Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gays and Lesbians Getting Married? Haven't They Suffered Enough?

Michael Shaw really hit the nail on the head with his March 1, 2004 New Yorker Cartoon. The cartoon captures all of my ambivalence, confusion, fear, and outrage about gay marriage. Marriage hasn't worked all that well for straight couples, how will it work for the rest of us?

My ambivalence stems from how I feel about marriage. I firmly believe that if you and your sweetie want to get married that you should do it. I'm not convinced that marriage should be the norm among lesbian and gay couples. Ron and I have had a very settled existence for a couple of decades, but neither he nor I consider us married. Our relationship is not like most married relationships. Our commitment and faithfulness to each other doesn't depend on sexual fidelity. And yet, I'm quite sure that he and I are as settled and rooted in our relationship as any married couple. I believe that our relationship deserves equal respect too in our society. I also believe that Ron's and my relationship is an important part of the social fabric - we care for each other. We watch out for each other and for our chosen families. But I would not want to call us married, because marriage does not fit the kind of family, and the kind of relationships that I have.

Like the couple in the cartoon, I'm confused: why do gay people want to get married? Is it for the benefits? Is it for the respect? Is it for the shower gifts? What's behind the movement for same-sex marriage? Why is it so important that it has taken over the LGBT political agenda? Yes, the Defense of Marriage Act is an odious piece of legislation that needs to be repealed. Beyond that, many of the benefits of marriage can (and will) be granted by the states, and eventually the Federal government and the courts will follow suit. As for respect, you only get it by taking it. Respect is not a compelling reason to get married. That sentimental altar moment is not a compelling reason to get married, either. On the other hand, if the public commitment before the state is what you need to confirm your feelings for another human being, I guess you're going to have to get married.

I have fears about same-sex marriage, too. I think it strikes straight at some of the defining mores of our gay male culture. Will the brave new world of married gay male culture stigmatize men who do not seek out permanent relationships, but are quite happy with their sex buds and a circle of friends? This is a serious question because out gay male culture since Stonewall has celebrated not only gay sex, but a liberating notion about sexuality itself - that sex with others is a virtue, and that sex with many different partners is valuable. Yes, AIDS devastated our community, but we know now how to have sex that doesn't spread HIV or hepatitis or syphilus. We can enjoy sex without the constraints of marriage and outside our relationships - if that's what we want. We can enjoy being who we are and what we feel. I fear that same-sex marriage will so change our views of ourselves and others that we will lose an authentic value of what it means to be a gay male.

Finally, the arguments swirling around same-sex marriage are outrageous. The world as we know it won't end when everyone can tie the knot. Massachusetts hasn't been smitten by the rod of God. At last report, the seven plagues have not leveled the God-fearing people of Iowa or their highest court. Plainly, same-sex marriage has not undermined traditional marriage, no matter what the opponents to same-sex marriage would have you believe. People have legitimate fears about religious practice, and fears about the public sanctioning of homosexuality. But to use those reasons to oppose same-sex marriage is wrong. In the first instance, the First Amendment prohibits the government from forcing religious institutions to perform same-sex marriages, or for that matter, even letting homosexuals in the front doors of their churches. In the second instance, the state does not have a straight version of marriage and a gay version of marriage. It only has marriage.

So, I'll remain ambivalent on this issue.