EDITORIAL: Gay Marriage and Family Responsibility   (Mid 2006; archive)


Rationality compels a very simple question about gay marriage.  Just why is it such a big deal?


If gay marriage could be legalized nationwide immediately, 99% of all marriages would still be between one man and one woman. Existing married couples—assuming they are stable to begin with (that’s a big IF these days!!)-- would not make any economic or practical cultural sacrifice. Men would continue to marry women. There might even be a net economic gain to society if gays were actually encouraged to become adoptive parents and increased their participation in parental eldercare. As Jonathan Rauch argues in a recent book (Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America) this ought to be a “business style” win-win for everyone, like a good corporate merger.


Of course, that’s the utilitarian argument. Recently, during an election year, partisan Republicans have indeed tried to capitalize on the psychological “meaning” of marriage as a postulatory institution, the foundation of the sexual constitution of our society. It is easy for politicians to pander to fear in “average Joe” anti-intellectual voters. Their procedural threat is that activist judges in one state and aggressive self-promoting gay litigants will impose their cultural norms on the whole nation.


Actually, this issue has been visited a long time ago. Back during the 1972 presidential election, ultra liberal Democratic candidate George McGovern was asked about “legalization of marriage between homosexuals” and “legalization of marijuana” on a radio show, and he answered that while he favored more liberal social laws, he was still afraid that radical social proposals would “drive the Democrats to defeat.” Shortly after that was the Thomas Eagleton affair, and then Nixon’s landslide, then, well, Watergate. Back to today!


What’s this all about, really?


First, I’d like to dispose of the constitutional and legal technicalities. During the Senate “debate” (which did not lead to passing any constitutional amendment, and where liberals warned that the Senate was wasting time on “gay marriage” when there was immediate need to address an anti-terrorism bill) during the week of July 12, 2004, conservatives practically admitted that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) would now be held unconstitutional, given some controversial language in the Romer v. Evans and Lawrence v. Texas opinions. Personally, I do not believe that the current Supreme Court would really strike down DOMA, because states have considerable leeway in defending their own politically enacted public policies. The various states have ample experience with this public policy variation already, in issues like community property. However, given Romer states might have to show that their public policies were not grounded in animus towards gays, and this might be a tricky point, given some discussion that I will follow with here. In 2005, the Senate has prepared to debate the filibuster, which Democrats sometimes use to block voting on conservative judicial appointments; new analysts think that the filibuster debate is motivated largely by the fight over gay marriage and some other social issues. (Changing the Senate rules to eliminate the use of the filibuster in many situations has been called the “nuclear option” since it would leave the majority party with the power to make draconian changes in social policy.)


I am very concerned about the possible consequences of defining “marriage” in the federal Constitution, even if marriage is supposed to be a generational concept. The Constitution is about governance, not public policy itself.  One risk is that, downstream, the concept of equal protection (otherwise established by the 14th Amendment) could be undermined, and various future antigay measures (maybe even the re-establishment of sodomy laws) could be justified.


I believe that states should proceed carefully in enacting legislation dealing with family law, but I also believe that gay marriage would in the long run be good for everyone. So, for pragmatic reasons, I support a legal environment in which states may change their own laws without imposing them on other states. Therefore an amendment that reserves the powers to define marriage to the states (or the federal government for federal benefits only) without defining marriage, and with a clause to reinforce equal protection otherwise, might be welcome. Very recently (July 2004), the House has passed a bill that would remove litigation regarding a state’s definition of marriage from federal jurisdiction, under some somewhat obscure powers (“original jurisdiction”) it claims under the current Constitution (the so-called “Marriage Protection Act,” setting a dangerous precedent for other issues; see the blog reference below).


Legal scholars such as Vikram Amar and Alan Brownstein have pointed out that a federal amendment to define marriage for all purposes could have the sinister intention of cutting off social debate about the underlying issues (and make homosexual culture less welcome again in the mainstream media), and maintain an understood sense of “privilege” for heterosexually married people at the expense of everyone else. (See the note at the end of the editorial.) On the other hand, in May 2005 the American Psychiatric Association (which had determined in 1973 that homosexuality is not a mental illness) issued a statement supporting full legal equality for committed same-sex couples, whether their relationships are called “civil unions” or “marriages,” without regard to any particular religious precepts.


So, let’s get back to the main issue. What’s it all about?


