I don’t care about gay marriage as a political issue. If I had my druthers, it would have the same importance as one’s position on whether to make tomorrow “National Convenience Store Clerk Day.” No doubt Hallmark will have a card for it if it comes to pass.
It may have been efficacious to defend “traditional marriage” 40 years ago but I don’t see the point today. You see, I live in sin with my Zsu-Zsu and neither one of us cares who knows it or what they think about it. Cohabitation destroyed “traditional marriage” long before gay marriage even became an issue. There is no stigma attached to living together in an unmarried state. Indeed, very few people care — and if you do, go to hell. To make it your business — to judge me on how I live my life is about as intrusive as anyone can get. Needless to say, the thought of government having a say in whether we can cohabitate should be as abhorrent to a conservative as any other government intervention in our private lives.
Given that my lover and I have been together longer than many marriages last, one is tempted to ask if marriage as the “foundation of community and society” can even claim that mantle any longer. And don’t talk to me about “the children.” The number of divorces every year of marriages with children (more than a million kids a year) speaks to the seriousness American adults take the important task of raising children in a stable, loving home. “Blended families” are the norm not the exception. More than half the kids born today will grow up in a home where the parents get at least one divorce.
Of course, there are legal issues regarding marriage vs. cohabitation but even those are fast disappearing. Partner rights have been granted for everything from hospital visits to legal wills in most states. Many states extend those legal benefits to gay couples. American society is changing and the question confronting conservatives is do we live in the past, hoping that the Ozzie and Harriet marriage template makes a comeback or do we face the future and try and “conserve” the good that comes from the traditional family structure while trying to protect children from the often deleterious effects of marital strife and break ups?
A tall order, that. But first things first and that means accepting the fact that American society has moved on — culturally as well as legally — from traditionally defined “marriage” and has embraced different ways people choose to live and love. If you choose marriage as a life long commitment, more power to you. That is your choice and in all sincerity, I wish you the best of luck and a long, loving partnership. I, and most others, envy you your commitment and desire to beat the odds.
That’s because at bottom, when you take away all the legalisms, the moral quotient, the religious implications, and the needs of society, what we are left with is nothing more than how people choose to define their relationships where they feel love for another human being. To many, it is important to them in a religious sense that this relationship be a lifelong marriage/partnership with children as a symbol of their love and commitment to one another. This is one legitimate choice. It will always be a choice and it is hard to see how anything - even allowing gay marriage - will take that choice away from you or even invalidate that choice in the eyes of society.
I have heard no argument compelling enough or logical enough that would cause me to fear for the future of “traditional marriage” if that is what people choose as a way to express their love and commitment to one another. The secular conservative case against gay marriage is sometimes based on the notion that marriage as a civil compact is an expression of the importance that society places on the nuclear family and as a practical matter, encourages procreation so that society can survive. Introducing gay marriage undermines this goal and places society’s imprimatur on unions that have no hope of conception and therefore, can actually be considered a threat.
This case is buttressed by statistics that show that children who grow up in a family with two parents - male and female - are better adjusted, are better able to form stable relationships, and are less likely to get divorced as adults among other findings. No one can ever make the argument that children are not better off living in stable, loving families.
A hundred years ago when traditional marriage and child bearing was vital to the continuation of society due to shorter life spans and much higher rates of infant mortality, such an argument made sense. But since this is no longer the case, most objections to gay marriage today center on religious strictures against it - and gays as human beings. Without seeking to alter anyone’s religious beliefs, it needs to be said that the noxious, unconservative idea that religion should be a determining factor in whether American society accepts gay marriage must be abandoned while, at the same time, recognizing that traditional marriage be celebrated and even promoted as the best option. The two goals are not at all incompatible if you believe the only important thing is that two people love each other.
There is no delegitimizing love be it between a man and a woman or two members of the same sex. The same electro-chemical reactions in the brain that cause sparks to fly between a man and a woman also affect same sex couples. The same stages of love experienced by heterosexual couples are also felt by gay partners. Love is love in any context and only man in his ignorance defines the emotion felt by gay couples as “illegitimate.” Why that has been accepted by conservatives as a reason to oppose the idea that two members of the same sex who love each other should be legally kept apart is beyond me. You can disapprove of gays and gay marriage out of religious conviction or personal prejudice but it is decidedly unconservative to force the rest of us to agree with you by preventing the union of gay couples.
Approving gay marriage will not mean that evangelical ministers will be forced to perform gay weddings. Nor will it mean that government will “promote” gay marriage any more than it “promotes” something by allowing it. Many Christian denominations as well as most other creeds will most likely not change their views on marrying gays. Some will, but then, that would be their choice, wouldn’t it?
And that’s what this debate is all about — and why conservatives should continue to fight liberal efforts to short circuit the legislative process and win the gay marriage fight in the courts. If ever there was an issue to be decided by the people, a fundamental change in society like allowing gay marriage is it. If the people choose to allow gay marriage or gay civil unions, they can speak through their elected state representatives. This is an issue that all of us - gay and straight - should have a voice in deciding.
I haven’t mentioned the political aspects of gay marriage and how it has somehow been tied to conservative attitudes toward gays in general. I know many conservatives who could care less about the personal life choices of someone else but are strongly opposed to gay marriage for religious reasons. Is there a way to separate the idea that one can be tolerant of another’s lifestyle while opposing what I admit is a radical change in the concept of marriage? Not as long as it is politically convenient for the opposition to paint gay marriage opponents as anti-gay bigots. As Marc Ambinder reminds us, this is a huge problem for Republicans despite a growing intraparty split on the issue:
I don’t think the modern Republican Party, which relies heavily on the foundational force of Christian conservatism, can shift its position on gay rights without severe penalties. I know that there are many Republicans who support gay rights, and that most members of the Republican elite are pro-gay, and that the business wing of the party could care less about the issue. I know that suburbanites are turned off by conservative intolerance of homosexuality and gay rights. I know that younger Republicans tend to be pro-gay and are alienated from the rest of the party. But I also know that the possibility that the Republican coalition will find some way to organize itself without social conservatives is a ways of a way off.
I am not recommending that social cons be drummed out of the party nor am I saying that the GOP should change its position on the issue. I don’t see the harm in de-emphasizing all social issues and bringing to the fore economic and foreign policy issues where our differrences with Obama and the Democrats are just as broad and just as deep. But opposing gay marriage on religious grounds is a loser both philosophically in that it is a non-conservative position to hold and politically. Believing that you are defending “traditional marriage” doesn’t pass muster either — not when half the country ends up in non-traditional relationships which, by definition, normalizes those practices. In effect, by arguing that it is “saving” traditional marriage by railing against alternative lifestyles, you are only marginalizing yourself, isolating the movement and the party from the rest of the country.
Gay unions will eventually be established as legal in most of America — hopefully by state legislatures and not the courts. I believe conservatives can embrace this change as part of the natural evolution in society and the simple recognition that denying two people in love the legal and cultural benefits that come with being married simply because they are of the same sex is wrong.