Friday, May 10, 2013
My Final Post (I Promise) On Gay Marriage
I don't really want to write this piece, but there are a few things bothering me which hopefully this exercise will purge from my system.
First of all I'm behind--all the sturm und drang that was going on about a month ago seems to have died down, and the matter effectively resolved, for the foreseeable future at least. I have to admit I have less interest in the outcome of this issue than in the tone of intellectual triumphalism adopted by many (most?) of the pro-gay faction, which I found to be rather insufferable, as well as wildly overstated. Indeed, if I have any opinion on the subject at all, it is that I don't think the debate, as least as far as most of the public perceives it to be, has been particularly rigorous or serious by the timeworn standards of philosophical discourse. My admittedly feeble perception of the logic which seems to be at work in this case is that, once a critical mass of the populace became unable to believe, or reluctant to say, that homosexuality as a general practice (so long as it was practiced by consenting adults, and especially if it made a show of adhering to some variation of bourgeois respectability) was wrong, or even less optimally desirable than other practices, that it must be admitted to be morally, and in the case of marriage legally equivalent to heterosexual behaviors, and any argument to the contrary must be dismissed as absurd. I don't think it follows quite so easily, and I think the pro gay-marriage faction does itself a disservice by its flippancy and focus on the hyprocrisies and inconsistencies inherent in heterosexual marriage rather than soberly and respectfully acknowledging and addressing serious questions--and regardless of how coolly dismissive progressive people of such concerns, there are serious questions--as to why it is necessary this should become legitimized in the very structure of society and public life, when no previous society that I am aware has found it necessary or desirable to do so.
A substantial part of the pro-gay marriage argument has centered around obtaining the right of access to one of the potential spouse's health or other financial benefits. I am actually surprised by how unabashed people are in pushing this aspect of the issue, maybe because I find it hard to believe the people in charge of doling out these resources are likely to embrace a change in the social model that require them to pay out more money, but maybe they have crunched the numbers and determined that this will be more profitable for them than not. One day on NPR there was a guest on who had married a Korean War veteran, much older than himself, the veteran had died, and the widower was suffering from some kind of condition and was trying to assert his case for being granted such health benefits as an opposite sex widow of a veteran would be (the military does not yet recognize gay marriage, at least for benefits purposes). My visceral responses to the situation predictably were 'Why the hell would this person be entitled to Korean War veterans' benefits?'
and 'What kind of a man would argue that he was?' This was not how the host of the program and nearly all of those who called in saw the matter, however. They thought he was justified and had a real case. Personally, all of the fighting that goes in this country over access to benefits is more demonstrative of the desperation people have for those benefits, and extending access, where it applies, to same-sex spouses is not addressing the real problem, and I suspect may exacerbate it on the larger scale, as I presume the origin of family insurance plans dates to an era when 'family', and the roles of the various people constituting it, were more strictly defined than they are today. That is to say, if 'family' can be redefined on a large scale, than certainly notions of what properly constitutes family benefits can also be redefined on a large scale, which in the current climate probably means to something much less that prevailed formerly. Gay marriage in itself would not be the direct cause of this, but I certainly think it contributes to a sense of confusion and uncertainty in these matters. It is not so simple a matter of being legalised and simply adopting all of the tax breaks and insurance benefits that are available to married couples without those benefits being affected in any way.
One point that has been frequently made, or at least implied, in some of the snark directed at anybody who wants to inject such questions into the dialogue, is that childbearing is not central to the institution of marriage because, first, not every marriage produces children, and second, because women past childbearing age have always been permitted to marry a member of the opposite sex if they could find one who was willing to have them. This seemed to me obfuscating, for it is pretty obvious that most of the customs, laws (such as those forbidding marrying one's cousin or sister, though perhaps these laws are not in effect if the wife is post-menopausal) and emotional interest that have been invested in supporting the institution assume the centrality of childbearing and rearing and the union of two identifiable bloodlines for all future time. I suppose I should look this up, but I would guess that legal later-in-life male/female marriage was a later or secondary, development in human history, for the purpose of delineating, or giving respectability to, the economic arrangements or concerns involved. Legalised gay marriage would have a similar "acknowledgement of reality" aspect to it, especially since apparently so many same-sex headed families now include children, and no one thinks anything of it--ironically, the anti-childbearing argument aside, I suspect the growth of these households with children was important in the campaign for marriage, because the presence of the children is the strongest argument for the necessity of having the parents more firmly bound by some legal tie. It is in any event a useful argument to be able to make. Many progressive people have seemingly already internalized the narrative of homosexual romance leading to home-sharing and marriage and perhaps even children as something beautiful and essential, perhaps moreso than traditional marriages and families, about which we are permitted to be much more cynical. But how invested are they really in the sanctity of these marriages and families as bulwarks of society? I admit to having my doubts.
Many people mocked the idea that the marriage of two loving people of the same sex could in any way negatively affect a heterosexual marriage, but if one of the partners--probably a strong wife--is a zealot for the cause and the other--a weak, modern, nominally liberal but so ineffective as to not really matter one way or the other husband--maybe is lukewarm at best towards the whole subject, I could see real strife breaking out. Contemporary liberal women are almost fire-breathing in their championship of all things homosexual--I'm not sure how or why this happened, where women of this class apparently love gays far more than the heterosexual men in their circles, including oftentimes their own husbands. My wife is not especially militant, but if I were actually to express myself in some stammering way (I know that if you state things strongly enough and control the conversation and brook no opposition from women, such as the Muslims and alpha males are said to do, you can bend any female to succumb to your will in matters of ideology--but I would never be able to do that) to be against gay marriage, or in agreement with the boy scout policy against gays or some such hideous thing, she would certainly be mortified, declare that she did not know me, and our relations would come to a crisis--over the rights of homosexuals. So it is disingenuous of activists to scoff at the idea that this is having no effect on straight marriages...