Saturday, June 25, 2011

Victory for same-sex marriage

As everyone (just about) now knows, last night same-sex marriage became a fact in New York State, where I live. While I am "in a relationship" I don't think that we will take advantage of the new provision. I rejoice though that those who want it will be able to take this step.

It is important to note that even the new provisions do not provide "full marriage." That is to say, many federal benefits, including those pertaining to immigration and social security, are lacking. What needs to be done now is to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, and then have the federal government extend the federal benefits in the states that have SSM.

Absent a favorable Supreme Court decision, I fear that full gay marriage in all fifty states will be a long time in coming. In fact the SSM-movement may have an unwanted side effect of reinforcing the red state-blue state dichotomy, as most of the red states will continue their rejectionist stance.

During the 1990s I belonged to a discussion group, including a number of thoughtful writers and "boldface" names, which was generally enthusiastic about gay marriage. In fact it was just about all they talked about, making me weary of the whole issue. Some of these advocates fervently backed what amounted to a "social-engineering" measure: it would curb promiscuity among gay men. Various incentives would serve to herd us into the state of monogamous matrimony. This notion offended against my libertarian instincts. SSM should be a way of widening choice and individual options, and not of narrowing them.

More fundamentally, it seemed to me that gay intellectuals like Gabriel Rotello and Jonathan Rauch were seeking to repeal nature, by eliding a fundamental aspect of human males that has deep ecological roots. That is, sexual pluralism. One can urge that people exercise care and discretion, but to propose monogamy for every man is simply not realistic. I realize, of course, that there are individuals like Gary Wills who have had sex with only one woman, their spouse, throughout their lives. As Kinsey showed, however, these people are not common, and their experience must not be decreed for everyone.

Even for those who believe that they are destined to achieve a pair bond with one person, some experience in cohabitation, possibly with several partners in sequence, is of tremendous help in finding out if one is suitable for monogamy.

So I say: two cheers (but no more) for gay marriage.

Some background is appropriate. The first discussions of the possibility and prospects go back to ONE Magazine in the 1950s. That's right, the 1950s. However, the current movement was sparked by the gay lawyer Evan Wolfson, who has received far too little credit. I was delighted to see Wolfson on Chris Matthews last night.

An early recruit to the cause was Andrew Sullivan, for some years a prolific poster on The Dish (now at The Daily Beast). Here are some excepts from his commentary this morning. --

"The fact that New York State has just become the sixth (plus DC) to grant gay citizens the civil right to marry is a BFD ("Big ** Deal"). I say that having observed and participated in this process for two decades.

"It's a BFD because a Republican-led State Senate passed this law. Yes, the partisanship is massively lop-sided, but the conversion of a few Republicans is what will have made this possible. The credit for that goes to one of the most determined, consistent, professional and impassioned campaigns we have ever fought for marriage equality. Going outside traditional Democratic party lobbies to appeal to those on the other side who are open to our arguments was essential. Yes, Tim Gill, take a bow, wherever you are. Bill Smith, you remain my hero. Governor Cuomo, by all accounts was magnificent at the politics and Mayor Bloomberg and critical Republicans and Democrats and all factions and groups in the gay movement - even HRC! - pulled together. That the most passionate opponent was a Democrat and the most powerful were Republicans helps scramble the attempt by the Christianist right to coopt conservatism for their reactionary theology.

"It's a BFD because it also insists on maximal religious liberty for those who conscientiously oppose marriage equality. [I'm not so sure that this compromise was a good idea.-- WRD) A gay rights movement that seeks to restrict any religious freedom is not worthy of the name. And it makes me glad that we largely avoided anything that looks like that strategy, and that last-minute negotiations were flexible enough to strengthen the protections for religious groups, churches, mosques, synagogues and the like. The gay rights movement is about expanding the boundaries of human freedom - and that must include religious freedom if it is to mean anything. We have come such a long way from the 1980s when religious groups were always seen as enemies, rather than as potential allies.

"It's a BFD because the public leadership of this campaign was heterosexual.

"By all accounts, governor Cuomo has been a magnificently crafty, determined, clear and decisive supporter. Mayor Bloomberg, who just lost his beloved mother, also used his influence with Republicans to move the needle. Cuomo's national reputation and potential career in national politics will be enhanced by this - a sign of how radically the political landscape has changed.

"It's a BFD because it doubles the number of Americans with the right to marry the person they love, even if they are gay. That is one hell of a fact on the ground. It will almost certainly help in California. It will reveal even more profoundly that this does not mean the end of civilization, but is, more prosaically, a modest reform to strengthen the family, integrate the marginalized and enlarge our moral universe. And it cannot now be undone." END OF SULLIVAN QUOTATION.

I certainly agree that it is a "modest reform," not the Messianic transformation that Sullivan and some others had been hailing some years ago.

I understand that Governor Cuomo will lead the Pride Parade tomorrow. As the Australians say, Good On Him!



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