While I was drifting thorough the dunes, Douthat responded to my criticism of his position on marriage equality. In my absence, Patrick focused on Ross's non-solution watered-down "domestic partnerships" that would be "available to any couple who couldn’t legally marry each other" including, for instance, a "pair of cohabitating siblings or cousins." Reading Patrick's sane response boils down to a very simple question: how does creating a watered down form of marriage available for everyone (including, presumably, straight couples who could also get married if they chose) strengthen marriage? It doesn't. It profoundly weakens marriage. And that is where my own involvement in this started two decades ago - worrying about exactly the impact of domestic partnerships and civil unions would have on the important institution of civil marriage. In this choice, American conservatism chose the continued stigmatization of homosexuality to the strengthening of civil marriage. It chose, once again, reactionary ideology over pragmatic reform.
Ross promises a second response, which he has yet to write, but here is the conclusion of his first post:
If gay marriage were suddenly taken off the table (which it won’t be, obviously), I imagine we’d eventually reach a federalist equilibrium, where more conservative states backed versions of the Anderson-Girgis domestic partnership proposal, and more liberal states instituted gay-specific civil unions. That seems to me like the appropriate path for a post-closet, post-AIDS society to take: Let different jurisdictions experiment with different ways of recognizing the reality of gay relationships (and let gay culture experiment within and around them), while maintaining a distinct category called marriage that preserves and celebrates the lifelong-heterosexual-monogamy ideal.
I have no problem with federalism in this and never have, and see the wisdom of this social change being explored gradually in the test-tubes of the states, while the debate deepens and widens in the courts and legislatures. (So far, by the way: a massive non-event for society as a whole and a huge gain in self-esteem, responsibility and happiness among a once-persecuted few. Not bad for a social reform.) And so Ross's resurrection of the theocon response to a situation that, as he concedes, no longer exists and will not return is not an answer. It's a restatement of Ross's ideal state of affairs, not a response to reality. Maybe at one point, conservatives could have made this case. But - let's face it - their bigotry sadly prevented them.
But let's imagine it had happened that way and some conservatives had actually taken me seriously back in the late 1980s when I tried to make this case. And over time, these strangely named contraptions perforce acquired many of the legal attributes of marriage (as they do now identically in California) and, as in Britain, eventually came to be called marriages in common parlance. Are we really fighting here over semantics? And is it better to segregate ourselves this way when in fact we come from the same families with the same parents and same households?
And here, I think, is where the true issue lies. Ross wants to retain that symbolic, if utterly abstract distinction, simply because he believes that straight marriage (even the least religious, contracepted heterosexual union) is inherently superior to gay marriage, and wants to use the law and its symbolism to declare this ideal supreme over the homosexual coupling, and celebrate it and enforce it in the minds and souls of gay people as well as straight ones. In the end, I'm afraid, he is saying that his marriage is inherently superior to mine.
He has every right to believe that theologically, however personally hurtful it is; but I do not believe he is right to argue that politically or legally in a secular society. I would say the same to a gay church that asserted that the uniquely non-instrumental love of gay couples is somehow inherently superior to the reproductive utilitarianism of straight ones. We are all children of God - neither Greek nor Jew - and we are all citizens in a state that should not discriminate on the basis of things people cannot change. Especially, in my view, when it comes to the question of love.
As I have written, I revere heterosexual marriage and procreation. I revere the sacrament of Matrimony. But I also cherish just as much my God-given emotional and sexual orientation and the humanity and dignity of my gay brothers and sisters and know that their struggle to be more fully, lovingly human is fated to be no more or less successful than anyone else's. I extend an open hand of celebration and equality and struggle to Ross and his wife in recognition of our common humanity and citizenship.
He will not extend the same hand to me and my husband, except from a position of legal privilege and moral superiority.
In the end, that's what it is. That's what it has always been.
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