Only The Right Kind Of Symbolic Sex

Robert P. George argues against marriage equality in the WSJ:

Opponents of racist laws in Loving did not question the idea, deeply embodied in our law and its shaping philosophical tradition, of marriage as a union that takes its distinctive character from being founded, unlike other friendships, on bodily unity of the kind that sometimes generates new life. This unity is why marriage, in our legal tradition, is consummated only by acts that are generative in kind. Such acts unite husband and wife at the most fundamental level and thus legally consummate marriage whether or not they are generative in effect, and even when conception is not sought.

Of course, marital intercourse often does produce babies, and marriage is the form of relationship that is uniquely apt for childrearing (which is why, unlike baptisms and bar mitzvahs, it is a matter of vital public concern). But as a comprehensive sharing of lifean emotional and biological unionmarriage has value in itself and not merely as a means to procreation.

My italics. And who would disagree? But if non-procreative sex can consummate a heterosexual marriage, then why not a homosexual one? I covered all this at length in Virtually Normal, and it comes down in the end to an assertion that heterosexuality be privileged in civil law because it is the norm. Buried behind this is an unscientific notion - derived from Aquinas - that the universe is somehow perfectly gendered into two opposite and complementary halves. No one with any knowledge of contemporary biology or evolution could agree with this. And if Aquinas were alive today, he wouldn't RINGJustinSullivan:Getty either. He was interested in truth as the source of doctrine; not doctrine as the source of truth.

It also seems to me to be important to ask George what he proposes should be available to gay couples. Does he believe that we should be able to leave property to one another without other family members trumping us? That we should be allowed to visit one another in hospital? That we should be treated as next-of-kin in medical or legal or custody or property tangles? Or granted the same tax status as straight married couples? These details matter to real people living actual lives, real people the GOP seems totally uninterested in addressing.

I suspect George would not want to prevent couples going through immensely complex legal hoops to secure as many of these rights as we can. His cruelty is refracted through less obvious means. But until he can show how these legal rights would prevent other family members from swooping in, litigating or trumping these contracts, using the legal concept of family he favors, these crumbs are crumbs. And they come at the behest of others - and remain vulnerable to the whims of others.

There is also, moreover, no positive social policy actually crafted for gay people in George's view. What does he believe we should do with our lives? Should we try to construct stable relationships - or not? In an era in which an entire generation was decimated by HIV, is it not conservative to seek greater stability and responsibility among gay citizens, by providing actual legal and social incentives for stabler lives? Alas, having studied George's work for years, I can tell you his social policy toward me and my kind. It is that gay people should be celibate, and if not celibate, invisible. But this much we know: gays in free countries are neither going to be celibate nor invisible for the foreseeable future. So what is George's prescription except quixotic when it isn't demotic?

Beneath the elegant philosophical language is a blunter message to George's gay fellow human beings: be straight or go away. And since when is that a practical option in the 21st century?

I repeat to conservatives: we know what you're against, in healthcare, energy, counter-terrorism, taxation, gay rights, abortion. What are you actually for? How do you intend to actually address the questions of our time and place? And if conservatism cannot do that, what use is it?