Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Gay marriage: my one and only post 

I am apparently the last blogger in America to write on this subject. Indeed, I had no plans to do so, because I didn't think that I had much to add to the furor. Also, I confess some ambivalence -- and not a little bit of moral confusion -- on the subject, and the topic does not really get me charged up in either direction.

However, I have concluded that I support the legalization of gay marriage. I suppose that I have been persuaded to support lawful gay marriage by the argument that it will foster, rather than erode, social stability. Since I believe that marriage is important largely because it stabilizes otherwise volatile human transactions relating to sex and love, reproduction, child rearing and the ownership and inheritance of property, I see no reason not to support gays in their pursuit of same.

Also, I find many of the arguments against gay marriage unpersuasive. I do not believe, for instance, that permission of or license by the state of any activity amounts to social approval. For example, states issue licenses for the sale of liquor, the operation of casinos, the construction of hideously ugly housing developments, the operation of fast foot restaurants, and the piercing of body parts, ear lobes and otherwise. I do not believe that anybody seriously believes that the issuance of these licenses amounts to social approval of these activities. We permit these activities whether we approve of them or not because we live in a fundamentally free society. If we ever equate permission with the moral approval of "society," freedom is lost.

All of this being said, and Andrew Sullivan's powerful moral and political arguments notwithstanding, I think that the pursuit -- and almost certain defeat -- of a constitutional amendment is a useful exercise. It is not that the proposed amendment isn't folly of the highest order -- I absolutely side with those who believe that this sort of prohibition does not belong in the United States Constitution. Rather, it is better that the issue be decided via the defeat of a constitutional amendment than by courts -- as in Massachussets -- or by defiant local officials, as in San Francisco, New Paltz, and any number of other liberal burgs. We learned in the years since Roe v. Wade that when courts bypass the democratic process to force acceptance of socially controversial matters it creates a political sore that will persist for a generation. If this issue is legislated away without the participation of legislatures, people will rage about gay marriage for a for a long time. If, however, we allow a vote on a constitutional amendment, the failure of that amendment -- and it will fail -- will be seen as tremendously legitimizing for gay marriage. There will then be some chance that people will accept gay marriage more readily than they accept a woman's decision to terminate a pregnancy.


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