Gay Marriage and Conservatives
In 2004, opponents of gay marriage rallied to vote for a large number of state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. In 2008, California voters voted down Proposition 8, which would have legitimized same-sex marriages in that state. Gay marriage activists were stunned and upset. It hadn’t been a good half-decade for gay marriage advocates—after years of hard work trying to build support for gay marriage, only two states (Massachusetts and Connecticut) recognized same-sex marriages at the beginning of this year.
However, it appears that perhaps their work is starting to pay off. Recently, the Iowa Supreme Court decreed that the Iowa state Constitution supported the recognition of gay unions. And the Vermont legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriages.
Demographically, the situation looks encouraging for gay marriage supporters. Polls show that a majority of young people support gay marriage, and the fastest growing demographic segments mostly support gay marriage. (Of course, those things can change. A generation ago, young people seemed to spend all their time on anti-war protests and sit-ins, while now they all work in offices and vote Republican. And a generation ago, Catholics were a solidly Democratic voting bloc, while now they are more evenly split between the two parties).
These facts have generated a great deal of fuzzy logic and bad reasoning on both sides. Liberals, who tend to support gay marriage, chastise the United States for being so far behind the rest of the world on the subject of gay rights. Conservatives, on the other hand, see the advance of gay marriage as an unprecedented assault on traditional values.
Conservatives who make the latter case are partly right. Liberals who make the former case are wrong. The United States doesn’t recognize gay marriage. Neither do most countries. Great Britain doesn’t permit gay marriage. Neither do Australia, France, Portugal, Brazil, Switzerland, or any other country other than Belgium, Norway, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Spain. Apart from those seven countries, gay marriage isn’t recognized anywhere.
(Lending some credence to the liberal point, however, is the fact that many other countries do include a form of civil union for same-sex or unmarried opposite couples, a measure that strikes me as sensible and worth considering for the U.S.).
In fact, given that four states currently allow same-sex marriage, America is actually a bit more liberal towards same-sex couples than other countries. A gay couple living in Ohio can move to Massachusetts and get married, which is more than that a couple in England can do.
True, most states don’t recognize gay marriage, and neither does the federal government. But that doesn’t make the U.S. much different from most other countries, and the fact remains that it is easier for a gay couple to get married in America than in France.
Conservatives see gay marriage as a great threat, striking at the heart of all tradition moral norms. They see permitting gay marriages as making the institution of marriage meaningless, divorcing it from its traditional meaning, as well as from childbearing.
They are right, to an extent. But the advent of gay marriage is a symptom, not a disease. If gay marriage is recognized, then it is so because the institution of marriage is already meaningless. About fifty percent of heterosexual marriages end in divorce; cohabitation and illegitimate pregnancies are universally accepted. If marriage is supposed to be a permanent union, or supposed to exist for the purpose of providing a stable, loving home for children, then marriage as the Western world knows it has no meaning at all. Gay marriage isn’t a threat to traditional marriage—you can’t threaten something that doesn’t exist.
Conservatives can go ahead and protest gay marriage, and pass constitutional amendments and lobby state supreme courts all they want to. But their efforts will be in vain unless American (and Western) society returns to a more traditional view of marriage, in which marriage is viewed as permanent and the only acceptable way to raise a family. Until then, trying to fight gay marriage is, in the long run pointless.