One of the great difficulties of having a serious conversation on marriage with the great majority of gay marriage activists is their refusal to understand the significance of the social change they are proposing.
Yes, a number of cultures throughout history have recognized same-sex unions, but such recognition has been the exception, not the norm. In all my studies (which have been pretty extensive), I have yet to encounter a culture (prior to the 1990s) which identified same-sex unions with the same term it used to describe different-sex relationships, what we now call, traditional marriage.
As I’ve noted before, those cultures which called such unions “marriage” required that one partner live his (or her, as the case may be) in the guise of the opposite gender. In short, sexual difference defined marriage.
In the two best books published in recent years on marriage, only David Blankenhorn coming out against gay marriage in The Future of Marriage addresses gender difference. Jonathan Rauch, in his excellent book making the case for gay marriage, brings it up only to dismiss it.
In order to make a better case for gay marriage, advocates of expanding the definition of this ancient institution need make clear that they are indeed promoting a change. They can’t hang on the rights argument, particularly in a state like California which grants the same privileges to same-sex couples as it does to different-sex married couples, but just calls them by a different name.
Right now, in the Golden State at least (but perhaps nationally given this past weekend’s rallies), all the hullabaloo is over that name.
As one who recognizes that gender differences are real, I am sympathetic to those opponents of same-sex marriage (proponents of Proposition 8 ) who root their opposition in that understanding of this institution. Many of them actually favor (with some saying as much in the recent campaign) state recognition of same-sex couples just so long as the state calls them something different than marriage.
It seems that Arizona voters agree, rejecting a draconian 2006 ballot measure which would have barred state recognition of such unions, but two years later, voting (by a comfortable margin) for a measure which would have just prevented the state from calling such unions marriage.
If people are serious about gay marriage as something more than a means to get a government seal of approval on our unions, they need address the gender difference argument. They are proposing a change to an ancient institution. Let’s acknowledge that and say why it’s a good thing.