[Please note that I tweaked this post a bit since first publishing it.]
One of my great disappointments in the campaign on California’s Proposition 8* ( has been the absence of serious discussion on the merits of gay marriage. The closest we came was the first ad against the initiative and one line in the the third. Basically we’ve just seen each side focusing on winning the battle rather than engaging the electorate.
Given that it should be the very purpose of a campaign to focus on victory at the ballot box, these strategies make sense. A conversation which advanced the argument for gay marriage may well have backfired politically.
Noting the absence of gay couples in the ads against Prop 8, Jonathan Rauch wrote today in the LA Times, “Whatever the tactical considerations, the absence of gay couples and gay marriages from California’s gay-marriage debate makes for an oddly hollow discussion.” He’s right.
Let us hope that should Prop 8 fail–and even if it succeeds–we can have that conversation. Unfortunately, those in a position to lead that discussion have little understanding of the real meaning of marriage. They seem to feel that all opponents of gay marriage merely hate gay people. They refuse address the point Rick Warren made in endorsing the initiative, “For 5,000 years, every culture and every religion – not just Christianity – has defined marriage as a contract between men and women.”
Yet, most leading advocates of gay marriage (save Jonathan Rauch and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA)) don’t even want to engage social conservative defenders of this ancient institution, as if they’re oblivious to the instiution’s merits, aware only of marriage as another “right” to which we somehow deserve equal access.
It seems that the leaders of the movement for gay marriage including Evan Wolfson, Executive Director of Freedom to Marry (with whom I’ve corresponded) base their understanding of the institution not on studies of its long history, but on reading Hallmark cards and quoting the Loving decision.
Maybe I’m wrong and we don’t need a serious conversation on gay marriage. Maybe our society will just come to accept an expanded definition of this ancient institution.
But, it would be nice if we could do as GLMA did in its recent report and highlight the benefits of the institution. To do that, just like them, we’d do well to cite social conservative defenses of traditional marriage. If we believe gay marriage is equal to heterosexual marriage, then a defense of traditional marriage would apply to our unions as well.
Alas that the current debate has not allowed us to consider the merits of marriage.
*Which would amend the state’s constitution to include the traditional definition of marriage, thus nullifying the state Supreme Court decision mandating gay marriage.