quick look for definitions made me both right and wrong. It's fair to say "invaluable" to mean the book has a value that can't be calculated... but I think Lemieux was going for more of the other words associated with invaluable - like "indispensable" or "priceless".
My point is that, in context, Lemieux basically suggests the book does, indeed, have value. It's a very important book, clearly, and useful and informative... but is the value of it indeed beyond all measure? "Valuable" seems just as worthwhile a word choice, or even "extremely valuable" - but "invaluable"? Really?
The other reason "invaluable" annoys me, and why I didn't bother finishing the article, is that the pint Lemieux's making is one of those "not so deep" points that strikes me as obvious: yes, people were initially reluctant to support gay marriage lawsuits (and, as I recall, many of us felt that we were being steamrolled into backing an issue, like gays in the military, that brought up larger issues we didn't entirely like), but what I found then, and still find is that most gays were willing to at least let the lawsuits run their course because, like gays in the military, the underlying point was obviously correct. Thus, "fear of backlash" was never quite the issue one wants to make it out to be: some gays may worry about adverse reactions to us standing up for our rights, but historically, most of us gays will prefer to see the positive result. Gay Pride, gay equality... we weren't all heroes who stood up right when Stonewall happened... but "they may not like us and be mean to us for speaking out" is a lousy approach to life. And mostly... we already knew that. And such an insight hardly seems... invaluable.