Putting gay marriage into perspective

An article in today’s NY Times does a good job of putting the debate on gay marriage into more productive terms, and comes to the same conclusions I do, but gets there by different means.

The writer, Nathaniel Frank, helpfully clarifies that the “for” and “against” sides are talking past each other–the against side pitches its argument in terms of marriage’s social role, the for side in terms of individual rights–and he points out that both aspects are relevant.

My main disagreement with Frank is brought into sharpest relief by this paragraph:

The argument is not so much that individual straight couples are threatened by gay marriage, but that the collective rules that define marriage are being undermined. Instead of feeling part of a greater social project that demands respect, people will feel that breaking their vows offends only their spouse, not the whole community. Knowing that their friends and neighbors no longer hold marriage sacred can make it easier for people to wander.

The problem with Frank’s argument here is that he fails to acknowledge that this dread is ultimately rooted in bigotry: if the “greater social project” is somehow debased by gay marriage, it is because some feel that homosexuality is icky, and do not want to be forced to acknowledge the legitimacy of a gay relationship.

For a long time, I was ambivalent about gay marriage: on the one hand, I was inclined to be tolerant, on the other, the idea inspired cognitive dissonance–it didn’t fit my notion of marriage. Then, about ten years ago, the Economist published a cover story (as they are doing again this week) making the case for gay marriage–“Let them wed” the headline read. And I realized that my objections were hollow.

4 thoughts on “Putting gay marriage into perspective”

  1. You know, I think the real answer is for the state to stop “sanctifying” marriages of any sort. The state should issue Civil Union Certificates to couples who seek legal recognition of their relationship. If they also want to get married in a church and have it all sanctified, they can.

    But the compromise solution I keep hearing proposed where one group of people are “married” while another group has a “civil union” smacks of separate-but-equal.

    If we think marriage is so sacred, then it should stay where it belongs — in the church. If we think civil unions are good enough for one group of people, then they’re good enough for everyone.

  2. That’s exactly how I feel, and I suspect that’s where we’re going to end up, sooner or later.

    Either that, or this country will turn into a theocracy.

  3. Adam,

    I would go one step further. I would look for ways to strengthen the churches role in marriage while eliminating the legal bonds of marriage or civil union. It seems with the inordinate amounts of money spent in the legal system to dissolve these marriages after they fail combined with the ‘marriage penalty’ concepts, the legal ramifications of marriage are far more negative than the perceived positives of marriage. To me, I see no reason, if my current marriage were to fail, to ever consider the bonds of marriage again. It costs too much for divorce, it costs more to stay married, and there is no real benifit to the legal acknowledgement of marriage. If marriage were maintained as a religious sacrement and ceremony, both the negative aspects and the choice of what kinds of relationships (gay, straight, polyamorous, etc) that would be sanctified by marriage would be up to the many and varied religious instutions of this country. The only ones hurt by this change would be the lawyers. ;)

    Just thought I would chime in on this.


  4. Matt:

    1. Divorce is only expensive if it’s contentious, and if it’s contentious, then I suspect it would be even more expensive if there weren’t a legal framework for working it out. I’ve been through an amicable divorce, and the total legal costs were (I think) less than $400 (split between two people). There were a lot of other costs, of course, but those would have been identical regardless.

    2. The “marriage penalty” is a highly contentious and debatable issue. There’s plenty of evidence that there’s a marriage bonus, in fact.

    3. There are a number of legal ramifications to marriage that we’d be poorer off without. Spouses effectively have power-of-attorney for each other; spouses cannot be forced to testify against each other in court, and so on. A friend’s mom was denied access to her longtime boyfriend when he was hospitalized.

    4. If marriage were made a strictly religious affair, I would be excluded from being married because I am strictly agnostic. Obviously I can’t condone that.

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