From the publication of his essay, “Here Comes the Groom: a Conservative Case for Gay Marriage” in August 1989 until February 24, 2004, Andrew Sullivan offered some of the most compelling arguments for gay marriage. One could almost say that for the better part of those nearly fifteen years, Andrew wrote or edited (in the New Republic or in his anthology, Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con), nearly every serious piece on how that ancient institution benefits gays published in the United States.
But, lately, his writings on marriage have become increasingly banal and self-absorbed. He barely writes any any more about how that institution benefits society, but instead focuses on how it benefits himself. He barely mentions the social purposes of marriage and instead repeats the same slogans gay rights’ activists use to defend a institution few of them seem to understand.
This change has become most clear in Andrew’s recent essay on his “Big Fat Straight (sic) Wedding” for the Atlantic. While he does make a good point about the importance of having a ceremony celebrating his nuptials in front of family and close friends, he never establishes why he couldn’t have done this before Massachusetts recognized same-sex marriages.
It’s almost as if Andrew “needed” the state’s validation so that he could publicly acknowledge his commitment to his partner. Even before Goodridge (the Massachusetts court decision mandating the state recognize gay marriages), there was no law preventing gay people from holding such ceremonies and calling their unions “marriages.”
I can hardly count the number of couples who, before November 2003 (when Goodridge was handed down), told me about their weddings or referred to their same-sex spouse, as “wife” or “husband.” Yet, for Andrew, without the State’s approval, their ceremonies would have been meaningless.
To be sure, this essay may be just a sweet piece on the meaning of his own wedding. It well-written and gets at one of the social purposes of such ceremonies. But, it is of a piece with Andrew’s 2004 Time essay, “Why The M Word Matters To Me,” where he wrote that only marriage would let young gay kids “know that he doesn’t have to choose between himself and his family anymore [and] . . . know that his love has dignity, that he does indeed have a future as a full and equal part of the human race. ”
Oh really? Â They need state recognition to do that? Â
In The New American Revolution, Tammy Bruce found that Sullivan, in his essay, “actually equated government recognition of gay marriage as a necessary element to all gay people feeling wanted and accepted.”
Granted, Andrew has considered social approval an important aspect of state-sanctioned gay marriage since his seminal essay in 1989:
Legalizing gay marriage would offer homosexuals the same deal society now offers heterosexuals: general social approval and specific legal advantages in exchange for a deeper and harder-to-extract- yourself-from commitment to another human being. Like straight marriage, it would foster social cohesion, emotional security, and economic prudence.
But, Andrew didn’t limit himself to discussing these values when promoting marriage. In 1996, he contended that in his “book and several articles,” he had “unequivocally” argued “for monogamy as central to all marriage, same-sex or opposite-sex.”
Lately, however, he has sidestepped the issue, calling monogamy “very hard for men,” yet not stressing that while difficult, marriage seeks, as he wrote twelve years ago “to promote monogamy, fidelity and the disciplines of family life among people who have long been cast to the margins of society.”
Today, when I searched Andrew’s recent writings, I could not find any unequivocal statement on monogamy. Indeed, he barely seemed to acknowledge that it was essential to marriage.
From making a compelling argument for gay marriage, indeed, in many ways helping set the terms of the current debate, Andrew had settled on a new fundamental aspect of marriage. It’s no longer about extending the values which have long defined traditional marriage to same-sex unions, but about the state validating gay people.
A true conservative would not turn to the state for validation, but instead recognize the importance of finding that acceptance within our family, our own community, the various institutions to which we belong and our circle of friends. We don’t need the state to sanction an institution before we can find such acceptance for it.
There are many good things which marriage does, many reasons why we should favor extending the benefits of this ancient institution to same-sex couples. It makes us less self-centered, promotes responsible sexual behavior, makes it easier for each spouse to look after the other in our complicated society, publicly honors the commitment each partner has made to the other. These are some of the aspects of this ancient and honorable institution which conservative advocates of gay marriage should highlight.
But, it’s liberals who look to the state for validation. We conservatives find that in churches, synagogues, other religious and social organizations, within our circle of friends and above all with our families. The state should merely grant certain benefits to couples who honor the values of the institution.
We’ll look elsewhere for social approval.
I wish to acknowledge the assistance of blogger Dan Riehl in researching this blog.