First Things - Religion and Public Life Donate to First Things
Login forgot password? | register Close

I had wondered how politically savvy supporters of "gay marriage" would react to the recent statement entitled "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage," and how they would respond to my posting last week calling attention to the fact that the statement follows through on the logic of demands for legal recognition of same-sex unions by endorsing relationships involving multiple (i.e., more than two) sex partners. There is no same-sex marriage advocate more politically astute than Jon Rauch, and he lost no time in replying . Rauch recognizes the statement’s potential to damage his cause, and he labors mightily to stave off the harm.

He begins with a tried-and-true rhetorical maneuver. Faced with a document signed by more than three hundred prominent individuals (including many leading gay, lesbian, and transgender activists and allies) endorsing "committed, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner," Rauch declares: "There is nothing new here."

James Carville couldn’t have said it better.

According to Rauch, "left-wing radicals have been saying this stuff for years." Well, yes, left-wing radicals have been saying this stuff for years. That isn’t what’s new. What’s new¯and what Rauch wishes to divert our attention from¯is that advocates of same-sex "marriage"¯and not just radicals who oppose marriage tout court ¯are saying it and saying it out loud and in public . If I’m wrong about this, Rauch should be able to produce earlier statements in which hundreds of self-identified "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and allied activists, scholars, educators, writers, artists, lawyers, journalists, and community organizers," including notable scholars at top academic institutions and leaders of respected organizations, endorsed sexual arrangements involving three or more conjugal partners. He won’t be able to do that. The truth is that this is something new. The signatories to "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage" really are, as I said in my posting, letting the cat out of the bag.

But then Rauch makes his second¯and still bolder¯claim: "What they’re saying has no particular link to same-sex marriage." This is implausible on its face, given the title and analytical point of departure of the document. To support it, Rauch asserts that "few, if any, of the signers have been leaders in the gay marriage movement." The problem with this assertion is that it is demonstrably false¯unless one indulges in a Clintonian manipulation of the term "leader" ("it all depends on what the meaning of is is") to exclude conveniently the many same-sex marriage advocates who signed the statement. One of the signatories, Robyn Ochs, gives as her primary identification "marriage equality activist." Rauch wants to shove people like Ochs, Georgetown law professor Chai Feldblum, and other same-sex marriage advocates among the signatories off the stage in order to depict the entire lot as "radicals" who are indifferent or even hostile to marriage, and not as people who recognize that the logic of "love makes a family" ideology requires "extending" marriage and other forms of recognition to same-sex partners as well as to other "sexual minorities," including polyamorists.

Moreover, Rauch’s insinuation that many or most of the signatories are actually opponents of same-sex marriage is falsified by the statement’s explicit recognition of "the struggle for same-sex marriage rights" as "part of a larger effort to strengthen the security and stability of diverse households and families." So while it is true that the signatories want more than gay marriage¯it is part of a larger struggle¯ they want gay marriage . Like Rauch, they want marriage to be "extended" to same-sex partners. While also calling for the recognition and support of nonmarital forms of family, they "honor those for whom marriage is the most meaningful personal¯for some, also a deeply spiritual¯choice."

Rauch’s third point is actually sound, though it is of no use to his larger argument once his first two points are seen to fail. He observes that the signatories to "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage" do not want marriage to be privileged over alternative family forms. Same-sex and multiple-partner "marriages" should be recognized as marriages, they believe, because "love makes a family." But even people who are not, and perhaps cannot be, married can love each other and express that love sexually. Therefore, the signatories insist, law cannot justly treat them as if they are not a family. That is a form of invidious discrimination¯just like discrimination against same-sex partners in historic marriage law. Now one can disagree with their premise¯I certainly do¯but if we accept their premise¯a premise that is central to any principled argument for abolishing the requirement of sexual complementarity in defining the marriage¯their conclusion becomes difficult to resist.

Rauch’s fourth point is a claim that legal recognition of same-sex unions as marriages would actually serve as an impediment to the deinstitutionalization of marriage favored by those who signed "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage." This is, I believe, the reverse of the truth, but it is an empirical prediction and I am content to let Stanley Kurtz and other sociologists who dispute it present the data grounding their doubts. I will point out, however, a particularly dubious move Rauch makes in connection with this claim. He says: "Not by coincidence, ‘Beyond Marriage’ folks are pointing to the recent string of judicial defeats for SSM as evidence that gay-rights supporters should ‘rethink and redirect’ their energies away from marriage, and toward creating a host of marriage substitutes." That sentence is structured to support Rauch’s overall theme: namely, that "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage" is the work of "radicals"¯not mainstream homosexual activists and their allies¯who are indifferent or hostile to marriage and not actual supporters of extending marriage to same-sex partners and others in loving, committed relationships.

But note that the phrase "away from marriage" is not in quotation marks. What is in quotation marks are the words "rethink and redirect." So let’s look at the actual quotation. It is from a Newsweek magazine article called "The Wedding March" that refers to the "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage" statement. The person being quoted is Joseph DeFilippis, one of the authors of the statement. And what he is most definitely not saying is that he is against same-sex marriage, or that the fight for it should be abandoned in view of recent setbacks in the courts. Here is the passage from Newsweek itself, quoting DeFilippis: "The hope was to get leaders of the gay-marriage movement to ‘rethink and redirect what we’re doing,’" says Joseph DeFilippis. What "we’re" doing, mind you. Not what "they" are doing.

