When I drove cross country last fall, I often turned off my CD player so as to better let my thoughts wander. A number of ideas came to me, some of which I have addressed on this blog. One of the first notions which which popped into my head, somewhere in Arizona or New Mexico on the first day of the journey, was to wonder if my ambivalence on gay marriage was related to how many gay advocates approached the issue.
As I read David Blankenhorn’s book this past week, his description of some of these advocates reminded me of my own encounters. They saw marriage as just a relationship between two people, nothing more than a “right.” They scorned monogamy and delighted in the institution’s decline.
Few saw the conversation on gay marriage as part of a means to strengthen the institution. Indeed, some expressly sought to weaken it.
I found it difficult to take seriously advocates whose understanding of marriage as a right defined by the Supreme Court’s landmark 1967 decision Loving v. Virginia, banning “miscegenation” laws, as if the concept originated in jurisprudence and its social and ritual aspects irrelevant.
That all changed when I started reading Jonathan Rauch’s Gay Marriage: Why It is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America, particularly the chapter, “What Marriage is For” (which I have praised numerous times on this blog). He got at the meaning of this institution.
As fate would have it, at the same time I was reading the book, Jonathan was in LA. I went to hear him speak at A Different Light bookstore where he offered two anecdotes which showed that like Blankenhorn, he understood the debate on gay marriage involved the issue of marriage itself.
First, he mentioned a straight couple who came up to him after his talk and thanked him for reminding them what marriage was all about it; his words thus served to strengthen their marital bond. Then, he mentioned how when he presents the very same issues to gay activists, many who had a similar positive reaction, while his words caused others to question their own support for gay marriage. If marriage involves retreating from sexual liberation, they didn’t want it.
Given what that institution entails and some of the mores of our community, a real conversation on marriage is likely to trouble many gay people who favor a more libertine approach to sexuality.
If we really want gay marriage, we need to address that attitude.
Unless we do, we won’t be engaged in a conversation on marriage, but instead be redefining marriage to mean little more than two people who shack up together. Let’s hope more people like Jonathan Rauch come forward to get beyond the bland platitudes promoting “marriage equality” and point out the real benefits of marriage the institution.
Perhaps more people might favor gay marriage if its advocates could better articulate their understanding of and appreciation for this ancient social institution. But, then I’ve been saying that for about as long as I’ve been blogging.