You get closer to the problem when you consider civil unions and domestic partnerships. In a practical sense, it would seem that, if carefully constructed, they could give same-sex partners most of the benefits that they need in many situations (hospital visitation, better protection of wills from blood-relative challenges, health insurance benefits), except for federal benefits (social security survivorship and federal income tax benefits, which get more important as the so-called “marriage penalty” is whittled away). What is the objection?  Well, they still provide less protection, and they demand less responsibility. Critics of civil unions[1] (on both sides) have warned that, once they are adopted, couples are less committed, and in European countries heterosexual couples having children have preferred them to full-fledged marriage, but a  2006 book by William Eskridge disputes this finding.[2] Yet all marriages are “civil unions” – religious or civil ceremonies given legal recognition by government. The converse does not have to be true – or does it?


There is, then, also the libertarian argument, that marriage should be no more than a contract, with no special status requiring the state. Here we run in to the corollary that any contractual arrangements that consenting adults want to make (such as polygamous arrangements) should not be the business of the state. It’s this “anti-license” argument that brings us to the head, that marriage does have something to do with society as a whole, with collective obligations as well as personal responsibility in a conventional contractual sense.


But what is full-fledged marriage supposed to accomplish, anyway?


It seems there are three main points. First, marriage is a way for two adults to celebrate and legally recognize their love for one another. Your marriage partner is always your first responsibility, you are his first line of defense. Now the idea that marriage is about love does seem to be relatively modern.  Second, marriage provides a family infrastructure and therefore an orderly way (with minimal involvement of the state) to take care of dependents—raise children and take care of disabled or elderly adults. Yes, marriage is, at the very least, both of these. But third—and this is the most controversial right now—marriage is generational and procreational; it is supposed to provide the next generation, at least “on paper” as well as raise it. It is this third meaning that has usually been most important to many people—the importance given to lineage, bloodline, kinship, all of this tracking back to dating, courtship rituals, and consummation.  It is this third meaning that the culture of gays and to a lesser extent the economic independence of women provide a serious challenge. Gay marriage must resort to some artificiality to participate in family-building—usually that means adopting children, which gets us to the debate (not resolved here) as to whether gay parents are needed for children waiting to be adopted, or whether encouraging gay adoption will erode the “birthright” of a mother and father for a child. A fourth point follows as a corollary. For many people, the entire Victorian courtship, marriage, consummation and “blessed event” paradigm, underscored by postulated notions about sexual abstinence outside of marriage, provides a sense of pseudo-collective meaning in lives that may otherwise often offer limited opportunities for individualized self-expression. The notion that biologically driven marriage is privileged and revered becomes part of the intimate marital experience that helps a couple stay together as it grows older and encounters difficulties, such as disease, that would in visual terms make the marital partners less “attractive.”


This gets us to a subtle point about marriage as an institution apart from individual participants.  Many people do get their adult bearings of life and sense of meaning from spouse and children, but also from some kind of societal affirmation that they have “grown up” and are partaking of a group cultural responsibility larger than the sum of its parts (including themselves). This sense of meaning does come from marriage being, in some sense, privileged.  One obtains certain privileges or benefits from taking certain responsibilities. At dispute here is how much connection these responsibilities must have with participation in heterosexual courtship, or with the conventionality (and erotic or physical complementarity) of one’s sexual values. As a matter of simple mathematical logic, one cannot endorse or “sanctify” the institution of marriage without sometimes preferring the interests of those who are married to those who are not. The institution by definition must imply “discrimination.” Therefore, claiming that you are for reinforcing traditional marriage without discrimination against gays sounds like an oxymoron, unless you allow gay marriage. Since any individual might be called upon to share the sacrifices of other families’s childrearaing, or any individual might need “a second half” to avoid becoming the proverbial accident waiting to happen, all individuals would need equal access to a marital relationship with consensual adult partners of their own choosing – or it only equal access to relationships with opposite sex adult partners?


There is a fourth point, then.  Legally, religious, and socially privileged marriage provides a social support that, in pragmatic terms, seems to make a lifetime “family bed” active sexual commitment possible for many couples, at least while there are children to raise. The social support implies occasional “sacrifices” from singles not interest in the commitment, and one of the perks is that you don’t have to be too conscious of the deference from others; if you were expected to think about it, you couldn’t maintain the commitment; it wouldn’t be worth it.


