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    Your private life drama / Baby, leave me out

    If the push for gay marriage does not express people’s longing for self-esteem-boosting through government policy, why is it that I read something like this at least once every few weeks?

    The second argument against civil unions as an intermediate step to marriage is that civil unions send the unacceptable message that gays are second-class citizens. Civil unions, says Stanback, are “a firm message that we are less deserving of dignity, respect, and rights than other citizens and taxpayers.” Marriage, by contrast, “is a universally respected cultural, legal, and social institution,” she notes. “Very, very few opposite-sex couples would trade their marriage for something called a civil union.”

    All of that is true and counsels against being satisfied, in the end, with anything short of marriage.

    You know, I’ve read this stuff very carefully. I’ve reread it. I’ve hung myself like a bat from the side of my bed and looked at it upside-down to make sure I’m seeing all the angles. I still come back to a point Eric Scheie made at Classical Values some months ago:

    Homosexuality is not heterosexuality. There are many differences between gay and straight relationships. The laws and social mores designed for the heterosexual scheme of things reflect these differences. I see no reason why homosexuals should feel the need to ape heterosexuals, and even less reason why they should be forced to do so. This is my biggest objection to same sex marriage.

    One of the things that frustrate me about this is the way gay activism constantly hoovers up the stalest, least wholesome feminist crumbs. For decades, political-action feminism argued that women and men are the same (there were certainly Mary Daly-type nutcases arguing to other academics that women were different in a superior way, but they didn’t affect social policy any more than Michael Warner does), and that anyone who defended social and legal distinctions of any kind between them was a tool of the Evil Dominant Culture. You may have noticed that none of this changed the fact that women have children and men do not, that we have different hormonal systems and biological strengths and weaknesses.

    I’m talking about general patterns, obviously–only a troglodyte wants to go back to the days when a woman with a bent for theoretical physics rather than mothering was coerced into choosing an unsuitable vocation just to make everyone else happy. Parenthood is the single most important job in civilization; but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to be a parent to live a worthwhile life. We wouldn’t be a civilization without creating and maintaining lots of systems and artifacts that are quite unnatural, in the sense that they wouldn’t occur if we left the world to its own brute devices. The problem was that feminism didn’t stop at making the point that she should be allowed to choose or to strike such balances as were feasible. It said that society should make the choice painless and that women who left the lab for the nursery were thereby expressing lack of self-respect.

    So let’s see…what’s gay activism up to right about now? Society should make gay relationships eligible for marriage so we know we’re respected, and if you supported President Bush for reelection or you don’t support gay marriage, you’re not self-respecting.

    [Gets self another Scotch so he can bear to continue. Okay. Back. Mmmm…peat.]

    The thing is–or one thing is–these arguments about respect always end up arriving at assertions that we love our partners, we take care of our partners, and we’re not all promiscuous. These are all good things to affirm. But when you use them as underpinnings for social policy (illustrated by Andrew Sullivan’s moist-eyed NYT article “Integration day” with statements such as “Gay couples will be married in Massachusetts � their love and commitment and responsibility fully cherished for the first time by the society they belong to”), it seems to me that you’re essentially saying, “Approve of my sex life, please.” Can’t imagine why that would fail to convince anyone that we’re not deserving of dignity.

    After all, if it’s “love and commitment” we’re worried about, why shouldn’t two friends (we all have friends we adore to pieces and would take a bullet for) who’ve decided to form a household, because neither has plans to marry and they’re content with each other, be able to take responsibility for each other that includes health insurance and hospital visitation? Or be able to have one vouch for the other’s application for permanent residency as a non-citizen? Okay, that second one would need careful consideration, but I don’t think it’s risible on its face.

    When I read articles by gays built around gloopy declarations of how much they love their partners, designed to show our worthiness for marriage, I find it frankly humiliating. Such writing probably does sometimes convince a few straight people that we actually do fall in love and care for each other. I think it also serves an important function in letting gays who are in the very fragile first stages of coming out know that there’s something worth shooting for beyond easily-obtainable sex and drug kicks. Where I draw the line–where I cannot imagine not drawing the line–is at some point before we start talking about the power of government to confer dignity.

