Rebirth of Reason


On Gay Marriage
by James Kilbourne

“Two men getting married? Two women getting married? Marriage has always been defined as occurring between a man and a woman. If we make this change, what is to say that someone won’t try to marry his cocker spaniel, or that three, four or more people won’t try to all get married?”

I can assure you that if you let two gay people marry, people WILL try to get away with every other possible combination. After all, this is America. If my cocker spaniel gets a little help from the ACLU (which is depressingly possible), I know that she would love to put a collar on me. However if you are not a member of the ACLU and still are having trouble distinguishing the essential difference between gay people marrying and these other “alternative” choices, I am here to help you make the distinctions.

By an amazing coincidence, the long history of marriage between a man and a woman just happens to run a parallel track to the long period of gay pre-history. Put another way, our culture didn’t truly recognize the existence of gay people until this past century. It wasn’t that the straight world suppressed the gay world—no one knew that there was a gay world! What is the sound of one hand clapping? There could hardly have been a debate between two groups when one of the groups didn’t know it was supposed to even show up!

For most of my adult life, the question of gay marriage was an unimportant one to me. First of all, I didn’t personally want to get married, and, second, in the march towards equality for gay people in our culture, I saw the question of gay marriage as both far down the road, and at the same time inevitable, after more fundament rights and definitions had been accepted. In recent years, the acceptance of gay people as a part of society is occurring much faster than I ever imagined. The question of gay marriage is no longer just that single issue. It has now been positioned by the two competing American political philosophies, conservative and liberal, to reflect whether one believes in the natural existence of gay people, and—if that is accepted—the concept of equal rights.

When not totally ignored, homosexuality has been thought of as “unnatural,” as the two different sexes are needed to continue the species. Well, that is true, but homosexuality certainly does exist in other species. However, that fact has never been one of my favorites to bring up in supporting gay marriage, as human sexuality is on such a different level from animal sexuality that the reasons for calling it natural or unnatural could get you confused pretty quickly. It is "apples and oranges" to travel down that road. I won’t spend much time debating the natural and religious stands against gays. Actually, the natural argument is the same as the “homosexuality is an affront to God’s order” argument; nature just becomes God. I have become less inclined to have a serious discussion on this and many other topics with religious people and environmentalists, because you just can’t get anywhere. It is like the argument that man can’t tamper with genes or pristine wilderness, or anything else that exists pre-man. But if man is a product of God/nature, why isn’t it possible, even likely, that He, She or It made man so that he could bring some rational order to things like natural selection? I really don’t want anything to do with a God that is omnipotent and gives babies cancer. However, I might be coaxed into a brief discussion with the Omnipotent if he invented rationality in man to fix a lot of his original mistakes. Perhaps he invented gays to slow down population growth. Hmmm ... but if he made mistakes, he wouldn’t have been omnipotent, would he? But, I digress.

Outside of a handful of religious fanatics, there is no one who believes that sex between a man and a woman is solely for procreation anymore. Although the raising of a family is a main reason many people marry, I don’t know of anybody who seriously suggests that a childless couple is “not married.” People come together for myriad reasons and these couplings, whether under marriage or not, usually don’t last forever. However, people marry because they believe that they will spend the rest of their lives together. What can be the argument against same sex marriage, unless men and women who are gay don’t have the same basic emotions, goals, and capacities that men and women who are straight have? What if it is scientifically discovered that men are, by nature, prone to want a greater variety of sex partners than women? That is not a finding that would have me reaching for my smelling salts, if there is still such a thing as smelling salts.

But would such a finding really change anything? No; all that it would do is change some probabilities. Let’s face it: most marriages don’t work out no matter who does the marrying. If divorce turns out to be 50 percent more prevalent among gays or straights, would that change anyone's basic rights? The conservative argument against gay marriage can only be honest if it is based on homosexuality being a conscious lifestyle choice (and, for some reason, a bad choice) made by individuals ... the concept of marriage for anyone, gay or straight, is a conservative choice. To choose to base your life around one partner, rather than several, is to choose a more conservative lifestyle. Gay marriage is family-oriented; it just offers another option to the definition of family.

