The latest ruling in New Jersey has gotten a lot of people talking about the question of “civil unions” vs. “marriage” for gay couples. The general feeling these days is that taking the “civil unions” stance is the more moderate position, with people such as mainstream Democrats and even a few centrist Republicans willing to get on board. But supporting full-on marriage rights is supposed to be more radical and extreme. Although most professing social conservatives would prefer that gays just stayed in the closet so we wouldn’t be having this discussion at all, even they are hoping to hold the line at civil unions. Maybe tossing that bone out would help keep the peace, and prevent gays and lesbians from breaching the dam into the sacred ground of marriage.
Here’s why I support civil same-sex marriage with the “m” word and all. It is basically the point Jonathan Rauch made several years back, which is that as a social conservative I have never been comfortable with the idea of rewarding heterosexual “domestic partnerships” with the same legal benefits as regular old married couples; and as far as I can tell establishing a “civil union” status for gay couples would be the same situation. I am actually more sympathetic toward a gay couple that is “C-U’ed” than toward straights who shack up with their girlfriends/boyfriends, because most likely that gay couple would be married were they not legally barred, whereas the straight, live-in girlfriend-boyfriend couple is avoiding marriage by choice. So now we have a situation where after years of griping about the moral cesspool this country has become with people shacking up in sexually irresponsible relationships while demanding benefits for their “partners” just the same as us married couples, along come gay couples who want to be legit and take the plunge into the full nine-yards of marriage, and social conservatives would rather tell them, “No, no, just shack up and we’ll allow you the same benefits just like the rest of us.” Whatever.
Now as you can see from my previous post, I live only 15 minutes from this bizarre place called Hollywood. Hollywood folks are always bombarding the rest of us ignorant civilians with their high moral pronouncements, one of which is to decry the institution of marriage as a hideously unromantic, love-killing institution where the shackles of legal commitment intrude into a perfectly blissful live-in relationship and destroy all feelings of tenderness and authenticity. If you want true love, they say, shacking up is the way to go because then you know he is staying because “he wants to” not because “he has to.”
I guess there’s nothing more romantic than a guy who insists on keeping the back door open so you can wake up every morning for ten years and rejoice to see that he hasn’t walked through it. And how unromantic of you to suggest that maybe he ought to love and respect you enough to get rid of that back door altogether. Marriage is the ultimate declaration of love because it is about commitment. Awesome, ballsy, B.S.-free commitment. There is no greater gift a person can give than him- or herself, and this commitment says, “Everything I am, all that I’ve worked for, all that I hope to become, I give to you unreservedly.”
“Oh, but my boyfriend just said those exact words to me the other night after we finished making love. He says he’s totally committed to me, only he doesn’t want to get married, that’s all.” Well, dear, I’d say that’s because he wants all the privileges of “commitment” without any of the responsibilities that come with it, that's all. The reason why marriage means commitment, and anything other than marriage is less-than, is because getting married means he is becoming family with you. Your parents become his parents, your siblings become his siblings, your gossiping aunt and alcoholic uncle become his problem relatives too. It is the deepest of moral commitments because he is willing to pledge to your ex-military father and overprotective mother that he will take care of you, their baby, as if you were his very own family, as if you were the child of his own parents. Just as someone would have to be some kind of sick bastard to abuse his own sister, that’s the stigma he’d be willing to bear if he ever mistreated you--not to mention the wrath of your parents and siblings--because now he is family and is expected to act the part. But he is willing to do it because he loves you and it would never cross his mind to do otherwise. That is what marriage means.
Social conservatives are a slightly cynical bunch when it comes to human morality. We suspect that if left to ourselves without any social constraints to encourage us in the right moral direction, we would all be on the verge of degenerating into some kind of Lord of the Flies chaos. That is why the institution of marriage fits into our moral agenda so perfectly. It brings the ideals of love and the dubiousness of sexual drive together into a socially respectable relationship under the watchful eyes of parents. Oh yeah, it doesn’t get any better than that, baby.
And now along come these homosexuals, at whom we have been spitting bile for years because of their shoddy sexual morals, and they want to be a part of this thing too. They don’t want just sex and shacking up with the back door wide open. They want the in-laws, the joint bank accounts, Thanksgiving at Aunt Bessie’s every year even though you are allergic to her cats, and the stigma of being “divorced” if this whole endeavor should fail. Yet instead of being smugly delighted and giving that fatherly, “I knew you’d come around someday” smile, we’re panicking and falling all over ourselves to prevent them. Uh . . . why?