Same-sex marriage, Context, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Some comments tonight about gay marriage, prompted, as most of my posts are, by online articles and debates. For the past couple of weeks there have been back and forth articles on Slate, The Atlantic, and the New York Times, between William Saletan, Nathaniel Frank, Mark Joseph Stern, and Ross Douthat (with commentary by Andrew Sullivan at his blog), about whether one can disapprove of gay marriage without being ‘homophobic’, and in what way same-sex marriage is analogous or not to interracial marriage. (It’s a sign of the times that only extreme right-wing websites are still posting tracts against the idea of same-sex marriage as a sign of western civilization’s imminent collapse, or an imminent cause of God’s wrath. See Right Wing Watch for almost daily links to such sites and tracts.)

I don’t have anything to contribute to this debate, necessarily, except context: as a gay man in my ‘50s, I’ve lived my entire life with the idea that ‘marriage’ is an institution for conventional heterosexual people, all about raising children and maintaining lines of inheritance, and I’ve been comfortable for my entire life not being conventional (in many ways). Even having been now in a long-term [gay] relationship for nearly 13 years. My partner and I registered for a California domestic partnership in December 2012, but frankly we did so for pragmatic reasons – I was laid off from my job, with health insurance only for a few months of severance, and my partner’s company being among the many with progressive benefit policies, he was able to enroll me in his company’s health plan as a domestic partner. Even so, I’m sure he deeply appreciated the implicit commitment that a domestic partnership indicated. Yet I doubt we will ever get formally ‘married’, mainly for personal reasons involving his relationship with his family in China. (Though it will be interesting if California follows Washington State’s plan to automatically convert all domestic partnerships into legal marriages. We could find ourselves married without having planned to do so!)

And, keying to the blog’s ultimate theme… I grew up reading science fiction novels by Ursula K. Le Guin and Samuel R. Delany and others, many of which were about unconventional family and sexual relationships. Nothing shocks me. –Except perhaps for the pace at which the idea of same-sex marriage has advanced in many countries worldwide, even in the religion-besotted United States of America. It was unthinkable even 20 years ago. Offhand I would attribute the advance of this idea to the interconnection of worldly ideas through the internet. It is becoming more and more difficult for ideologically rigid groups to shield themselves from the outside world of other ideas.

Anyway – tonight’s post is inspired by the latest round of this online debate about same-sex marriage, from William Saletan in Slate: The Arc of History.

Saletan quotes an earlier installment of the debate by Nathaniel Frank:

Moral positions evolve as new information and possibilities become available. And for all the incessant moralizing of the right wing over the last 50 years, the sin of current opponents of gay marriage is an unwillingness to open their minds to change. There comes a time when there’s only one morally correct answer, and the space for having the wrong answer has dried up. I’d argue that time has come.

Saletan responds,

This is a beautiful paragraph. I agree with most of it, right up to the point where Frank says opponents of gay marriage haven’t changed. In fact, they’ve changed enormously. On every question, from sodomy laws to job discrimination to marriage, antigay politicians and activists have lost public support. The fact they’re now fighting over same-sex marriage, an idea that was once politically absurd, underscores their retreat. People who would have equated homosexuality with pedophilia 50 years ago have come to accept domestic partnerships or civil unions. Too many gay people have come out. The myths and fears have lost too much credibility. The culture is changing.

“Moral positions evolve as new information and possibilities become available.” This is the essence of what I think of as progress: the expansion of possibilities. Gay marriage provides an opportunity for “the pursuit of happiness” for many people who before never had that option – some 5% of the population, given current estimates. With no negative consequences except for the bruised presumptions of religious folks offended that their standards for living are not writ into law to be enforced upon everyone.

This post provides occasion to link and quote to something I bookmarked many months ago – a year and a half ago, I see. It is a comment to a post by Dan Savage about the gay marriage issue. The anonymous commentator said this:

As soon as marriage stopped being about the inheritance of property, the production of children and the perpetuation of the legalized subjugation of women, and started to be about two equals coming together out of love and attraction, that’s when the “slippery slope” to marriage equality began. And since this all happened when gays were still in the closet, it is we straights who did it. Marriage became about emotions, and once that happened, you can no longer say your emotions are superior to someone else’s and that they can’t have the same rights and privileges as you do.

Needless to say, anyone who thinks history or religion has always implicitly endorsed the one man one woman ‘ideal’ of marriage hasn’t read history, or even the Bible.

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