I’ve stayed pretty close to the fence on legalizing same-sex marriage. I can’t remember when I had any strong reaction against it, but I’ve never been thrilled with the idea.
Let me say for starters that I have some disdain for the traditional trappings of courtship and marriage in Western society. They kind of disgust me; they are rigidly constrained and elaborate, yet they are often played out with vulgar self-mockery. That’s not a beef against gay people, it’s what straight people do. But look now at the news. The typical reaction of gays and lesbians to the opportunity to marry their same-sex partners is to emphatically embrace those trappings. All right, if that’s what they want to do, but the traditional ceremonies of marriage weren’t closed off to same-sex couples by the laws of the state, nor are they totally available to them where same-sex marriage is legal. So I guess the reaction is not just about the facts of the law, but a sense that equality under the law must advance social acceptance of their domestic partnerships, by which those customary trappings are as proper to a gay or lesbian couple as they are to man-woman couples. Those trappings symbolize mainstreaming of same-sex love.
Now, as same-sex marriage becomes legal, some infer that any decent mainstream person must not only tolerate gay relationships, but celebrate them and approve them and support them just as a decent person approves of the opposite-sex kind of marriage.
I don’t think the law can give them that. If conservatives are people who don’t like laws that tell them how to think, there are a great many conservatives in this country. That’s why so many people oppose “marriage-equality” laws without being able to say how the law threatens their marriage.
Aside from the battle over social norms being played out in our mass media, same-sex couples do have cause for concern on the real implications of the law for their committed relationships. There are issues with taxes, insurance, child custody, inheritance, consultation in emergencies, and more. But, as long as that’s the focus, aren’t civil unions that come with all the legal benefits of marriage good enough?
What if we treated same-sex marriage like adoptive parenthood: it isn’t part of the natural order, but we can recognize it as a social good and treat it as generally equivalent to the natural version. We can do that and still understand that some social patchwork is involved, for which we leave room in the law for some special procedures and formalities.
So—I am asking that we leave the door open to discrimination! I am! I admit it! But it is not because I don’t like gay people or am repulsed by their sexuality or because I think I can stop them from being gay. It’s because I think their relationships are odd. Our society doesn’t know how to treat them. We didn’t develop marriage as an institution that would encompass same-sex unions. It’s not an easy fit.