In my most recent post on gay marriage, I repeated a point I have been making for as long as I’ve been blogging on the topic, noting that many gay leaders, including some staunch advocates of gay marriage, seem unwilling to debate this issue. I have long thought that a debate would serve us well, very well.
As I look at the conversations taking place on gay marriage, I see an interesting dichotomy in our community. On the one hand, in the judicial (and sometimes political) arena, gay leaders and activists are pushing for state recognition of gay marriage. In our communities, however, they seem reluctant to discuss what this institution means.
To be sure, there are exceptions, notably writers Dale Carpenter and Jonathan Rauch, the latter who penned a chapter, “What Marriage is For,” in his book, Gay Marriage : Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America which gets at the meaning of marriage.
We seem to be having two conversations on gay marriage. In pushing for gay marriage, advocates demand “marriage equality,” requesting that the state recognize our unions as it does straight unions — and call them by the same name. But, in our community, those very advocates seem reluctant to promote the idea of marriage. Unlike Jonathan Rauch, they are unwilling to discuss the benefits of this ancient institution.
It seems that just as gay leaders — and other advocates of same-sex marriage — are eager to keep the issue out of the political arena (preferring to push it through the courts), they’re also eager to keep it out of the social arena. They seem to see marriage as “right” to which we are all entitled, merely because the state grants this “right” to straight people. They limit their conversations on gay marriage to advocating for that “right,” state recognition of marriage.
Yet, if we are truly serious about marriage, we need to understand that while it is be a legal institution, it’s a legal institution with significant, social and moral aspects. We need not only bring the conversation about gay marriage out of the courts and into the public square, but also into our community organizations, the places we socialize and into our very homes.
In one of the few serious pieces on gay marriage, his 1989 essay “Here Comes the Groom,” Andrew Sullivan noted that it was “no accident” that his case for gay marriage sounded “socially conservative:”
Gay marriage also places more responsibilities upon gays: it says for the first time that gay relationships are not better or worse than straight relationships, and that the same is expected of them. And it’s clear and dignified. There’s a legal benefit to a clear, common symbol of commitment. There’s also a personal benefit.
That the “same is expected of us” means that, in electing marriage, we agree to undertake the same obligations that straight married couples undertake. If we’re serious about marriage, we need to talk about those obligations — and make clear that we are capable of meeting them. And while those obligations may be burdensome, there is a personal benefit to the sacrifices we make.
Marriage not only helps promote a more stable and secure social life for the individuals involved, it also helps deepen the connection between the two individuals joined in this sacred union. By fulfilling the obligations of marriage, we develop a more intimate relationship, a stronger, lasting bond with another human being. And thus together, we are better able to weather the difficulties which inhere in life — and to celebrate its joys.
As 2006 draws to a close, in order to show how serious they are about their cause, advocates of gay marriage should vow to talk more about their issue. They should make clear to the world at large that gay people who choose marriage are willing to live up to the obligations of this ancient institution. And to our own community, they need show the benefits that arise from meeting those obligations.
-B. Daniel Blatt (GayPatriotWest@aol.com)
UPDATE: One thing I have learned as I go through the mass of papers in my apartment is how long I have thought about these two “conversations.” I discovered a note where I had scribbled:
Two conversations on marriage:Â
As we push for the privileges which states offer married couples (which advocates calls “marriage equality”), we need make clear that we understand the covenant which marriage entails.
For, as I wrote on another piece of paper, in the marriage debate, the “burden is on those proposing change.” Since advocates of “marriage equality” want to extend the privileges of this ancient institution, long defined as a union between individuals of different genders to those of the same sex, they need to articulate why this change is a good thing — both for our society at large and for the individuals who would enter into such covenantal relationships.