At the close of the twentieth century, America was progressing most successfully towards the political acceptance of gays. The rights of union for gays were evolving rapidly within the federal structure of this country. The more liberal states were gradually adding rights for gays, with California once again leading the way. As of January 2005, gay people have about 90 percent of the rights of straight people in marriage. We were evolving toward my goal of seeing society make a separation between civil unions and marriage. It was my hope that a new understanding would be realized that marriage should not be state-sanctioned; that the churches and other organizations in the private sector rightfully should define it, thereby growing the private sector and diminishing the state. A civil union would establish equality for all people under the law. Eighteen months ago, a majority of Americans believed that laws covering civil unions should be the same for gays and straights. However, the political left chose confrontation over gradual cooperation, and the polls turned around very quickly.

George W. Bush and John Kerry had been deftly trying to avoid the whole question for two opposite reasons. I believe Kerry is for gay marriage, but a glimpse at the polls on that subject had him stating he was against gay marriage, but also against a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. This position made almost no one happy. Conservatives are naturally resentful when liberals try to force them to accept liberal conclusions advanced by non-legislative means. Despite propositions passed by vast majorities stating that they wanted marriage to be defined as the union between one man and one woman, the mayor in San Francisco started marrying gay people, and in Massachusetts, the State Supreme Court declared it to be discriminatory to deny gay people the same right to marry that straight people enjoy. Whatever the merits of these positions, Americans were not ready to hear them in 2004.

Bush had resisted coming out directly against gay marriage, but his political base became so alarmed at the methods used in San Francisco and Massachusetts that they began to speak up. The only way to calm his base and make the issue go into the background during the election of 2004 was to come out for a constitutional amendment, defining marriage as existing only between one man and one woman. For Bush it may well be that he truly believes this, and it certainly was a winning political position in the short range. However, I believe that on this issue as well as some others (such as limiting stem cell research), the next presidential candidate will reverse Bush’s position if the Republican Party is to solidify its new political majority status.

Due to this positioning by the political left, Democrats and Republicans have twisted the basic argument down to whether or not you believe that gays just like to cause trouble by choosing to be gay, or that being gay is a defining biological fact for a certain percentage of people. Being gay is either a biological fact, or a psychological condition that requires treatment. If you believe that gay people have always existed, and that their “coming out” was a product of individual self-realization and a culture that developed a greater understanding of this fact, by what ethical standard could you deny homosexuals the same paths to fulfillment that others enjoy? By what morality would you justify different treatment?

If you think that I shouldn’t have the right to marry, I have some understanding of your position if you also believe that being gay is a “lifestyle” choice. Searching as deeply as I can into myself, I cannot find any trace of “choice” in being gay. I have a lot of options concerning my lifestyle—I can chose to live “in the closet” or in a 100 percent gay community, or to have other considerations more important in determining my surroundings. I have lots of lifestyle choices, but I have, to the most completely objective internal search of which I am capable, only two choices as far as being gay is concerned; I can accept it and integrate it into my life, or I can repress it and pay the psychological price that decision would cause.

If Americans come to accept that some people are gay by nature, they will come to believe that gay people have the right to marry. It is as inevitable to the American sense of justice as the granting of rights to blacks and women. Democrats exercised short-range vision by coming out against gay marriage, but they are much better positioned to accept the compromise of a state civil union and a private marriage ceremony than are the Republicans. If Republicans don’t come around to a similar position, I believe that they will fall behind the American people and suffer at the polls. The issue is a potential consensus-splitter between the Republican religious right and its more libertarian components. It will take a talented and artful candidate to find a winning Republican position on this subject in 2008, but each election cycle after that will find the American public more accepting of gay people as citizens with full rights. Every four years they will have less patience with those who don’t understand this. The only Republican solution is to advocate civil unions for all and private marriages for all. The time is coming when Americans voters will accept nothing less.
Sanctions: 15Sanctions: 15Sanctions: 15 Sanction this ArticleEditMark as your favorite article

Discuss this Article (77 messages)