De Filippis identifies himself with the same-sex marriage cause, not against it. His point is not that it is a bad or unworthy or trivial cause, but that it should be part of a broader cause. DeFilippis explains elsewhere that he thinks it should not be the sole or ultimate focus of the gay movement, and that the struggle for it should not absorb all the movement’s resources. The "rethinking" and "redirecting" that Rauch would lead his readers to believe is "away from gay marriage" is, it turns out when one actually consults the source, a "rethinking" and "redirecting" toward a broader conception, which includes what he, like Jon Rauch, regards as "marriage equality."

Rauch offers a fifth and concluding claim. Referring to my posting, he says that "George claims that gay-marriage advocates ‘have made no serious effort to answer’ the argument that there’s no logical way to favor same-sex marriage and hold out against polygamy." He then asks indignantly, "On what planet? Here on earth, we have answered early and often¯and we’re still waiting for a substantive reply. If George wants to bone up, he can start here, here, here, here, and here (where he’ll find a whole chapter on the subject)." (Here is what I actually said: "For years, critics of the idea of same-sex ‘marriage’ have made the point that accepting the proposition that two persons of the same sex can marry each other entails abandoning any principled basis for understanding marriage as the union of two and only two persons. So far as I am aware, our opponents have made no serious effort to answer or rebut this point.") So I was interested to see whether the references Rauch provided really did represent serious efforts to show that one could accept same-sex marriage while still rejecting as a matter of principle, and not merely on pragmatic or prudential grounds, the idea of plural or polyamorous marriages.

What I found in the articles by Rauch and others were a set of arguments¯some strong, others weaker¯designed to show, not that polygamy as a matter of principle is incompatible with a true understanding of what marriage is , but that (in Rauch’s own words) "polygamy is a profoundly hazardous policy." So Rauch himself, for example, in the first of the articles he references (1) cites data tending to show that crime rates are higher in polygamous societies, (2) suggests that there is probably a reason (though he concedes that it may be merely a coincidence) that no polygamous society has adopted a liberal democratic form of government, and (3) asserts that the practice of polygamy tends to produce various inegalitarian and socially destabilizing effects (by, for example, leaving many men without the opportunity to marry). Of course, as a social scientist would immediately point out, we would have to control for many, many social variables in order to say with confidence that the introduction of polygamy in the circumstances of the contemporary United States would have all the bad effects Rauch wishes to attribute to polygamy in general, and that the bad social effects, whatever they would turn out to be, would outweigh the costs, including the costs to individual freedom, of continuing to prohibit polygamy. It would be an interesting study. Moreover, one would have to consider whether particular forms of limitation and regulation might enable polygamy to be practiced without some or all of the bad social effects Rauch cites. The folks at the ACLU who, as Rauch points out, have already brought a lawsuit to defend "polygamy rights" evidently think that polygamy can be practiced without the measure of social harm Rauch is concerned about.

But the point that is most relevant here is that Rauch’s arguments are about social consequences and costs, they are not about the principles that constitute marriage as such . Rauch and the authors he cites (Jon Corvino, Dale Carpenter, and Paul Varnell) do not make a serious effort to show that, as a matter of principle, marriage is an exclusive union of the sort that is incompatible with polygamy (much less polyamory). Corvino doesn’t even join Rauch in asserting that there is anything wrong with polygamy¯much less that polygamy is incompatible in principle with true marriage. Putting it in the hypothetical, he says, " If there’s a good argument against polygamy, it’s likely to be a fairly complex public-policy argument having to do with marriage patterns, sexism, economics, and the like." Carpenter clearly opposes polygamy and adduces various pragmatic and prudential considerations against it, but concludes by conceding that "perhaps none of these considerations is a decisive argument against polygamous marriages." The only author Rauch cites who even makes a wave at the problem at the level of principle is Varnell, and it is just that¯a wave. It does not rise to the level of a serious effort to show that one can accept the idea that two persons of the same sex can marry while also holding that marriage is, as a matter of principle, the exclusive union of two people who forsake all others.

Moreover, neither Rauch nor the authors he cites even addresses the issue of polyamory, which is, if anything, a harder case for them than polygamy, because many of the pragmatic and prudential considerations they cite against polygamy would not apply to polyamorous arrangements. Polyamory gets a mention in only one of the articles Rauch links to, namely, his own. And here is what he says about it: "Group love (sometimes called polyamory) is already legal, and some people freely practice it." Rauch, at least in this article, doesn’t say that there is anything wrong with polyamory, much less what is wrong with it; nor does he provide reasons for not giving polyamorous "families" some form of recognition, as the "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage" signatories demand. (The one essay Rauch mentions that I was not able to review was a chapter from his book on same-sex marriage that I could not access online. Perhaps there Rauch makes a serious effort to show that polyamory and polygamy are inconsistent with true marriage as a matter of principle. I will get hold of the book and see. It would be nice to be surprised.)

I think that Rauch did about as well as an astute "gay marriage" advocate could do in dealing with the political problem created for his cause by the "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage" statement. His response to my posting will no doubt circulate as something like a set of "talking points" for those who share his desire to get the cat back into the bag. But it won’t work. Too many "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and allied activists, scholars, educators, writers, artists, lawyers, journalists, and community organizers" are willing (and even eager) to press forward with the logic of "love makes a family." They aren’t going to shut up. They will continue making the crucial logical point that many of us who oppose the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex partners have been making for years.

(Access contributors’ biographies by clicking here .)

Show 0 comments

Tags

Loading...

Filter Web Exclusive Articles

Related Articles