In response to my quoting Jonathan Rauch’s observation that that honest advocacy of same-sex marriage “requires acknowledging that same-sex marriage is a significant social change.” in a post last week, commenter ILoveCapitalism (hereinafter ILC) wrote, “WHAT social change(s)?”
ILC’s not the first person to question whether gay marriage represents a significant social change. Others, in a similar vein, have claimed that gay marriage does not alter the definition of marriage. Both are wrong.
Just because they’re wrong, however, doesn’t mean gay marriage is. Over time, we’ve seen a great variety of social changes, many good and some not so good and some downright bad.
There has, for example, been a huge social change in the attitude toward gays over the past twenty years. That has been, on the whole, a good thing.
Now that gay marriage has come to the forefront of the national debate as well as that in our own community, when discussing it was all but taboo as recently as the early 1990s, advocates should embrace rather than belittle this notion of social change. Less than twenty years ago, many of our gay peers (particularly the men) dismissed marriage as a heterosexual institution, with some calling it a relic of a patriarchal era.
It’s not just that we are talking about adopting this ancient social institution as a means of defining our relationships, it’s also that representatives of many non-gay institutions, social, political, religious are considering recognizing them as such. That represents a huge change in the definition of marriage given that sexual difference has long been a defining aspect of the relationship.
Should marriage serve the same purpose for same-sex couples as it has long served for different-sex ones, as a social institution channeling one’s sexual passion and other longings into a relationship where the partners look after each other’s interests and those of their children while providing a model to which the unmarried can aspire, then it will indeed be a good thing.
But, it defeats the purpose of the national conversation on gay marriage to suggest it neither provides social change nor redefines marriage. Recognition of gay marriage does both things. The goal should be to ensure that change is a good one, which it will be provided the new definition doesn’t strip the institution of its stabilizing essence.
Given the way this conversation has been going, it seems that all too few advocates of this change appreciate — or even understand — the full benefits and meaning of this most ancient institution.
Related: Connecticut in context.