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Propped Up: How Not to Support Gay Marriage

A good measure of how badly someone wants something is how he goes about trying to get it. Fringe political candidates, blocking traffic in their flag-capes and foam Statue of Liberty crowns, don’t really want to be president—they just want … Read More

By / November 20, 2008

A good measure of how badly someone wants something is how he goes about trying to get it. Fringe political candidates, blocking traffic in their flag-capes and foam Statue of Liberty crowns, don’t really want to be president—they just want an hour in the limelight before returning to their jobs at Circuit City and Jack in the Box. I would hope that gay marriage is taken more seriously than that by its proponents, but so far I’ve seen quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.

As I’ve written previously, I support gay marriage. It would be dishonest to claim that I have much of an emotional investment in it, though; I didn’t wail or gnash my teeth when Prop 8 was defeated on the California ballot. I was disappointed, because the vote meant that a majority of my fellow Californians had not been persuaded by what I think are eminently reasonable arguments. What I did not think, despite the best efforts of the gay marriage lobby, is: I am surrounded by rabid hatemongers.

Americans are a notoriously impatient people. Consider the argument that gay marriage will take us down the slippery slope to polygamy. By implication, polygamy is so strange, so alien, that even the most fearful conservatives acknowledge it’s a long way off. Does this make any sense? There is far more historical, not to mention biblical, precedent for polygamy. Gay marriage is the truly alien concept; it does the movement no good to pretend otherwise. It stands to reason that millennia of taboo and discomfort do not vanish overnight because you waved a “NO ON H8” banner in the Castro. And yet, as any right-thinking person knows, the culprit must be hate!

I’m not convinced, partly because in the absence of any emotional response to the issue I took some time to come around to the pro-marriage side of things. I saw marriage as one of two things: the sanctification of a relationship before God, in which case the state has nothing whatsoever to do with it, or a completely secular practice designed to encourage social cohesion by providing for the welfare of children, as well as of one or both partners. In that case, then why not vote for more social cohesion?

I was surprised when I learned, belatedly, that in California homosexuals can already enjoy, under the name “civil union,” the same financial and social benefits that accrue to other married couples. It really is all about a word! And as a person who cares about language—I object, for instance, to the substitution of “right” for “privilege” in discourse about health care—I can understand the complaint. Why should it be implied by a word that heterosexual marriage is more meaningful than homosexual union?

It shouldn’t. It shouldn’t be implied that any union effected by the state means anything other than tax breaks, inheritance rights, hospital visitation privileges, heath care, and so forth. If it’s sanctification you want, find a church, or get a flute and some incense and play dress-up on your own time—whether you’re gay or straight.

The trouble is that voters who oppose gay marriage on such dispassionate grounds will still be branded bigots. And they won’t like it. And they’ll cast protest votes against gay marriage, because they don’t like to be called monsters on the grounds that they make decisions based on logic rather than emotion, or faith rather than logic, or—take your pick, they don’t like to be called monsters at all.

The prevailing attitude among gay marriage supporters seems to be that if it doesn’t actively bother you, you’re obligated to go along with it, whether or not you think it’s philosophically defensible. Justice used to be blind; now it’s meant to be “chill.” If you have lingering doubts, legal, practical, religious, or otherwise, about something that’s been verboten since the dawn of man, you are an asshole or an idiot, end of story. Here’s a little tip for the gay marriage lobby: Calling people assholes and idiots never persauded them of anything. As an old question has it, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to win?”

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