    14 Responses to “Your private life drama / Baby, leave me out”

    1. Eneils Bailey says:

      Good post, now put your talon away.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      No-go, honey–we were claws-out on this one, and we’re not entirely ready to retract ’em.

    3. Lucy says:

      I’ve not been here before (I don’t think), finding it today for the first time from DeansWorld.
      What lovely coherent style! And, ya gotta love a blog that thinks this post is all “claws out”.
      I’ll definitely be back :)

    4. Jim Ausman says:

      Gays and straights have a different set of rights accorded to them, by government fiat. This is fundamentally unjust, in my opinion.
      If the idea of civil unions ware set up so that they conferred exactly the same rights as marriage, that would alleviate the injustice, but even if a legislature made such a law it would have to wend its way through numerous court cases to become valid.
      We already have a legal institution were two people form a contract for life: it is called marriage. I see no need to create another one.
      On the other hand, if that is the only way my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters can get their rights, then I am all for civil unions. I understand that the word “marriage” has religious connotations to some people and that more than anything is what they object to.
      By the way, I like your tone, too. I will be back.

    5. Adam says:

      You know, Sean, you’re right. Gay people don’t need the government to validate their relationships by granting a civil marriage.
      So how come straight people need that so much?

    6. Deanna Barr says:

      Hey, I came here through Dean’s World, too!
      There are any number of ways two people (same sex or not) can be in a relationship. I, for instance, have been in a committed relationship for nigh close to 17 years, and there’s no way I’d consider marriage, because getting married entails signing a contract with the government.
      So, I’m heterosexual and in a relationship, but I don’t receive any of the benefits accorded a married couple, either. I would love to be married in the sense of proclaiming our love for each other and having it sanctioned by the church and witnessed by our family and friends (not to mention the great party afterwards), but I won’t be party to another contract with the government. Did that once, won’t do it again.
      Personally, I think marriage as a political institution should be done away with. Civil unions, not unlike a partnership contract, could be entered into by anyone (two, three, more people), so that legal issues upon dissolution could be handled, as well as legal issues regarding inheritance, medical power of attorney, etc. “Marriage” is a religious institution, and as such the government has no business in it.
      If two people want to get married, have at it if their church approves. If two (or more) people want to enter into a civil contract and reap the benefits accorded by the government for such a union, great. Want both? So be it.
      It seems the only fair way to not discriminate against one group of American citizens over another.

    7. Gee, you don’t think society confers benefits on married couples because they produce children, do you? Could it be that simple? Why is that not a perfectly legitimate difference between real and pretend marriage?
      And, yes, I’ve considered adoptive children and childless couples. Exceptions prove the rule only in the sense of putting it to the test, but this rule, that marriage is all about producing blood-related children, is the most obvious and long-tested rule in the history of the world. I can’t believe I even have to enunciate it.

    8. Adam says:

      Jim: Well said.
      Deanna: I think “marriage” should be taken out of government as well. But conservatives these days will give up “marriage” by the state only when you (as Charlton Heston would say) pry it from their cold, dead hands.
      Robert: Well, then we should disallow all civil marriages where the participants are not of childbearing age. And they should be required to sign a pledge that they will at least attempt to procreate for, say the first five years of marriage. That’s a good start, anyway, in enforcing your worldview, since everything else is a “pretend marriage.”
      And can’t unmarried people procreate? Yeah, I think they can, last I checked. And what about all those conservatives carping about poor black women having too many babies – was allowing them to marry a mistake?
      So really – is “they make babies” the best argument you have?

