While I wouldn’t call myself an advocate of gay marriage,* at least not at the present time, I believe the debate on gay marriage is one of the most important of our time. And not merely for gay people. Scholars increasingly recognize the importance of marriage in promoting emotional and financial** well-being.
If traditional marriage promotes good qualities among straight people, then it should also foster similar qualities in gay people. Too few advocates of gay marriage discuss the non-governmental benefits of this ancient and honorable institution.
Indeed, it seems that most of the advocates of gay marriage (with the prominent exception of Jonathan Rauch–though I’m sure he’s not the only one) are those least likely to discuss its social (as opposed to its political) benefits. In many cases, these people hold worldviews similar to those who, in the and 1960s and 1970s, questioned the value of marriage as a social institution.
Despite the importance of this issue, it seems that whenever I read a piece of gay marriage, on either side of the debate, the advocates and adversaries merely repeat talking points, misrepresenting the other side’s points and relying on cliches (and/or slogans) rather than arguments. To be sure, there have been a number of thoughtful pieces on both sides of the debate — and (at least) one really, really, really long post about gay marriage that does not, in the end, support one side or the other.
But, on the whole the debate has been particularly lame. Just take a gander at some of the comments to my posts on gay marriage. I’ll suggest how (I believe) advocates of marriage should talk about the issue and people will respond by attacking Bush, talking about “rights” or suggesting that those who opposed gay marriage are merely standing in the path of a foreordained outcome. That history will judge them all as narrow-minded troglodytes.
Too many of our critics rarely address the points we are trying to raise, just repeating the same slogans they would use to counter any opponent of gay marriage, barely noticing that my basic point has long been about the quality of the debate–the need to address (and promote) the benefits of marriage rather than merely pressing for the “right” (by which they mean “privilege” or “benefit.”)
The opponents of gay marriage are no better. At least those who comment here (most of them at least) do show some sensitivity to gay concerns (but that has more to deal with the nature of this blog than the overall caliber of gay marriage opponents for most of them just dismiss our ideas merely because of the first three letters of the blog’s name). They merely assume (given the behavior of a substantial portion of the gay male community) that gay people cannot meet the obligations of marriage, being more interested in securing its political benefits and not assuming its obligations, including monogamy.
Maybe it has always been that debates on important issues have always been lame. Perhaps that is why we remember the Lincoln-Douglas debates (focusing on slavery, the most important issue facing America in the 1850s) nearly a century and a half later. They stand out because both sides were different from other debates of the day; each man was particularly eloquent in his expression of his position.
As important as the slavery debate was to social improvement in the mid-nineteenth century, it may well have been that much of the debate was as silly as is our debate today on gay marriage. We only see more of that now because the Internet allows any group to publish its statements. So, rather than being lost to history, the most inane ramblings of the various advocacy groups are preserved for posterity.
Maybe I’m just an idealist in hoping for a good debate on this all-important topic. Perhaps it’s just that throughout history, the real quality arguments have survived over time while the rest have been lost to posterity. Fortunately, there are a few advocates with the rhetorical skill and intelligence of Lincoln and Douglas. It’s just too bad they’re not gaining enough prominence in the current debate. That way, we might better understand the valid arguments against gay marriage. And better appreciate how this ancient institution could benefit gay people.
If the debate on slavery in the 1850s was less lame than our debate today on gay marriage, then perhaps a gifted young lawyer from Illinois may not have captured the national imagination and gone on to serve as president — and save the union.
It would be nice if we had a few more Lincolns — on both sides of the debate. And not just on this issue.
– B. Daniel Blatt (GayPatriotWest@aol.com)
*I believe we should push for civil unions.
** Via Instapundit.