My now husband, Daniel was talking about having a wedding from an early point of us dating. For Daniel, a wedding was important. He even said shortly after moving in together that he didn't want to "live in sin." For me, not so much. I supported same sex marriage, but actually having a wedding? Well, I didn't see the need.
Daniel is not the type that one says no to, so I agreed to a wedding. Saying yes, changed a lot of things. For one, it forced me to come out to my dad. I had been out to my mother for years, but not to my Dad. Since I wanted to have them at the wedding, I had to tell him. Dad was somewhat put off by it, but in time learned to accept the fact that his son was getting married...to a guy.
To make a long story short, the wedding was important because it signified something big was happening. For better or for worse, I was stuck with this big Norwegian. And for better or for worse, he was stuck with this odd African American. I know saying "stuck" sounds bad, but I think you know what I mean. On that September day, we made a committment to each other and we basically said that this relationship was not just a passing thing, this was the real deal.
Ross Douthat makes an interesting argument both for and against same sex marriage. While he knocks down several of the arguments against gay marriage, he also tries to argue why gay marriage opponents want to uphold the "traditional" view of marriage. He shows monogamous hetrosexual marriage as the "ideal," something that has been of value to Western culture:
So what are gay marriage’s opponents really defending, if not some universal, biologically inevitable institution? It’s a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.
This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.
The point of this ideal is not that other relationships have no value, or that only nuclear families can rear children successfully. Rather, it’s that lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable — a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations — that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support.
Now, I would agree that in the heterosexual world, having a two parent family- with mother and father both present, is the ideal. One can look at the breakdown of the family in among African Americans and the results of that breakdown to see the need to find ways to shore up American families.
Douthat rightly sees that a new ethic has arisen in the last few decades- one that supplants the older view that Douthat treasures. He notes:
If this newer order completely vanquishes the older marital ideal, then gay marriage will become not only acceptable but morally necessary. The lifelong commitment of a gay couple is more impressive than the serial monogamy of straights. And a culture in which weddings are optional celebrations of romantic love, only tangentially connected to procreation, has no business discriminating against the love of homosexuals.
But if we just accept this shift, we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.
This is kinda where I lose Douthat. I don't think my wedding was just an "optional celebration of romantic love." We patterened the wedding off of what we found in the Book of Common Prayer. We saw this not as an event, but- being two church geeks and committed Christians- as a worship service giving glory and honor to God and also publicly acknowledging our love and care for each other. The rings were not just shiny trikets, but symbols of our covenant to each other and to God.
The second thing that bothers me is this insistence on procreation. Now yes, children are usually the result of a heterosexual marriage. But it seems to me that Douthat is making the case that procreation is the over-riding concern of a marriage with love being a byproduct. The emphasis is to create society instead of a covenant between two persons.
The final problem is the supposed superiority of heterosexual marriage. While I don't think Douthat is intentionally saying this, it feels as if gay people are being told that our committments are only second-best to hetero-relationships.
Andrew Sullivan responds to Douthat with a very passionate defense of same sex marriage. Sullivam begins by saying what I have already said earlier: that marriage between same sex partners is a way of destroying the closet:
And - this is my main point - Ross' argument simply ignores the existence and dignity and lives and testimony of gay people. This is strange because the only reason this question has arisen at all is because the visibility of gay family members has become now so unmissable that it cannot be ignored. Yes, marriage equality was an idea some of us innovated. But it was not an idea plucked out of the sky. It was an attempt AA16 to adapt to an already big social change: the end of the homosexual stigma, the emergence of gay communities of great size and influence and diversity, and collapse of the closet. It came from a pressing need as a society to do something about this, rather than consign gay people to oblivion or marginalization or invisibility. More to the point, it emerged after we saw what can happen when human beings are provided no structure, no ideal, and no support for responsibility and fidelity and love.
And what happens when there are no structures for gays? Well, lets go back in time 30 years to a little thing called AIDS:
If you have total gay freedom and no gay institutions that can channel love and desire into commitment and support, you end up in San Francisco in the 1970s. That way of life - however benignly expressed, however defensible as the pent-up unleashed liberation of a finally free people - helped kill 300,000 young human beings in this country in our lifetime. Ross may think that toll is unimportant, or that it was their fault, but I would argue that a Catholic's indifference to this level of death and suffering and utter refusal to do anything constructive to prevent it happening again, indeed a resort to cruel stigmatization of gay people that helps lead to self-destructive tendencies, is morally evil.
What, in other words, would Ross have gay people do? What incentives would he, a social conservative, put in place to encourage gay couples and support them in their commitments and parenting and love? Notice the massive silence. He is not a homophobe as I can personally attest. But if he cannot offer something for this part of our society except a sad lament that they are forever uniquely excluded, by their nature, from being a "microcosm of civilization", then this is not a serious contribution to the question at hand. It is merely a restatement of abstract dogma - not a contribution to the actual political and social debate we are now having.
We gays are here, Ross, as you well know. We are human beings. We love one another. We are part of countless families in this country, pay taxes, work hard, serve the country in the armed services, and look after our own biological children (and also those abandoned by their biological parents). Our sex drives are not going away, nor our need to be included in our own families, to find healing and growth and integration that alone will get us beyond the gay-straight divide into a more humane world and society.
Douthat is correct that sexual mores are changing. But he is wrong in trying to make gay people pay for the "sins" of those changing mores. Those mores have been changing since the introduction of the pill, the feminist movement and changes in divorce laws and other things. We can mourn those changes (though some won't), but we can't blame gay people for those changes or lash out at them because we could not do anything else. Gay people don't want to enter into marriage on a whim- I sure didn't. We want to be full members of our society. We don't want to destroy marriage, we just want to do what straight people have done for so long because we think it's important. We want to be part of the same institution that you straights have been a part of because we agree that its important.
So, could you stop viewing us gays as scapegoats? Please?
*Daniel and I taking our engagement photos in 2007.