Among the many constants in my posts on gay marriage ever since we were at blogspot has been a plea for civil discourse on the issue. I have faulted gay marriage advocates for being more ready to trash the opponents of state recognition of same-sex marriage than to defend the merits of the institution. Simply put, they would rather whine on how miserable we are because the state deprives us of a right that they already have and lament how the failure of the state to call our unions marriage has caused incredible damage to our self-esteem.
If you feel a victim because the state doesn’t call your union what you want to call it, well, then you have really politicized your psyche.
I have long dwelled on the distinction between the right to marriage (which we have) and the benefits accruing from state-sanctioned unions (which, by and large, we lack) because I believe w need, as I expressed in a recent comment, highlight “difference between ‘freedom to’ and ‘state recognition of.’” The state has long privileged monogamous unions between individual of different sexes–and for good reason. Such relationships benefit society and protect women.
Unfortunately, with states liberalizing divorce laws, they reduced the benefits of the unions. If you don’t penalize a spouse for straying, then you don’t discourage behavior which threatens the stability of the marriage (and which particularly hurts children). Serious advocates of marriage would call for laws which make divorce more difficult and offer severe penalties to an unfaithful spouse.
Unfortunately, the trend seems to be in the opposite direction, with New York set to become the “last state” to “adopt no-fault divorce”. Now, I’m sure some social conservatives are opposing such legislation. Those who don’t while continuing to oppose state recognition of same-sex marriage, are just plain not sincere about their support for the institution and the ideals which undergird it. Indeed, no-fault divorce laws are far more damaging to the institution of marriage than would be state recognition of same-sex marriages.
According to the New York Times, opponents of the law include
. . . the Roman Catholic Church, which objects to making divorce easier, as well as some women’s advocates, who feared that no-fault divorce would deprive women — especially poor women who could not afford lengthy litigation — of leverage they needed to obtain fair alimony or child support agreements from husbands seeking to divorce them.
These women’s advocates are right. No-fault divorce hurts women. If gay marriage advocates were serious about their cause, they would join these advocates in opposing the legislation. Such opposition would show that they understand the meaning of marriage, an understanding I find all too absent in the current debate.
I make this distinction because I believe advocates need show that they have that understanding–that they recognize why the state privileges such unions. This, let me repeat, this is a debate about which relationships the state chooses to privilege. I believe states should privilege same-sex monogamous unions, but am not beholden to the state calling such unions “marriages.”
That said, those who want the state to define our unions as such need to do a better job making the case why state-recognized marriage is a good thing. And why our unions are worthy of the privilege.
It is because I believe that debate is so important (more in a subsequent post on why this is particularly beneficial to men) that I fault those who lament that the absence of state-sanctioned marriage means they lack to the freedom to marry or play the victim and contend the state renders our unions illegal.
In short, I favor an open debate on the meaning of marriage because I believe a serious debate on marriage will benefit gay people (and not just gay people) as the institution benefits those who seek its protections and understand its purpose.
Finally, I had fun last night as I was looking for a title to my post on the semantics of the gay marriage debate. When the title that I used popped into my head, a puckish grin alighted on my face. I knew it would be provocative and knew as well that some of our critics would miss my point.
As if on cue, some critics (as predicted) responded by misrepresenting my point (in one case faulting me for saying the exact opposite of what I actually said) and attacking myself and our defenders in mean-spirited terms. (Yup, that’ll help further the debate). That said, there were a number of critics, notably Pat, who did get my point and engaged me in the spirit the post was offered and who offered insightful commentary.