BOOKS: by Bill MuehlenbergNews Weekly
GAY MARRIAGE: Why it is good for gays, good for straights, and good for America
, July 2, 2005
Championing same-sex marriageGAY MARRIAGE:
Why it is good for gays, good for straights, and good for America
by Jonathan Rauch
New York: Times Books
Paperback RRP: $24This is the most compelling book so far to make the case for same-sex marriage (SSM). But, as a defence of gay marriage, Jonathan Rauch's Gay Marriage suffers from a number of flaws.
First, however, it can be said that Rauch offers a good understanding of traditional marriage. He rightly points out that marriage is not just a private transaction but a public institution. Marriage is more than a sheet of paper. It has social, symbolic and legal significance. Moreover, marriage is not just about benefits, but duties and responsibilities as well. And love, sex and marriage stand or fall together. They should not be treated separately. Marriage is our most important social institution. So far, so good.Hallowed institution
But he goes on to say that there are no compelling arguments whatsoever to exclude same-sex couples from the hallowed institution. Same-sex couples should not be excluded from marriage, and everyone would benefit by SSM. Rauch argues that various objections raised against SSM are in fact arguments against marriage itself, and to strengthen marriage we need to stress its inclusive nature.
But his logic seems to break down at a number of crucial points.
Consider one major point he makes throughout the book. Marriage, says Rauch, in order to be universal and the norm, must allow no exclusions and no exceptions. It must be for everyone or for no one: "We can't preserve marriage as a norm if only some people can marry". Conservatives, he says, "can defend marriage's normality or its exclusivity, but not both."
But why not? Why can't something be both normal, binding, and universally available, while buttressed by certain restrictions, or exceptions? Many examples come to mind. In democracies like America, freedom is the norm and freedom is universal. But there are plenty of restrictions and exceptions to unfettered freedom.
Rauch says equality before the law demands that there be no exception as to who can marry. But this argument is untenable. As a married male, I cannot marry another woman (at least not while my current marriage is binding). I cannot marry my son. I cannot marry my pet dog. I cannot marry a group of people.
It is of course fully possible for me to deeply love another woman, my son, my dog, and a select group of people, perhaps even at the same time. But that love does not mean I can marry the object of my love.
This is one of the fundamental flaws in Rauch's book. The very same arguments he uses for SSM can be used for the legal recognition and celebration of any number of sexual relationships, be it incest, polygamy, bestiality, and so on. The same arguments apply.
Of course, Rauch deals with these objections, but dismisses them as lacking in merit. He says such "anything goes" arguments are easily dealt with. The promotion of incest or group sex are not in the same league as the case for SSM he says, and argues that they can be opposed on other grounds. He concludes by saying that "when heterosexuals get the right to marry two other people or a sibling or a dog or a Volkswagon, homosexuals should get that right also. Until then, there is no reason to discuss it."
But there is. When de facto
or cohabiting relationships first received equal recognition under law, making them equal with marriage (at least here in Australia), conservative voices warned that this would be the thin edge of the wedge. People in other types of relationships would soon be demanding the same benefits of marriage.
We were of course scoffed at and derided for suggesting such way-out possibilities. Well, those possibilities have now become realities, and there is plenty of discussion on the Web, in gay newspapers, in academia, and elsewhere, for these other sorts of relationships to be formally and publicly recognised as well.
True, such voices may now be in the very small minority. But so were advocates of SSM 30 years ago. Indeed, Rauch does admit later that "legalisation of same-sex marriage might lessen resistance to other forms of change." And that is a very legitimate concern.
Rauch, like other gay marriage proponents, is happy to speak about equality before the law, a fair go for all, and the horrors of discrimination. He wants us to see how unfair it is for homosexuals to be denied marriage. He wants us to know how wrongfully discriminatory it all is.Welcome discrimination
But, as I said in a debate with a homosexual activist not long ago, helpful and welcome discrimination takes place in society all the time. My homosexual sparring partner made a similar claim to that of Rauch. He said that as a homosexual he was the object of all kinds of economic and social discrimination based on his sexuality. He bewailed the fact that as a taxpayer he was denied access to all kinds of government benefits because he was gay.