    9. John Anderson says:

      States actually make “civil union” contracts, but since for many centuries it was an adjunct or replacement for religious “marriage” the State just adopted that as the language to use, Sloppy, but not something much thought about until recently.
      The State recognizes a union in order to make certain things automatic – originally (pre-Empire Republic of Rome) primarily concerned with inheritance, providing a formula for distribution of an estate in the absence of a will. But marriage is, I think, religious: so the State allows certain religious figures (far from all, here in RI for example no Shintoist need apply) to be licensed to sign the State’s contract in lieu of a Judge or other State employee.
      Now, many other things are connected with the State’s contract, eg being considered “family” by other than a blood relationship and allowed to visit a dying partner in the Intensive Care Unit. I see no reason to deny such things to homosexuals except stagnation and distaste.
      But “marriage” per se is not the business of the State, rather the religious groups. Change the secular law by declaring the State’s contract to be a “civil union”, replacing references to “marriage”, and argue that the State should allowa for more types of such unions, but fight for “marriage” within the religious group of your choice.

    10. John says:

      “hoovers up”
      Sean, you’ve been hanging around too many Aussie and Brit ex-pats over there. When I finally meet you, you’ll probably say “conTROversy” and “aluMINium” in a flat, Eastern PA accent and drive me nuts with cognitive dissonance… 😉

    11. TJ Jackson says:

      First time here and enjoyed your analysis and style. I hope your substances measures up, so far it is superior.

    12. Sean Kinsell says:

      “And, ya gotta love a blog that thinks this post is all ‘claws out.'”
      Genetically, my little brother got my mother’s boiling Polishness, and I got my father’s unflappable Englishness. The angrier I get, the more glacial my demeanor becomes. This is what “claws out” usually looks like for me.
      “So how come straight people need that so much?”
      But marriage really doesn’t guarantee that even for straight people. When my parents were married (in 1971!), their parents were dead set against the match. My mother was Catholic and my father Anglican. There are people who still believe racial intermarriage is wrong, or that That Woman our beloved Steven go himself attached to is a tramp and doesn’t deserve to be treated like the rest of the wives in the family. I hope they’re not being quite this simple-minded, but when gay activists talk about getting respect and approval from society through marriage, do they really think that no one will say, “To another MAN? That’s not a marriage, pal!”
      Now, you could flip-flop here and say that, well, that’s why marriage is a legal thing–so that, whether other people like your partnership or not, you have certain rights. Okay, so then there are other questions: for one, marriage as it currently exists is the obvious pre-made template to use for a new kind of civil union, but does that mean the only just thing to do is expand marriage to include gays? Also, is there a way to ensure gay couples can care for each other that will lessen the chances that, say, disapproving medical personnel won’t find a clever way to prevent a woman from tending to her partner on her deathbed?
      I’m used to being called a neo-con, a traitor, a cold bitch, and a closet case (that one I don’t get) for saying stuff like this–not on-line, but in person. I can only assure you that I’m doing so not because I get off on being a hard-ass. We have to anticipate and prepare for the harshest possibilities, and I don’t think current arguments for gay marriage, with their soft-focus romantic winsomeness, are doing that very well.
      Robert Speirs:
      I don’t know whether your comment was directed at me, but I thought I had kind of covered procreation in passing. I didn’t dwell on it because, as you say, the distinction is obvious.
      John Anderson:
      I think you’re technically right, but I don’t know in practice how much that would help. I’m assuming that if you somehow committed a crime by way of misrepresenting yourself as “married,” you wouldn’t be able to get off the hook by arguing that you’d never falsely stated you were “bound in lawful matrimony,” or whatever different government bodies use as the official designation.
      BTW, resident Japanese can’t get a shinto ceremony in Rhode Island? Interesting. Is it because there are too many fakers around (fake clerics, I mean, not fake Japanese)?
      I think my accent and diction were shot long ago. My biggest problem, not surprisingly, is syntax and vocabulary warped by exposure to Japanese. Given the overwhelming force of that particular influence, I don’t know that Brit Commonwealth expats I know have had much of an effect.

    13. John says:

      English and Polish, huh? You know it was a mixtures of Scottish and Polish immigrant accents that created the abomniable Pittsburgh accent, right? I believe it’s the third or fourth ugliest accent in the English language after New Jersey, NYC (some peopple count those as one) and Cockney.

    14. Sean Kinsell says:

      Well, my people in England are from Birmingham and Liverpool, so we were doomed to lack of euphony from the start.