You often hear arguments that the weakening institution of marriage accounts for unwed mothers, absent fathers, children growing up in single-parent homes, children performing poorly in school.  In a sense, this is certainly true. Gay marriage, it is said, would further demean the meaning of marriage and incentive for “normal” adults to marry, and lead to having children outside of marriage. This sounds like blaming gays for irresponsible behavior of straights—an ironic point when the male gay community, at least, prided itself in its distance from babymaking until more recent years, once not having children was becoming viewed as a way to cheat the system. (Never mind that “creative” childless persons may create surplus economic wealth that all those with children can collectively share!)  But personal responsibility becomes corporate in a discussion like this. I could say, well, you can fix heterosexual marriage within the bounds of heterosexual conduct. Tighten up on no-fault divorce, especially when children are involved, crack down on deadbeat dads, and perhaps ration marriage: say, you get married to have the benefits of marriage for only one partner in a lifetime (unless the marital partner dies). Actually, I think this model could work and defuse gay marriage as a disrupter of traditional marriage. But it still leaves married people as “privileged” while ignoring the psychological discomfort people feel at devaluing lineage, kinship, and the meaning of the heterosexual act.  Inevitably, the discussion winds down to the social and legal status of those (like me) disinclined to express themselves through building families by procreation (at least symbolically). Must it be inferior?


Here, it’s worth emphasizing that the complementarity of traditional marriage is a big catalyst for getting adults out of themselves and making them ready to become parents and relate, as adults, to less intact people, outside of the competitive world but with some real emotional validity.[3] But in the 1970s Paul Rosenfels (see reference below) proposed a theory of psychological polarity that explains how homosexuals can experience non-narcissistic complementarity with the same benefit to their community. But Rosenfels also believed that the social supports of traditional marriage actual undermine the dynamics of the marital relationship and can actually drive heterosexual marriage into narcissism, so Rosenfels actually encouraged (as at his Ninth Street Center) creative homosexuals to live in special communities in large cities away from the mainstream. At the same time, various conservative writers have sometimes admitted that marriage is as much about maintaining social stability and giving people social legitimacy as it is about committed adult love—the bridge between those two broad objectives being, of course, begetting children when possible. 


Here, I backtrack into retrospective autobiography a bit. Before I was thrown out of William and Mary in my freshman year (1961) for admitting “latent homosexuality” to the Dean of Men, my roommate once complained that he felt that he could become emasculated by rooming with a known homosexual. This sort of comment is what the military fears, but it also has symbolic value: he feels that my success, without the normal male rites of passage (in days when college hazing was part of this) aimed at performing as a conqueror and then protector of women, would demean his own future life.  Looking down the road, I could see how an only (perhaps homosexual) child who does not give his parents future descendents could be viewed as demeaning the family.


During the early years of my working life, the 1970s, living in New York, I was very conscious of meeting my own needs first. I wanted to explore and discover my own sexuality. I lived in the City, a socially sheltered and separate environment, and dealt very little with the issue of marriage and children, as these did not concern me. Sometimes, on trips to “normal” suburban America (or even the outer boroughs) I would feel I was looking at another “dominion” as a kind of alien, able to communicate and negotiate intellectually with their culture but very different emotionally. I discovered a social support center in the East Village, the Ninth Street Center, which addressed a theory of psychological polarity, independent of biological gender. The Center supported the idea of monogamous gay relationships, but felt that legally recognized social supports would undermine these relationships.  We tended to live in our own world, and believed that, given a certain minimum political stability, that our interactions with “the Outside” ought to be relatively minimal.


History, of course, would change all of this. AIDS would force the gay community into new activism and visibility in the 1980s.  In the 1990s, the rise of the Internet and other information technologies would make “gay culture” more visible to “ordinary Americans.” Gays could no longer live in, in the terminology of Clive Barker’s novel Imajica, a separate but “reconciled Dominion.”    Gays in the military and then gay marriage (and gay adoptions and child custody) would come to be debated seriously. To some extent, it was perhaps a philosophical exercise.  I still had no need for marriage, and if I was able to succeed in life, did it matter?


Another important idea in all of those days was, you should be your own person first before entering a relationship (straight or gay). You shouldn’t cling to someone. You should make it on your own first—by performing (academically, on the job, or in some expressive or artistic activity). More and more people did (including women), putting pressure on those who still derived old-fashioned meaning from marriage (and parenthood) and saw it as indispensable step out of adolescence into true adulthood. Self-sufficient adults—“yuppies” perhaps—sometimes saw marriage as a superfluous individual or private choice. In large numbers, thought, ordinary men still tended to learn to value marriage (and fatherhood) from women as they fell for “the tender trap.” But I saw heterosexuality as simply adaptive to social demands, and laughed at the idea of male turf (who gets to spread his genes through the most perfect “Belle”) as you see it in soap opera (“Days of our Lives”).  On the other hand, a large part of the straight world, particularly that from earlier generations, believes that everyone owes “loyalty” to the biological family (including the intention to continue it with children) since it “made” the person as a precondition for any claim on “equal rights”—and that’s partly why some legal or contractual arguments based on equal civil liberties are conveniently ignored. Gay men, in particular, see such an unarticulated and assumed notion as unfair and burdensome and may claim that they seek relief from the “responsibility” for initiative and aggression to promote family. On the other hand, “average Joe” straight men, especially, may see cultural competition from the gay community as a force that can undermine their long term enjoyment of family commitment, including marital sex itself.


