Before Andrew Sullivan decided that the purpose of gay marriage was to confer “dignity” on gay relationships (a definition ironically bought by the California Supreme Court), he made perhaps the most solid social argument for extending state recognition of marriage to same-sex couples.
In his landmark 1989 essay, “Here Comes the Groom,” what he called a “socially conservative” argument for gay marriage, Andrew claimed the institution is “good for gays” as it “provides role models for young gay people who, after the exhilaration of coming out, can easily lapse into short-term relationships and insecurity with no tangible goal in sight.”
If the experience of Patrick Range McDonald, an openly gay writer for the LA Weekly (and correspondent of Bruce and myself) is any indication, the recent spate of gay weddings in California appears to be proving the point Andrew made now nearly twenty years ago. After covering the gay weddings this week in West Hollywood for his paper, Patrick wrote me (and granted me permission to publish his comments):
The wedding on Monday touched my deeply. I don’t feel any peer pressure to get married, which I think some gays may be feeling these days, but it made me realize how nice it would be to go forward in life with another man as my husband. Life turns into something bigger than yourself, and I like the idea of that.
Maybe gay marriage will indeed promote the cultural change Andrew once (and may still) advocated.
Yet, other evidence suggests that for many gay men, marriage does not impose the same requirements on them as it has on heterosexual couples. According to the New York Times, one “married”* gay man, Eric Erbelding says, “men view sex very differently than women. Men are pigs, they know that each other are pigs, so they can operate accordingly. It doesn’t mean anything,” adding that while “most married gay couples he knows are ‘for the most part monogamous, but for maybe a casual three-way.'”
Sorry, Eric, that ain’t marriage. If you want to engage in occasional threesomes or any other extramarital liaisons, you should certainly be free to do so, but once you do, you can’t call yourself married. Nor should a swinging heterosexual couple call their non-exclusive union marriage.
With advocates like Erbelding, no wonder Maggie Gallagher (whose National Review article alerted me to the Times piece) claims “the conservative case for same-sex marriage is looking pretty tattered.”
She contends current evidence suggests marriage will not help tame what Erbelding might call men’s piggishness. Taming such “piggishness” has been one of the institution’s many purposes for as long as it’s existed.
Unfortunately, Gallagher conflates her argument with another, contending gay marriage will limit religious freedom, a point Dale Carpenter effectively demolishes in this piece, noting the problem is not so much state-sanctioned gay marriage as it is non-discrimination laws. Dale’s post helps make my point about the detrimental effects of such laws.
While I don’t agree with everything Maggie and Dale have to say in their respective pieces, each makes strong points. I recommend their pieces highly. We do need address the problem Maggie raises about gay men wanting marriage without the monogamy long associated with the institution.
If gay marriage is to have any meaning, its advocates must take issue people like Eric Erbelding who wish to redefine the institution so it does not limit their ability to mess around with someone other than their partner. If they want an open relationship, fine, just don’t call it marriage.
Those who are serious about gay marriage should call him — and others like him — on their failure to acknowledge monogamy as a defining aspect of the institution..
Please contact me if you find other gay bloggers, pundits or activists taking issue with such redefinition and I promise to link them in this post.
*Here I put marriage in quotation remarks as Mr. Erbelding and his partner have a rule allowing each other to play around. I would hardly consider a heterosexual man married if he and his wife had a rule allowing extramarital liaisons.