Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Gay Marriage and Me

Fifteen years ago I had given little thought to gay marriage. It did not seem to be on the radar screen, though I knew that several gay eminentoes had come out in favor of it. My detachment was to change. I was compelled to think more about it as a result of joining a lively Internet group--a group not (to the best of my recollection) originally intended to serve as forum for this matter, but which became so. (As the group was private, I am not at liberty to say much about it. However, one can get a general idea of the approach from its public cousin, the Independent Gay Forum: indegayforum.com.)

Going back to those closing years of the last century, I had become thoroughly weary of the many twists and turns of the gay left, notably the academic fraud known as Queer Theory and the obsession with Identity Politics symbolized by the letters LGBTQ. It was time for a new approach, which my little group seemed to be fostering. The left was on the ropes in this country (a reward, I felt, it richly deserved), while conservatism seemed to be ascendent. It was worth seeing what the new approach had to offer.

Alas, the gay marriage advocates shot themselves in the foot as often as not. First came the Hawaii debacle. I won't rehearse the intricate details. Suffice it to say that the game plan was to secure gay marriage in that state, and then export it throughout the other forty-nine via the Full Faith and Credit clause of the US Constitution. We never got that far, but legal friends tell me that this interpretation of FFC, granting immediate national recognition of same-sex marriage, would never fly.

Over the years I saw various utopian claims made about gay marriage that seemed unconvincing. Jonathan Rauch, one of the principle spokespeople of the cause, seemed to think that gay men were "broken" and needed the discipline of gay marriage to rescue them from their dreadful promiscuity and irresponsibility. Gay marriage, it was improbably claimed, was really a conservative device, which would shore up marriage (which many granted needed shoring up). I need scarcely underline that these were fantasies, yet Mr. Rauch remains in high regard.

Then there were the undemocratic means, which failed in Hawaii, while enjoying a success of a sort in Massachusetts. I say "of a sort" because Massachusetts cannot provide federal benefits, which are the most important aspect of legal marriage. When Vermont invented a different solution, Domestic Partnership, that was capable of delivering the benefits of the Massachusetts plan without the name, the SSM purists were aghast. They must have the name. All or nothing. As I noted, they do not have all in Massachusetts, and it seems that that state will be a long time in coming.

The key problem was that the gay marriage advocates approached the issue as a matter of entitlement. Equity demanded that the society grant gay marriage as soon as possible; otherwise we were living in "apartheid." As a historian I pointed out that there were no certain indications of gay marriage in institutional form in any society. Various claims have been made, citing (absurdly) Nero's mock marriage to Sporus and Boswell's mistaken arguments about Byzantine adelphopoiesis (a form of blood brotherhood, not marriage). Gay marriage is a novum. The fact that it is an innovation does not mean that we should not have it--after all the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, and Canada do. However, these countries do not constitute an irresistable tidal wave--at least not yet.

Then there was the matter of judge shopping. Over and over the gay marriage partisans tried to achieve it by judicial fiat, all the while denying that there was such a thing as activist judges. Fiddlesticks. In the last analysis the comment of Stephen Heersink is acute: Americans dislike coercion in these matters. It was the sense that gays were making an "non-negotiable demand" that, more than anything else, derailed the US gay-marriage movement.

These tactics were deplorable, and they constituted a disservice to the cause they claimed to advance. I should clarify that I have no objection to gay marriage in principle, though it is unlikely that I would ever avail myself of the privilege. But who knows? Never say never.

The point is that it is unlikely that I will have the option--at least in the rest of my present unnatural life. It is best to face facts directly. The cause of gay marriage is dead in this country.

The death of the gay marriage movement, it is said, is due to the irrational objections of evangelical Christians, concentrated in our "reactionary" red states. It's funny, though, that we don't see much enthusiasm in the blue states either. (Maybe Mass. is a bleu state--a fairly rare condition.)

The larger issue is the principle, well attested in the history of our nation, that one does not effect a major social change before bringing the majority along. Of course gay marriage is not supposed to be (according to its advocates) a major change, just a minor definition of marriage. Horse feathers.

