In a controversial recent piece in the Wall Street Journal (“Gay Marriage is Good for America”, June 22) Jonathan Rauch hails the benefits of matrimony in terms that most conservatives will enthusiastically endorse.
“Marriage makes you, on average, healthier, happier and wealthier,” he writes. “If you are a couple raising kids, marrying is likely to make them healthier, happier and wealthier, too. Marriage is our first and best line of defense against financial, medical and emotional meltdown.”
No fair-minded observer can argue against any of these observations, but at this point Mr. Rauch makes a logical leap that involves some neat rhetorical sleight-of-hand. Concerning the institution of marriage, he suggests that “its absence can be calamitous, whether in inner cities or gay ghettos. In 2008, denying gay Americans the opportunity to marry is not only inhumane, it is unsustainable.”
The weak point in this argument is the attempt to use the term “marriage” when he really means “long-term relationships.” Not all committed, long-term relationships are marriages. And not all marriages result in committed, long-term relationships (unfortunately).
In other words, it’s true that the absence of lasting relationships has proven “calamitous” for inner cities, but the heterosexual couples in those communities enjoy full access to the institution of marriage. The problem of “baby mamas” and their irresponsible impregnators doesn’t reflect a denial of “marriage rights”—it stems from a lack of commitment.
It’s not “marriage” – some magical status granted by the government – that serves to make people “healthier, happier and wealthier.” It’s the behavior associated with the marital ideal that brings benefits to couples and their children. That behavior doesn’t require official sanction – any more than official sanction guarantees such behavior.
Jonathan Rauch begins his column with reference to Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, “the pioneering gay rights activists who have been a couple for more than 50 years,” and who became the first lesbians to wed under California’s new dispensation. The elderly pair told USA TODAY that they weren’t even interested in marriage until other activists “pushed them into it.” Did their romantic life together (apparently enjoying the manifold benefits of a long-lasting, committed relationship) somehow suffer because the state of California never before granted them a marriage license?
On the other side of the ledger, consider some dysfunctional couple, gay or straight, with the lovers engaged in the angry, selfish, unreliable behavior that destroys relationships. Will a wedding license from city hall somehow redeem or stabilize this shaky partnership?
The problem with the Rauch argument and the biggest threat from same sex marriage itself involves flagrant distortion of the “magic ingredient” for lasting, socially beneficial relationships.
That ingredient isn’t governmental authorization or support. It is, rather, the uniting of male and female strengths and values in a durable combination.
Men and women are different –profoundly, irreducibly, eternally. It is ridiculous and dishonest to suggest they are interchangeable in relationships. This undeniable truth obliterates the notion that a guy who takes another guy as life partner instead of a woman is just expressing his personal preference – like choosing a blonde over a brunette, or a Latino over an Asian.
Neither race nor hair color determines an individual’s essence, his or her mode of expressing and experiencing humanity. Gender, on the other hand, influences everything – and all recent research (without exception) brings new revelations about its physiological, psychological, intellectual and even spiritual importance.
A couple that blends male and female is fundamentally different from a couple with two men – just as that male-only relationship is distinct from a partnership of two women.
American society has awakened to the terrible costs and dangers of fatherless households – and Barack Obama delivered an eloquent church sermon about the problem on father’s day.
He neglected to mention, however, that every child-rearing lesbian couple is, by definition, a fatherless household, just as every gay male couple is even more unthinkable (in terms of raising offspring) as a motherless household.
This obvious fact makes clear the fatuity in Jonathan Rauch’s suggestion that it’s a wedding license that makes the children raised by married partners “healthier, happier and wealthier.” Wouldn’t the presence of a mother constitute a more important element than government recognition? Wouldn’t the constant influence of a father (along with a mother) count for more than the approval of a city hall clerk?
Consider some of the high profile heterosexual couples who have refused to get married. I don’t endorse the politics of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, but given their long-standing and apparently stable commitment, I don’t think their kids have suffered because they never legalized their relationship.
By the same token, I don’t believe that the children of Rosie O’Donnell and her partner will be able to make up for the lack of a father’s love through a change of bureaucratic policy in California or any other state.
When Jonathan Rauch laments the “calamitous” situation in “gay ghettos” he provides an eloquent description of a dark reality. He says “it is a world marked by heightened fear of loneliness or abandonment in crisis or old age; a world in some respects not even civilized because marriage is the foundation of civilization. This was the world I grew up in. The AIDS quilt is its monument.”
He wants his readers to believe that the missing factor in this dysfunctional subculture is governmental sanction for marriage when in truth that absent element is women.
The promiscuity, instability and irresponsibility he rightly associates with gay male enclaves don’t apply to lesbians or their neighborhoods. Statistics indicate that even without marriage licenses, lesbian relationships already prove at least as stable and lasting as opposite-sex connections (consider Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon).
It’s the female perspective and influence, not legal status, that civilizes couples (just ask my wife) as well as societies.
The problem with the Jonathan Rauch prescription is that he seeks to heal the ills of gay male culture and relationships with a meaningless solution (a marriage license) at the same time that he ignores and in fact denies the one addition that makes a lasting, eternal difference – the melding of male and female in long-term, loving commitment.