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The conservative position on gay marriage

Posted by GayPatriotWest at 6:04 pm - July 15, 2005.
Filed under: Gay Marriage

Since Andrew Sullivan first published his piece, “Here Comes the Groom: A conservative case for gay marriage in The New Republic in August 1989, many people, including a good number of straight conservatives, have come forward to support Andrew’s thesis as articulated in his subtitle–that support for gay marriage is a conservative position. I might agree with his conclusion if those advocating gay marriage moved beyond the rhetoric they are currently using and focus instead on the meaning of marriage, that is, they need to get beyond the demand for equal benefits.

Support for gay marriage would only be conservative if we could be sure that by granting the same benefits to same-sex couples who choose marriage as we do to those who elect traditional marriage that those couples agree to the same responsibilities, including the commitment to monogamy.

In the current debate, few from either side seem to be addressing the real issue in the debate. Advocates of gay marriage feed us nostrums about “equality” and benefits while opponents ominously warn that recognition of same-sex unions will destroy the institution of marriage. Few wish to debate the issue seriously and consider the meaning of the institution. And as I have in the past, I recommend the first chapter, “What is Marriage for,” in the book, Gay Marriage : Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America by Jonathan Rauch, one of the few advocates of gay marriage who has (considered that meaning).

Until advocates of gay marriage (of which I am not (at present) one) follow Jonathan’s lead and talk about the meaning of marriage, they are not making a serious effort to promote the positive social benefits of monogamous relationships to gay people — and to society at large.

Simply put, those advocates need to do more than just advocate for the benefits which accrue to married couples. They need to discuss the sacredness of marriage. I have blogged on this repeatedly (e.g., here and here). The debate needs to be about more that “equality” and “fairness” but about values, commitment, mutual respect and yes, that key concept, monogamy. Unless we promote the same standards for gay unions as those do who promote traditional marriage, we are not talking about marriage, but merely whining about perceived inequality.

For millennia — and in nearly every culture in the world — marriage has evolved as an institution binding together two individuals of the opposite sex in a lifelong commitment. In a high percentage of those cultures, marriage has been a monogamous institution. A variety of cultures have also recognized same-sex unions. Yet, almost all treat them differently than they treat different-sex marriage, with different rituals and even different names for the institution. In a few cultures which treat same-sex marriage the same as different-sex marriage, one partner takes on the identity of the other sex.

All that said, the meaning of marriage has evolved over centuries. Let’s continue to let it evolve naturally. If our society comes to recognize same-sex unions as marriage, it will happen organically without the intervention of the courts — or without state legislatures attempting to override popular referenda. Let’s keep the courts out of this. And let’s keep the discussion open.

Let’s also be sensitive to the opponents of gay marriage. They’re not all anti-gay bigots. (As I have noted here, many pro-gay individuals oppose gay marriage.) Indeed, given the rhetoric of some advocates of gay marriage, it’s no wonder many people oppose gay marriage. Many advocates of gay marriage refuse to discuss the commitments, the responsibilities of this sacred and ancient institution.

A true conservative position on gay marriage would show great respect for the ancient institution of marriage, but would also recognize how marriage has evolved over time. A conservative position would thus allow for the meaning of marriage to change with changes in society. But, those changes would not be mandated by any court, but would arise organically through society. Thus, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court got it wrong when it claimed in its Goodridge decision, that the Bay State’s constitution mandated gay marriage. Those who seek to overturn that decision will a federal constitutional amendment also get it wrong. Such an amendment would prevent states from recognizing changes in our understanding of the institution of marriage which develop naturally.

If gay marriage is to truly promote those good values which traditional marriage promotes, then we must talk about it as we talk about traditional marriage. We must talk about commitment to one another. We must talk about the responsibilities of the institution which go beyond its romantic aspects. In short, we must talk about the meaning of marriage. And we must promote monogamy and discuss why it is essential to marriage and why monogamous unions are beneficial to both partners.

-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest):



  1. Dan,

    I’ve read your comment with some keen interest- it leaves me with some lingering questions. First, are you in a committed, deeply felt relationship with another man? If so, I have to wonder, why you take the position that you do about gay marriage? No gay man, in a free and open society, should be opposed to another gay man marrying his partner.