But there are all kinds of benefits that I, as a married, heterosexual, male taxpayer, also do not get. I do not receive the youth allowance. I do not get a single parenting allowance. I do not get a widow's pension. I do not get maternal health benefits.
Yet I am a taxpayer like everyone else. I am just as much a victim of discrimination in this regard as is anyone else. Yet I do not hear of male taxpayers saying they will withhold part of their tax because they do not directly get the benefits of breast cancer screening or gynecological services.
Moreover, no homosexual is denied the right to marry, if he should so choose to marry someone of the opposite sex. Of course, Rauch dismisses such an argument, and says homosexuals cannot help it, they have no choice in the matter, and nature has made them that way.Healing for gays
He simply dismisses talk of therapy for gays, the reality of ex-gays, and so on. The truth is, there are hundreds of centres around the world devoted to helping gays who want to go straight. And there are many thousands of ex-homosexuals who have given up on their lifestyle. Some have gone on to heterosexual marriage and have had children. I know some of these people. But for Rauch they simply do not exist.
Another major shortcoming of the book is Rauch's contention that most homosexual males are basically like himself, living in a stable monogamous long-term relationship.
What he presents is a very sanitised and sugar-coated version of what the homosexual lifestyle is largely all about. He doubts that most gay men are promiscuous, and doubts that most gay men will not eventually take a liking to the restrictive practice known as marriage.
But the evidence, from credible (non-conservative or non-religious) sources (e.g., the gay community itself, and government publications, etc), makes it quite clear that male homosexual promiscuity is much more severe a problem that male heterosexual promiscuity, and that many, if not most, homosexuals value their sexual freedom too highly to give it away.
In fact, the homosexual lifestyle is inherently risky and dangerous. In Australia around 85 per cent of all cases of HIV are due to male homosexual activity. Many other severe health problems are closely associated with male homosexuality. Governments should not be in a position of condoning or promoting such a high-risk life style. Gay marriage would certainly send the signal that the homosexual lifestyle is fully acceptable and has the full blessing of government and society. It should not.
There is a related problem with this book's argumentation. Rauch admits that it may take time, but he believes that most gay men will embrace marriage. He really believes that his case for SSM is shared by most of his fellow homosexuals.
But there is a huge debate in the gay community about this issue, with many gays opposed to the idea altogether, and many quite happy to settle for types of civil unions, and so on.
Even those who do favour marriage, like Andrew Sullivan, admit that their version of marriage is quite different from the traditional understanding. Sullivan for example speaks of the need for "extra-marital outlets" in his version of marriage. Of course, any marriage that includes with it the right to sexually roam outside of marriage is no marriage at all.
Many homosexuals themselves admit that a major reason why they want marriage is not so much to be like heterosexuals, or because they want to abandon their more free and promiscuous lifestyle, but because of its symbolic value. It will give them public recognition, approval and acceptance. Thus by getting marriage rights - and, in turn, the last hurdle for gays, full adoption rights - homosexuals will have achieved their longstanding goal: legitimising the gay lifestyle.
Rauch admits that this will be an important effect of SSM: "it will ennoble and dignify gay love and sex as it has done straight love and sex".
He admits that "male-male couples put a somewhat lower value on sexual fidelity within a relationship than do male-female couples", but says he thinks the "gap will narrow in favour of fidelity, over time".
He states a number of times that gay marriage will tame the cruising gay male, domesticate him, and make him more committed in relationships. Thus SSM will be good for gays and the rest of society.Both sexes
But as Maggie Gallagher pointed out some years ago, it is not marriage that tames the male, but women. This is the missing ingredient in SSM. Marriage is an important part of the equation, but so too are members of both sexes.
In sum, this is the best book to date to give the case for SSM. It is carefully argued and well-written. But some of Rauch's claims are simply incorrect.
His book ignores the very real public health consequences of the homosexual lifestyle. It overlooks the fact that many people have left the gay lifestyle. It looks at the homosexual community with rose-colored glasses, believing most gays lives a fairly tame, quiet and monogamous lifestyle as he does. But the evidence just does not support him in such conclusions.