What makes it matter is the practical problems of the real world. Throughout the 1990s there was increased attention to the economic stress felt by “families with children” in a work and investment world based on individuals, not families as economic units.  I sometimes encountered this as tension in the workplace as to how nightcall responsibility should be shared: should I, with no family of my own, do more of it? Sometimes I did. Eldercare was becoming obvious as a problem. We were having fewer children, our parents were living longer. How would we provide them with custodial care as family ties yielded to the plans of individuals? Furthermore many families faced tremendous burdens with raising troubled or disabled children. In the real world outside TheWB, being a parent is not about getting to raise Clark Kent or Ephram Brown.


Then we had 9/11, which, in conjunction with other problems like, perhaps, global warming, reminds us that we cannot always take freedom for granted. Sometimes one cannot carry out one’s plans; “family” is what one has left, and what matters most. Of course, there is still an imbalance. One is supposed to advance only while being loyal to “family first,” which sometimes justifies doing things that would normally be wrong but are rationalized for the sake of family; one gives up some intellectual objectivity and advances in the workplace peddling someone’s work or causes ultimately to give advantage for one’s family. (The Left, of course, really sees this as wrong; the Right sees it as a moral balance point.) That’s the deal, before modern individualism sets in. But it seems fairer to most people, when they do not have the talent or opportunity to distinguish themselves by doing something “special” of their own to develop a strong identity before starting their own families. Family, if it defines the moral granularity of individuality and perhaps the lowest level of social governance, implements a kind of psychological socialism.  Having kids without being married is one kind of problem, but not participating in raising the next generation at all also seems to leave a problem.


This whole train of thought, then, puts the idea of “family responsibility” on the table. (Family responsibility should be differentiated, as a concept, from family loyalty or “family first” thinking, which can engender its own intellectual dishonesty.) Now China finds that its one-child-per-family policy leads to self-centered kids who don’t accept the idea of family responsibility.  (The policy is also leading to female-child abortions, and the likelihood of an unmarryable young adult male surplus in twenty years—pride in family blood legacy is not always a morally perfect thimg!) I certainly haven’t carried my share (and I’ll skip more details for the moment, as they are very personal, but some people would see me as not having been “man enough” to carry the authority required by some circumstances.)  A couple of jobs (bill collection, substitute teaching) that I have held since retirement, however, drive the point home. Real people skills and the ability to project authority mean more now that a lot of the “techie” jobs (good for loners) have gone overseas. Permanent teachers are often expected to take at least one learning disadvantaged class and be rated by that. As a substitute, I have sometimes been surprised that I would be allowed to be paid to watch grade school kids when I, having reached the age of 60, have no parenting experience and no experience with younger siblings. The world has recently migrated somewhat towards responsibility for people and a bit away from responsibility for solving problems.


I’d say here that my own diversity—a tendency towards upward affiliation when I was disinclined to compete with other boys for my own “physical domain” (that is, future family)—can be perceived by others as a way to cheat the system. I see my difference as a brake to keep the system honest. If gay marriage (and social acceptability) had been available to me in my young manhood, would I have “used it” and participated in family responsibility more activity? Maybe. As it stand now, though, I wonder this: if I did not “pay my dues” by creating and raising a family (to produce bloodline for the next generation) or did not at least nurture the practical “manly” skills normally expected of fathers, am I to be expected to surrender to a subservient station in life, when I could do something else of my own choosing? That seems to be the intended aim of the religious right.  


I’ll also add here, that I can think of many people that I have “loved” and would look forward to living with in the right circumstances, but that still would not be “marriage.” The love relationship would be predicated on a certain admiration – idealization, if you will—and is not necessarily for all eternity or death due us part. It is very immediate and instance-based. There is no transmission of life, just of ideas and aesthetics. This would be my thing and would do nothing to support “family” as we know it.