    You state that gay advocates refuse to articulate the meaning of marriage; however, this is not true. Many gay marriage advocates understand the implicit “meaning” of gay marriage, not only on a personal level for those couples wishing to marry, but on an economical level- (there are hundreds of benefits associated with marriage) You say that the debate needs to be about values, commitment…monogamy”. By “values”, do you mean “values” in the Conservative Christian sense? This is a term that is thrown around a lot, but most often it is used to define “Christian” values to the exclusion of any other religion- or no religion. And, I would venture a guess, that most gay couples wanting to be married intend on a monogomous relationship.

    You mention that marriage should change “organically” and not through the intervention of the court system. The reality is that marriage has not always changed “organically”- whatever that means. Historically, marriage has been influenced by politics, religion, and economics. During the early part of the 20th Century South Africa outlawed marriage between non-Christian couples. Largely due to the efforts of Mahatma Gandhi and his followers the law was overturned. And, of course, in our country, even recently, a white person could not marry a black person. Thankfully, rights groups and civil rights leaders didn’t wait for “organic” forces to change the definition of marriage set by the powers that be. You mention that marriage is a “sacred” institution- if you’ve had many female friends in your life, I’m sure you’ve heard women comment about marrying a “wealthy” man. The reality is that wealth has dictated marriage cross-culturally- hence, caste systems, debutante balls, dowries…the list goes on. Of course, there’s also the American divorce rate. So, I have to ask what you mean by “sacred”? Let’s be clear, this is a nation- of over a 50% divorce rate- that went to the polls, not to vote for their rights, but to vote against my rights.

    You mention that gays are ‘whining about a perceived inequality’. That inequality is very real and pervasive. Conservatives have spent a lot of money to tow the party line of the “sanctity of marriage”. Many companies, states and local goverments refuse to include sexual orientation as a protected class. Television and the internet- and weblogs like this one- prove not only the deep indifference on behalf of the straight world, but also how intellectually fractured the gay community remains. Personally, I believe the gay community is the most divided minority in America.

    Gays and lesbians understand the meaning of marriage and continue to articulate the importance of that meaning- and the freedoms that they, as tax paying Americans, deserve. The problem is that it is hard to articulate that argument in a schizophrenic society of run-a-way brides, rampant adultery, and moral absolutists bent on converting the world into their likeness. If you are a gay man with a sense of community, it is your obligation to help to defend our common rights.

    Comment by Brian — August 18, 2005 @ 4:38 pm - August 18, 2005

  2. Brian–

    I feel like responding to parts of your lengthy comment by saying, “Just give me a break.” It seems you did not read the post in its entirety and did not consider my argument, but are merely replying to what you wish I had said to make me a more convenient straw man. For example, I have never expressed opposition to a gay man marrying is partner.

    There is a difference, a huge one, especially when we face an overwhelmingly straight society which does not understand our relationships, between articulating the meaning of marriage and understanding its implicit “meaning.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by the better part of your comment. You seem to be throwing down a lot of ideas and repeating a lot of jargon. I do agree with you that the gay community is divided. I hope that you are right that most gay couples who want to be married seek monogamous unions. I would only hope that they make public that intention so that straight people can see that we see our unions as more than two people shacking up together for tax benefits.

    Rather than engage you point by point, I will simply try to summarize my basic argument. If we want states to recognize our unions as marriage, then we need to talk about it as straight people do, as a monogamous union between two committed individuals. And to talk about values inherent in a committed relationship.

    You say gay people continue already articulate the importance of the meaning of marriage. Maybe I’ve missed something in all that I have read in the gay press and on gay blogs — and in MSM coverage of the marriage debate — but I just don’t see gay people talking about some of the points that you address in your comment (and that I address in my post). And that is the essence of my argument. I have another point to raise, related to the sexual difference issue which I will not address at this time.

    I hope that satisfies you query and am curious as to how you chanced on this piece more than a month after I initially posted it. I might not catch you comments, so if you want to continue this, it might be easier if you e-mail me:

    Comment by GayPatriotWest — August 18, 2005 @ 7:32 pm - August 18, 2005

  3. Thanks for the reply…you didn’t answer my question, though-are you in a committed relationship?

    You’re for gay marriage, but opposed to gay marriage advocacy?- You stated that “until advocates of gay marriage (of which I am not (at present)…” – can you understand the misunderstanding? Nonetheless, as I suggested, as a community we should stand united on this issue. You should be for gay marriage and an “advocate” for it as well. I have a real problem with gay men bashing the gay rights movement on conservative websites. If you don’t like how they’re doing things- get involved. Like the old saying goes “if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem”.

