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.