Family responsibility leads naturally to “filial responsibility.”  Until Medicare in the 1960s, adult children could be held liable for their parents’ medical and nursing home bills, and some states still have some seldom used “filial responsibility” laws. Government and publicly funded programs have undercut family responsibility, some will say. But this may not continue to work with a population that lives longer. Making the effort and accepting (and sharing) the cost to keep a terminally ill or non-functioning elderly adult alive could be construed as a necessary corollary of a fundamental right to life.  The comparison to earlier generations is not always apt: families were more intact, but they accepted death of some infants or children and shorter life-spans for grandparents (important as grandparents are for socialization in human culture); people did not generally linger forever as they might today. Actually, parents, through wills (even the “dead hand” of George Elliot novels) have quite a bit of authority to implement filial responsibility today; although the practice of giving away assets to children to get on Medicaid before going into nursing homes should be stopped. In the past, the “non-marrying kind” were expected to remain available for backup eldercare and family care and strengthen the basic biological family unit rather than branch off and compete with it.


Family responsibility seems to me like a genuine social justice issue, that can be debated the way the draft or national service might be, in contraposition to liberal runs to “tax the rich.”  Gay marriage (with gay adoption)—make it legal but make it expected, too—in conjunction with  increased family and filial responsibility, would advance social justice without more government intervention or higher taxes.  Such a world would provide more incentive to have or at least adopt children to help balance the generations.  It would put more consideration of family interests back into economic deliberations (with ideas like the “family wage” and much greater tax exemptions or tax credits for children and other kin dependents).  But, when mixed with old time religion, it still would leave unsatisfied the discomfort of those who have lost ground in a world where the basic heterosexual process (and resulting lineage) and its place in defining adult identity has become discounted. And it challenges the publicly visible part of gay culture in pride marches and in the fun, joy and teasing sensuality of “dirty dancing” on disco floors: can this culture provide or at least allow the committed socialization that can face doing its part in raising the next generation (as well as care for the past)?  Conventional experience suggests that gender complementarity provides most adult men with the socialization needed to step outside the somewhat narcissistic competitive performance norms of the adult world back into bonding with young children at their level, although many gay men may have learned this socialization from other experiences, like caring for younger siblings.  Marriage, remember, is predicated on lifetime committed active sexual interest (even “the family bed”), even as one partner faces physical deterioration from stretch marks, obesity, disease, cancer, AIDS, accident, or any number of calamities. For male-female couples a history of bearing their own children helps maintain the interest. Yet there are plenty of examples of gay couples (including gay couples) who have remained committed for decades. (I knew of a male couple in Dallas that was together 49 years.) Would adoption go hand in hand with lifetime (rather than serial) monogamy for gay couples? All of this raises the proposal of offering full marriage benefits only when there are children and to first spouses only.


I am particularly struck by how almost any politician or public activist who debates gay marriage from either side misses the sense of betrayal that some “old generation” families feel when gay offspring reject the importance of carrying on the biological family for personal, inwardly defined, expressive and artistic priorities. “Traditional family values” assumes that anyone has the social responsibility to take his part in providing for dependent kin before doing anything else.  This expectation from everyone, if followed, is supposed to guarantee a measure of freedom for everyone, regardless of ability or circumstances. I avoided doing this and could take care of myself (or could I?) after focusing so much on my own personal needs and narrowing myself to my own personal best talents earlier in life—yet in doing so I am apparently setting a bad example, one that could putatively lead to social breakdown as everyone, fending for self, ultimately cheats his way to any kind of individual success. Families are good at getting collective adaptive things done, even if they are mixed in helping individuals find their own creativity. Some more conservative cultures like the Mormon church come up with required practices like missionary work and family home evenings to force everyone to give family a high enough priority in their own personal decisions.  Even the mention of homosexuality is considered an unwelcome distraction from family commitment or socialization in this kind of religious or adaptive climate where there are many people depending on the family for their sense of meaning.  “Conservative” thought preaches (often with slogans rather than well-articulated argument) that my freedom of “psychological promiscuity” actually undermines the ability of “normal” people to make and keep the lifetime sexual commitments that raising families requires—and a “pay your dues” approach that allows gays their own form of family responsibility may not seem sufficient.  Most people (including gays) derive some of their sense of personal fulfillment in a personal sexual relationship from their belief that other people “on the outside” consider their experience important; so some more conventional people may indeed feel that the cultural competition from the values of gay relationships is eroding their own “respect for the womb,” which they would think creates a real test of personal merit. To what extent do outside social supports mediate the value of a relationship?  They always do in some community, however small. The Ninth Street Center had explored this problem in the 1970s.