    How did I find your article? That’s a long story, but, briefly, I’ve been doing research. Apart from that, I’m over this division among gay men on gay marriage. I’m also tired and bored of gay Republicans- this is NOTHING NEW. I watched in the early 80’s, as gay men were dying of AIDS by the hundreds of thousands- gay Republicans told the community they needed to “act normal” and live with “values”- they also supported politicians who blithely ignored the AIDS epidemic and even stated we were reason for the disease… I think this was purely criminal and evil.
    Sorry, for being so long winded. These are deep subjects- not easy to comment on briefly. This is really all I want to say about all of this. I hope I haven’t offended you. Again, I think we need to all respect each other in the gay community. If I have offended you, I apologize.

    The Human Rights Campaign has a very nice, AND FREE, 26 page downloadable pamphlet on gay marriage. This pamphlet is quite clear about the “meaning” and importance of marriage- gay marriage.

    Thanks again,

    Comment by Brian — August 18, 2005 @ 9:59 pm - August 18, 2005

  4. Brian, it’s foolish for me to respond to your points since you respond not to points I have raised. And don’t tell me what I should be for.

    You may be tired and bored of gay Republicans, but from you’ve posted here, it may be because you’re trying to define us as you would like to see us and not as we actually are.

    Oh, and you accuse gay Republicans, calling them “criminal and evil” of doing certain things in the 1980s without providing one bit of evidence that they did the things you accuse them of. And you just plain get your facts wrong. In the early 1980s, gay men were not dying of AIDS by the hundreds of thousands.

    It’s obvious that the reason you misunderstand my points is that because you don’t read them. But, I will check out HRC’s pamphlet on gay marriage.

    If you’re going to criticize gay Republicans, take the time to criticize the things we are saying not the things you wish we were saying to make your attacks easier.

    Comment by GayPatriotWest — September 1, 2005 @ 6:29 pm - September 1, 2005

  5. Of course I read your comment. However, your ideas and the principles which you espouse are contradictory. I stand by what I have said. I think it’s interesting that you use the terms “we” and “us” to describe your relationship to other Gay Republicans- as if to suggest you and I have no common interest. It seems to me that you place more importance on being a Republican than being a gay man. This is self defeating. As I suggested earlier, I believe this is a part of the problem with some elements of the gay community. You can choose to support your community, or you can choose to lend support to a party that, on the whole, is hostile to your lifestyle and your community.

    It is no secret that the Republican party supports measures to eliminate sexual orientation from corporate anti-descrimination policies. Also, it is very public knowledge that George W. Bush has stated he will support a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a “sacred union” between ONLY a man and a woman.

    I should mention that during the Republican National Convention last year Log Cabin Republican’s requests to speak were denied….Hello!!!

    I have provided a link for you to an article written by Barney Frank to the Lesbian and Gay Review (try to cut and paste it- sorry about that):

    P.S. Edmund Morris wrote “Dutch”- a biography of Ronald Reagan that was authorized and solicited by members of Reagan’s family and his friends. He quotes Reagan as saying- in reference to gays and AIDS- “maybe the Lord brought down this plague upon them’. It’s not so much what Reagan did do as what he didn’t do on his watch. At the end of his presidency 70,000 Americans had died and another 115,000 or so were infected.

    Comment by Brian — September 3, 2005 @ 3:27 pm - September 3, 2005

  6. I don’t have time now to finally get into your comment, but the Edmund Morris biogrpahy while initially authorized and solicited has been so thoroughly discredited that it’s not even worth considering. Suffice it to say that the Gipper never said that about gays and AIDS.

    Comment by Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest) — September 5, 2005 @ 7:27 pm - September 5, 2005

  7. PS and I doubt I will ever get to your comment as you make accustions (e.g, calling my positions contradictory) without providing evidence to buttress your case — just as you provide no evidence to support other accuastions you have leveled including GOP efforts to eliminate non-discrimination clauses from corporate employment policies.

    Comment by Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest) — September 5, 2005 @ 7:30 pm - September 5, 2005

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