The overreaching, and dare I say chicanery of the gay marriage advocates was a major cause of their defeat. Perhaps one day we will have gay marriage in this country--I hope so. But it will not come about by chicanery, legal activism, and other unacceptable ploys. Out people must accept it. We are a long way from that situation now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jonathan Rauch, one of the principle spokespeople of the cause, seemed to think that gay men were "broken" and needed the discipline of gay marriage to rescue them from their dreadful promiscuity and irresponsibility.

Yes--and the sad thing is that the marriage debate, on both sides, seems to focus on gay men getting married. The argument for marriage legality, I think, should be the same regardless of whether the partners are male-male, female-female or male-female. The "settling down" argument is offensive to men in a heterosexual or homosexual context, and ignores the needs of the female partner in the one--and her existence in the other. What sort of arrangement is a marriage in which one partner is intended to be a sort of control for the other's behavior?

The argument for full marital rights ought to be as gender-blind as the institution, in my opinion.

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I nixed Andrew Sullivan's, Jon Rauch's, and Bruce Brawer's books on Amazon.com for the same reason: "Civilizing gay men" is not a reason for marriage. Indeed, the concept is noxious and offensive. Only gay "conservatives" would appeal to this dead end as a "reason" to grant gay marriages. Even conservative theorist John Kekes, who thinks gay marriage may be an appropriate adaptation of a social convention, would not give this nonsense as a reason.

Ultimately it comes down to fairness, a species of justice. Hayek, often identified as a libertarian but also claimed as a conservative, believed in the universalablity of law. According to his conception, no law should exclude anyone for any reason. Granting dispensations for/against anyone is unjust prima facie. In a pluralistic liberal democracy, either everyone is invited to the Table or no one is. Special or privileged invitations is proscribed by our political inheritance.

When I first read this claim, two things were occuring, in addition to being stunned by Hayek's dogmatism. One is that Congress had exempted itself from many of the laws it had imposed on the rest of the nation, including affirmative action and people with disabilities. The other was the emerging advocacy for gay marriage. After some consideration, Hayek's dogmatism did not seem dogmatic at all. It's fundamental to the principle of equality and to justice.

Whether or not gays/lesbians avail themselves of inclusive-marriage, and whether or not it "civilizes" or "tames" gay men, the principle of equality and justice mandate that it be made available. In my relationship, I oppose "marriage," while my partner favors it. I found that negotiating the terms of our relationship from scratch was far more important than taking one from off the shelf. I believe our relationship has succeeded and grown because of that constant dynamic.

Philosopher Robert Solomon has a marvelous book "Love." It not only sets out a definition of romantic love (reciprocal self-reflection and growth in indefinite dynamic tension), but it demythologizes romantic love, leaving only its most basic features. Marriage, because it is a priori rather than a posteriori, eliminates or obviates some of that dynamic tension, which, as it turns out, is actually necessary, healthy, and invigorating for any couple. Even the hopeless belief that any one person alone can fulfill all romantic and other interests is contrary to experience, so even the thorny issue of monogamy needs to be addressed in some sense, whether or not a couple adopts it.

The overall point is that "bookshelf marriage" is not appropriate for everyone, gay or straight. Unfortunately, it violates Hayek's univeralability principle, but it does confer perks that cannot be ignored. Moreover, whether one adopts "bookshelf marriage" or not, negotiation, navigation, and experimentation cannot be eliminated, which is what many people want most out of the institution. If the institution fails straights by 50%, what makes gays/lesbians any more confident?

Arguably, the State has no business being in the "marriage business," but if it does, then justice requires it be accessible to everyone. But just because it is accessible, does not obviate the dynamic tension that must exist for the marriage to work. So my advice is take what justice properly requires, when available and if desired, but realize the "bookshelf" edition needs substantial revision, adjustment, and adaptation. That's definitely true for straights, it's even more truthful for gays and lesbians.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a straight man I am troubled by the need for government to place laws on love. Government should not be in the marriage business period. Civil unions for everyone and if you want to be married go to church.

4:27 PM  

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