It’s important to bear in mind the history of the family as an honored “common elements” institution. As Stephanie Coontz points out in a recent book, heterosexual families based on love between man and wife who select one another are a relatively modern concept. The older notion was that marriage partners were chosen by the elders in their families to provide social legitimacy. This provided stability, even for children, and often couples would “learn” love and commitment; but as often adultery was easy to get away with. The “morality” of this system seems like a façade, a scheme to pass on wealth. It did make the process of finding and keeping a mate less competitive and made life seem more secure. A system of marriage based on love, which would allow gay marriage, provides a bigger challenge in merging freedom and commitment.  


With my own life of relatively “safe” psychological promiscuity, I am also struck by how some other people feel that, in drawing attention to my life and ideas, I am expressing what they see as contempt for the active marital sexual commitments they have had to make to raise children. In this independent film, Internet and Google age of “queer” self-promotion, they imagine that my goals are predicated on discrediting theirs, as if life were a zero-sum game replete with alien enemies.  The “sanctity of marriage”—the idea that persons who make a lifetime monogamous heterosexual commitment open to having (generating biologically when possible) and raising a family (with the optimal “birthright” mom and dad) should enjoy some otherwise unearned privilege, benefits and social status, even at some expense to those to do not participate—is seen (particularly by moralists like Alan Keyes) as a necessary inducement for socialization in an otherwise laissez-faire culture that may punish such commitments (as with the “mommy track” in the workplace). The heterosexual process serves to mask the incredible amount of commitment and high personal standards that are expected after one has “grown up” out of adolescent competitive games. All of this is a bit irrational, isn’t it? Apparently, it’s supposed to be.  Even the call for abstinence until marriage (as in the 2004 season premiere of TheWB’s Seventh Heaven) has a meaning that goes beyond the obvious health, teen pregnancy prevention, and practical personal implications—to wit, abstinence has a cultural meaning, beyond normal rational ideas of self-interest, that promotes socialization through the family.  What does compute, indeed, is a frankly more collective social objective, to maintain enough incentive for otherwise “rationally selfish” or “ethically hedonistic” persons to commit to caring for others who otherwise drop out on the floor. A society that doesn’t come to terms with this can face dangers of external threats, or gradually revert to meritocratic authoritarianism. But can gay marriage (and gay adoptions), after all, fit? Then, George W. Bush’s “sanctity of marriage” must refer to a whole societal paradigm that ties male sexual interest to having wives’ babies, becoming and remaining committed fathers, even in exchange for earlier adolescent competitive or expressive interests. Fatherhood happens only through that sexual link. “When I became a man, I gave up childish things,… etc., etc.” 


Now, let me interject this personal perspective about eight to twelve or so people I have had the honor of knowing during my lifetime. I could have had a relationship with any one of these, and it would have been good. No, there is no jealousy, and I move on. I move on because I can and must. But a relationship with one of these men would have been a relation between “equals” – emotionally satisfying in its own way, but it would not have invoked the level of socialization that we normally associate with “marriage.” It would have been good, but I would not have wanted to call it marriage. In a way, marriage is a way to link sexuality with socialization, which will bring in other people (not always by earning or choice) into a support network. Perhaps I am Jonathan Rauch’s “accident waiting to happen,” but I would not have necessarily expected loyalty “till death do us part.” Moreover, the relationship would not have involved economic dependence. In my first “D Ask Do Tell” book in Chapter 5, I proposed that marriage (whether traditional or same-sex) confer its full privileges only when there are dependents (preferably children, who could be adopted or foster, or eldercare dependents like parents). So marriage is not something that I personally sought. (I would have expected the right to hospital visitation, give unquestioned powers of attorney, and other domestic partnership rights.)  But given that a gay couple accepts this socialization and dependents, I think it should have the same legal recognition. The tipping point in justifying gay marriage, then, is ultimately what is right for children, and whether (even given public policy choices about encouraging more adoption, especially in connection with discouraging abortion and in anti-poverty initiatives) there are enough heterosexual couples to provide families for all the children than need them.


The moral argument to enforce a child’s “birthright” to have a committed (in marriage) mother and father presumes that collective social justice is served in the long run if every child is given this fair shake. On the other hand, we kind of had this situation in the family-wage middle class society of the 1950s, along with a lot more economic workplace stability—but we had bad things like racism, segregation, conformism, patriarchy. Gay marriage would argue the practical need for adoption of hard to place children, and test whether gays could make the sacrifices needed for broader versions of social justice for children. (Some studies show that there are over 450 married heterosexual couples for each foster child in the country, so public policy would have to decide whether to encourage gay adoption, or instead to adhere to the “mother and father” model of parenting and encourage more adoption of hard-to-place children from now uninterested conventional families.  Public policy might also eventually address surrogate motherhood for gay couples.[1]  So far I have found little literature showing how well children of gay parents perform academically, especially in the climate of “no child left behind.”[2]) To the extent that some gays (especially women) really do make lifetime mutually supportive commitments to each other (and for men this has sometimes been demonstrated during the HIV epidemic), gays ought to be able to assume their “fair share” of raising the next generation (was well as caring for the last). The competitive, juvenile and sometimes mocking narcissism that the male gay community sometimes displays would undermine this premise. So at this point, we don’t know. Gay marriage would be a true social experiment, testing the scientific method. But Rosenfels, as noted already, provides encouraging ideas!


