I wonder what kind of post I would have written on the vote yesterday in the Massachusetts legislature to prevent a vote on a constitutional amendment “that would have let voters decide whether to ban gay marriage” had I received the e-mail from Peter Hughes’ alerting me to Yahoo!’ news item on the decision before I received the press releases from HRC and Log Cabin.
I’m actually more ambivalent on the vote that my previous post might suggest.
What stunned me in the two releases was reading (yet again) the same lame discourse on this, perhaps the most important socio-political issue facing our community, especially that Log Cabin’s release, like much of that ostensibly Republican’s group rhetoric, seemed to mimic that of HRC. They weren’t even trying to stake out a conservative position. My astonishment was reflected in the title of the post.
I’m ambivalent on the issue because I believe that legislatures (rather than courts) are the appropriate institution to decide a state’s policy on marriage. And here, an elected legislature (though under special circumstances) did vote on the policy. So, I should favor the decision. But, it troubles me that they only acted because the state Supreme Judicial Court (the highest court in the Bay State) had mandated marriage, taking it out of the legislature’s hands, leaving only the state’s complicated constitutional amendment process as a means of recourse.
Two things struck me about the reaction of the gay organizations, first the zeal with which the gay groups lobbied to prevent the people from voting on this issue. I think it’s silly to call this a “Vote on Rights” because the issue here is not about protecting people’s freedom, but about determining which couples the state recognizes (and privileges) as married.
The second issue which struck me, which is a point I have been making for as long as I have been blogging, is the inability (or refusal) of the gay organizations to talk about this all-important issue except as one of rights. As I was working on my prior post, The Malcontent‘s Robbie alerted me to Jonathan’s Rauch’s thoughtful review of David Blankenhorn’s The Future of Marriage. In noting that gay-marriage foe David Blankenhorn “succeeds” in making a serious case against gay marriage, Rauch (yet again) makes a strong case for gay marriage.
I wonder why it is that so few advocates of gay marriage take the time to make arguments as Jonathan does, pointing out the merits of this ancient institution, how it benefits gay people — and society. And to address the points raised by opponents of gay marriage.
Dale Carpenter, another one of the few advocates of gay marriage who makes serious arguments in favor of the institution, was quite enthusiastic about the decision, titling his e-mail alerting his friends to his post on the topic “Woohoo!,” offers an opinion only slightly different from my own. He notes that the vote shows “how dramatically support for SSM [Same-Sex Marriage] has grown in the legislature,” but agrees that “a successful referendum vote in November 2008” would have represented an “even bigger win.”
Given the prospect of such a successful referendum, I wonder (yet again) at why gay groups so delighted in blocking it. Such a victory would have done much to undercut the argument of gay marriage opponents that gay activists seek to “impose” gay marriage on an unwilling public.
But, as it was, I first saw the posts of the gay organizations and responded to their pabulum. I get so annoyed of their posturing on the issue, labeling marriage as a right rather than understanding it a social institution which states privilege by recognizing.
All that said, I remain ambivalent about the vote yesterday in the Bay State. It is a good thing that the elected representatives of the people had the chance to vote on this. It’s unfortunate that gay groups are unable to distinguish a right from a benefit — and remain reluctant to discuss the meaning of marriage.
Perhaps, as the Bay State’s resolution of this issue shows, they may not need to discuss that meaning in order to gain state recognition of same-sex marriage. So, as same-sex marriage becomes a reality, it will be up to others, people like Jonathan Rauch, Dale Carpenter and perhaps even yours truly, to remind people of the significance of this development, that this institution has a social importance which transcends the privileges granted by the state. And which transcend the benefits it grants to individuals who elect to enter into such sacred unions.