It’s good to be wrong every once in a while. It keeps you humble. So, while I still think that my take on how gay marriage threatens “traditional” has a ring of truth in it—
Why is gay marriage a threat to straight marriage?
One, because it suggests that you don’t have to sacrifice major parts of yourself in order to be married. Not to get sidetracked but can’t you see how the “marriage as great sacrifice” meme gets played out every time some jackass says, “Gays can get married. They can marry women just like the rest of us.”? In other words, since marriage is not first and foremost about love and caring for the person you’re with, but instead about sacrifice, why can’t gay people just make great sacrifice, too? But if gay people can marry who they want without having to sacrifice great parts of themselves, it suggests that no one has to do that. Marry who you want; make arrangements that suit you.
But two, and I believe that two, though it goes hand in hand with one, is more crucial for understanding the secular opposition to gay marriage, two is that, if people can marry who they want in arrangements that please them, I believe it makes straight people who thought that marriage was about sacrifice feel incredibly stupid. Here they were making choices that were designed to show how much they were willing to offer up to marriage, even if it meant that they’d be vaguely unhappy most of their lives, when all along they could have chosen to marry who they wanted and worked out an arrangement that pleased them.
And people will tolerate a lot, but they don’t tolerate feeling like they’ve been made fools of. And what would be more foolish than to marry in order to show your willingness to sacrifice the things that made you happy when you could have married because you are delighted in the person you’re marrying?
–I had not given enough consideration to how marriage as an institution can function as a means of codifying and enforcing gender roles. But between this article at Slate.com and the Family Action Council of Tennessee, I see now that I was wrong.
FACT, of course, makes this clear in their language about why gay people shouldn’t be able to adopt–“Generally speaking nontraditional couples do not provide the stability and the basis for development of a proper gender identity to the same degree and in the same way as married moms and dads. [emphasis mine]”–and in explaining what’s “wrong” with gay people–“Contrary to the reigning confusion today, a homosexual relationship is not an equal alternative to a heterosexual relationship—it is a dangerous lifestyle that is physically and emotionally destructive.”
It seems clear that, in FACT’s worldview, marriage is not, first and foremost, about formalizing a relationship that is beneficial to the two people who choose to enter into it; it is, instead, about providing the “best” environment for raising children. And what happens in the “best” environment for raising children? Children develop proper gender identity and learn correct values. Again, nothing about the happiness or emotional well-being of the children.
Over at Slate.com,
After all, traditional marriage isn’t just analogous to sex discrimination—it is sex discrimination: Only men may marry women, and only women may marry men. Same-sex marriage would transform an institution that currently defines two distinctive sex roles—husband and wife—by replacing those different halves with one sex-neutral role—spouse. Sure, we could call two married men “husbands” and two married women “wives,” but the specific role for each sex that now defines marriage would be lost. Widespread opposition to same-sex marriage might reflect a desire to hang on to these distinctive sex roles rather than vicious anti-gay bigotry.
And I have to say, I think there’s something to this. I do. It helps me understand where folks like the FACT folks are coming from.
But I also have to say that their fight then strikes me as futile in the end, because the change heterosexual marriage has made over the past 150 years is so enormous that I don’t see any way to undo it. You can now marry–everybody who wants to–for love. And, in fact, most people think that the reason you should get married is for love. If you said, “I’m getting married to this girl because our parents arranged it” or “I’m getting married to this man to settle a bet he made with my dad” or “I’m getting married to this woman so that we can combine our family fortunes,” people would look at you like you were crazy. When you say, “I’m madly in love with my boyfriend, but I can’t marry him because he’s white or Mexican or from a poor family,” people look at you in pity. What kind of person nowadays lets that stuff get in the way of love?
We, as a society, have cast our lot with love. We expect, at least heterosexuals expect to be able to marry for love. We think people who get married should be in love. (And we will, as a society, as long as civil marriage is conceived of as happening between two people who love each other, continue to open up the definition of marriage to include all kinds of configurations of loving adults.)
And yet, I’ve looked all over the Family Action Council of Tennessee’s website and I don’t see one thing about love. Nothing about kids deserving loving families. Nothing about (even only) heterosexuals deserving a loving marriage. Oh, yeah, they talk about stability and welfare and tradition and good Christian values.
But nothing, nothing about love.