The birthright argument (as well as George W. Bush’s euphemistic “the sanctity of marriage) seems like a last stand for cultural conservatives in the culture wars. There is a certain, almost mathematical logic to it, however, that could get merciless. Break the cases down. On the outset, the argument purports to deny equal rights especially to gay people (and especially any dependent children or even elders) who want to engage in mutual economic support and commitment, normally expected (even up to “community property” in some states) for married people. Perhaps a supporter of this argument imagines, rather desperately, that this would discourage the homosexual lifestyle “choice” even for self-sufficient individuals. Such a supporter may also imagine that he or she is encouraging families to form and stay together (although families often become a cover for new kinds of unethical competition). The other piece of this argument is that gays, even singletons, dilute the effectiveness of families by competing with them in the same economic space. So, as a corollary of the birthright argument, you could (in a thought experiment) justify denying many other normal business or contract rights to gays or to people who do not take on lineage family responsibilities.


The (right-wing) political motive to buttress the heterosexual, complementarity-driven socialization process, which I largely escaped as I preferred a permanent adolescence, generates a critical test for “equal rights for gays” and even the long term prospects that gays will be able to live their own lives as they choose, following a libertarian model, without external pressures. The current world faces many challenges and stresses, some of them global and external and some of them just demographic, that may impose a certain amount of solidarity on a culture grown used to individualism.  Participation in the raising of children is a big responsibility, and those disinclined to court and marry opposite sex partners to have children may be disinclined to share this social responsibility unless some other social scheme is arranged. If gay marriage fails completely in the political (and judicial) debate, it is hard to believe (even with the recent victories like Romer and Lawrence) that the gay community will be allowed to go back to the self-absorbed “supersized fries” culture of thirty years ago (since then tempered by AIDS and all other history).  Responsibility for children will extend beyond those who create them (by “private choice”) and partly become a concern for everyone, and no one will be able to walk away from eldercare when faced with it. In stressed times, people not raising families will be expected to sacrifice for those who are.[3]  Gays would again be expected to provide the distant altruistic backup, as in eldercare; that’s how it was three generations ago. The right wing model is, you advance only through family first. (In theory, that’s why no “SIBM” – sexual intercourse before marriage – potentially procreative marriage.) A dangerous extension of this model, however, could include the idea that you only have a family if you prove you’re fit.  Collective demands and values, sadly, are likely to play a much bigger role in a troubled world than they did a decade ago.  Family responsibility now would be perceived as a collective experience; it could have a real impact on a gay person if he or she were coerced into abandoning a relationship and relocate to care for family members.  It is entirely conceivable that new legal notions of “filial responsibility” or “original family responsibility” will be proposed and developed in the coming years as “average” families come under more external economic stress and competition.  GLBT people can be pressured to give up their freedoms (such as their own relationships, living arrangements, and even career or expressive choices) to meet the needs of others, especially in the context of conventional socialization. Gay marriage, not even conceived of much until fifteen years ago (although I do remember George McGovern’s mentioning it in 1972 as a notion that could “drive the Democrats to defeat!”) seems now to call the question as to whether gays will much more like third class citizens five to ten years out than the second class citizens that they are today.


So why does this matter to me so much, when I personally have no visible plans for a legally recognized same-sex partnership or marriage myself? Because sometimes my rights and interest can take a back seat to the needs of those raising children. I’m supposed to fit in and not complain about it (making others uncomfortable) if somehow I am “taken care of.” There is no sense of dignity in under-the-table acquiescence to inferiority.


©Copyright 2004 by Bill Boushka, subject to fair use.  Email  JBoushka@aol.com


Discussion essay question (good for a political science final somewhere): Does the 2004 debate over gay marriage prevent a potentially nastier battle over gay equality in other areas? 


State by State table


Review of Jonathan Rauch’s book Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America


Review of Paul Rosenfel’s Homosexuality: The Pyschology of the Creative Process


Review of Elinor Burkett, The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless


Review of Jeffier Roback Morse, Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn’t Work.


