One used to see a great deal more of this kind of rhetoric :
Instead of applying its impressive muscle to creating an alternative to this hoary, unsecular, historically sexist, and needlessly restrictive institution, the movement instead opted to perpetuate it. If the status quo could be expanded to include same-sex couples too, the GLBT community would withdraw its challenge to matrimonys monopoly on the legal recognition of committed relationships.
Those of us who eagerly awaited a legally robust alternative institution are the losers. The GLBT movement was the only constituency on todays horizon with the power to force that sort of reform. In all likelihood, no strong and legal alternative to marriage will be achieved during our lifetimes.
How times have changed! What can account for the dramatic change in objectives of the GLBT movement in the United States? I think Andrew Sullivan gets it half right when he says :
there are some minimal tangible social goods associated with marriage that I believe would be enormously beneficial for gays and straights: the institution encourages stability and commitment in an emotional and sexual world which often pulls us away from that. It encourages shared sacrifice; it instills the disciplines of shared living; it promotes thrift; it integrates gay people into their own families and society;
Pace Eve Tushnet , who would argue that all conceptions of the good are ultimately religious, the goods Sullivan is identifying here are both secular (or at least non-denominational) and civic. The common rejoinder from those who oppose efforts to expand the traditional definition of marriage is usually a variant of “how dare you walk all over our religious tradition in pursuit of your secular good!” And yet that objection lost traction when religious men and women made the tactical error of yoking their religious tradition to secular institutions. This is a heck of a pickle. Is there any way out?
I suspect that there is, if not a way out, then at least a temporary respite grounded in the observation that the only reason why marriage is even palatable to disordered moderns is that the meaning of marriage has already been twisted beyond recognition. Marriage is taken lightly. Marriage is viewed as nothing more than an agreement between two consenting adults. What is so shocking about Sullivan’s argument is actually its relative rarity. Far more common these days are arguments rooted either in the rhetoric of equality or the rhetoric of contracts. In that sense, Sullivan is actually quite refreshing. He gets (even if he won’t come out and say it) that marriage has power because it is ultimately rooted in the sacred.
So, in the interest of seeing how far the ‘conservative case for gay marriage’ actually goes, I invite Andrew Sullivan to tell me whether or not he would push a button that resulted in:
A. The elected representatives of the several states and the United States Congress instituting legal recognition for same-sex marriages.
B. The elected representatives of the several states repealing laws that allow for no-fault divorce.
C. The elected representatives of the several states capping the number of times one may be married at something fairly permissive (say, four times).
I’m also curious to see how my fellow right-wing Christians feel about this. I already know what the libertarians will say. I’m tentatively gung-ho about pushing the button. I suspect that it would strengthen both the civil and the religious aspects of marriage — preserving the tension inherent in what is a hybrid state/religious institution without resolving things too definitively towards either side. Furthermore, I think we tend to underestimate how detrimental no-fault divorce actually is; repealing it would have ameliorative effects both culturally (say goodbye to the ‘two consenting adults’-theorists) and empirically .
Come on, oh conservative supporters of same-sex marriage, show us how conservative you really are!