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): GayPatriotWest@aol.com