Review of Phillip Longman, The  Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What You Can Do About It


Review of Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi. The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Mothers and Father Are Growing Broke


Review of the movie “Inside Deep Throat” and additional comment on the culture wars


It’s pretty obvious that residential zoning ordinances could be combined with anti gay marriage initiatives; see this link.


From “Procreation and homosexuality,” a Letter to the Editor of The Washington Times, Feb. 11, 2005, by Robert T. Molleur: “They [homosexuals] have chosen to discriminate against the womb of life that heterosexual moral men value as an obligatory honor and homosexual men ignore as a nuisance of nature.”  Word salad—or a powerful statement of what is really going on??

Vikram Amar and Alan Brownstein provide an article, “President Bush’s Proposed Same-Sex Marriage Amendment: Part One in a Series on Wise and Unwise Constitutional Amendments” on Feb 4, 2004 at http://writ.news.findlaw.com/commentary/20050204_brownstein.html . I mention this is my review of John R. Vile’s book on the constitutional amending process.

Jeffrey Rosen, “Supreme Futurology, Roberts v. the Future,” The New York Times Magazine, Aug. 28, 2005, discusses a number of liberty interests that make come up this century on the Supreme Court (in the light of the John G. Roberts, Jr. appointment by President Bush). One example is lie detection by brain scans, which might invade the putative right to privacy or right to be left alone, and conservatives jurists sometimes believe that this determination should be left to democratically elected legislatures A particular liberty and social responsibility area could be the use of new techniques (distantly related to the science of “cloning” or genetic manipulation) to allow persons of the same sex to mix genetic materials to conceive a child (with a surrogate mother for a male couple) allowing same-sex “sexual reproduction” but still offending the moral sensibilities of some people with a large investment in heterosexual process. 

From the script of episode 2 of 2005 Queer as Folk: “Marriage is a doomsday machine, programmed to self-destruct!”

On May 30, 2006, apparently the US Senate will reintroduce a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being only between one man and one woman. As of late May 2006, it appears that it will not have the 2/3 majority needed to go forward.

Nov. 2007. A great “breakfast joke” on The History Channel: “Marriage is a great institution for those who like institutions.”

More links:





Description of paper by Elizabeth Marquardt, “The Revolution in Parenthood: The Global Clash Between Adult Rights and Children’s Needs”, at http://www.americanexperiment.org/events/2006-09-07.php  



Back to gay marriage footnote entry


Blogspot entry on Marshall-Newman amendment in Virginia

Blogspot entry on the sacking of Rev. Ted Haggard in Colorado

Blogspot entry on Robert P. George on marriage (“Families and First Principles”, National Review, p. 31, Feb. 12, 2007)


Back to gay marriage letter to Congress


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[1] Ginia Bellafante, “Surrogate Mothers’ New Niche: Bearing Babies for Gay Couples,” The New York Times, May 27, 2005.

[3] Bill Lawrence, “Parents sought as new political force: PTA, others court group of 65 million,” USA Today, May 31, 2005, shows that parents, as a political pressure group expecting public concessions, could become more powerful than, say, the AARP. This would certainly demand “sacrifices” by non-parents.  See all note 143c at http://www.doaskdotell.com/content/wchap5.htm for notes about an ABC story about family responsibility discrimination lawsuits in the workplace.

[1] T.R. Reid, “Optimism on Both Sides of Gay-Marriage Debate,” The Washington Post, July 18, 2006 discusses the strategies in different states. Some states, such as Virginia, have tried to ban all legal recognitions that approximate marriage or confer any rights at all, and these could arguably even interfere with business relationships.  In some states, like Colorado, conservatives vary on whether to support civil unions. Sean Duffy, a Republican, heads “Coloradans for Fairness and Equality” and has supported domestic partnerships. 

[2] See the podcast notes from Cato at http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/tbroad.htm 

[3] Many religious groups pressure “the non marrying kind” to marry to preserve family appearances and respectability. In some cases gay people look for lesbians for sexless “heterosexual” marriages. Ayesha Akram, “Muslim Gays Seek Lesbians for Wives: Social Pressures Push Some into Sexless Marriage,” The Washington Post, June 24, 2006, p B9, Religious News Service. It is not uncommon for heterosexual couples probably unable to procreate and probably not intending to adopt to marry and get the legal benefits. There was a sensitive situation about a dozen years ago where I was secondarily responsible for someone's debt and jokingly coworkers said that I should "marry her"; people actually do those things sometimes.