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Will Gay Marriage Help Tame Men’s “Piggishness”?

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.

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54 Comments

  1. And yet, despite the failures that do exist, marriage was not denied to you and other straight persons. Yet any failure by gay couples is used as an excuse to deny same sex marriage.

    That would be because heterosexual marriage is a stabilizing force in society, both in terms of the present and in terms of assuring society’s perpetuation and future.

    On the other hand, gay marriage is simply a matter of making gay people feel better about themselves. As we see in this post, it does nothing to stop gay promiscuity, nor does it increase sexual responsibility or commitment. Furthermore, since gay couples are incapable of natural procreation, it has no value in terms of protecting children or stabilizing parental relationships.

    Heterosexual marriage is so important for society that the greater good of having it outweighs the possibility of its failures. However, gay marriage is neither necessary or required for society; it is a convenience, not an imperative. Since, as we see in this example, it fails to provide the societal benefits its supporters claim it will provide, there is no compelling reason to have it.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — June 22, 2008 @ 3:47 pm - June 22, 2008

  2. On the other hand, gay marriage is simply a matter of making gay people feel better about themselves. As we see in this post, it does nothing to stop gay promiscuity, nor does it increase sexual responsibility or commitment.

    NDT, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on those two points.

    Comment by Pat — June 23, 2008 @ 8:45 am - June 23, 2008

  3. “And yet, despite the failures that do exist, marriage was not denied to you and other straight persons. Yet any failure by gay couples is used as an excuse to deny same sex marriage.”

    Pat has hit the nail on the head here. Marriage is not denied to other people based on their failure to abide by the rules (though it can be ended by consent due to said violations), and we all know those rules have been violated time after time. But to lump in the majority of heterosexual marriages with philanderers is disingenuous, just as it would be to lump all theoretical gay marriages together. How would sufficient moral rectitude be proven before granting a marriage license, regardless of sexual orientation?

    But if gays want marriage rights, they had damn well better accept the responsibilities that come with it. I am more than willing to accept them.

    Comment by Attmay — June 23, 2008 @ 9:23 am - June 23, 2008

  4. […] the many troubling things the non-monogamous “married” man Eric Erbelding said to the New York Times was his repetition of the refrain we hear all too often, […]

    Pingback by GayPatriot » Men Aren’t Pigs — June 24, 2008 @ 1:15 am - June 24, 2008

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