Gay Marriage

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
April 4 1997 12:30 AM

Gay Marriage

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Dear David,

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       Your first point first. I'm sorry but, whatever your assumptions about liberal judges, the right to marry and the right to adopt are logically, politically, and legally separate issues. I have no problem with either, but it doesn't make any sense to say you have to oppose one to oppose the other. To reiterate the obvious analogy: There are many regulations related to race in adoption--on the question of whether white couples, or black couples, or mixed-race couples, can adopt black, or white, or mixed-race children. These regulations make distinctions between couples all the time--indeed such distinctions are the bread and butter of adoption law. And these regulations are obviously a separate issue from whether a black person has the right to marry a white person, or whether marriage licenses should be doled out on the basis of race. Why shouldn't the same distinction apply to same-sex adoption and marriage?
       Now to your more substantive point. You claim that I am indifferent to the fate of the institution of marriage as a whole, and merely want to help an organized group feel "happy," whatever the social consequences. I'm sorry you feel this way. The truth is I'm not at all indifferent to the fate of marriage as a whole, but I cannot for the life of me see what terrible damage same-sex marriage would actually do to it. Would it accelerate divorce rates? I cannot see how. The only country with anything like comparable legal protections for gay couples, Denmark, has actually seen lower divorce rates among same-sex couples than among heterosexual ones. In many ways, I think, the inclusion of more people into the institution might actually have the opposite effect, sending a message about matrimonial responsibility and mutual caring to the entire society, rather than to merely 97 percent of it. Would it harm children? Why on earth should it? Are the kids of a heterosexual family going to be harmed by meeting other kids who are the legitimate children of a gay couple down the street? After an exhaustive search for my reader, I couldn't find any studies that persuasively showed that children who are brought up by gay parents are any less well adjusted than their heterosexually reared peers. As for the notion that I have argued for same-sex marriage only for the sake of homosexuals, I suggest you take another look at what I've written. Here are a few of the advantages of same-sex marriage for the society as a whole that I have laboriously spelled out: lower rates of promiscuity among gay men, more stable homes for the children of gay parents, less trauma in families with gay offspring, lower rates of disease transmission, more independent and self-reliant members of society, etc., etc. These aren't appeals to sympathy; they're arguments that same-sex marriage would be good for all of us--and for conservative reasons to boot.
       Your only point that makes coherent sense is that marriage is about enforcing traditional gender roles, and that same-sex marriage would further erode these roles. I think you may have a point there. The image of two men or two women in a marriage could, I think, be a vivid symbol to many heterosexuals of what true equality in a marriage could be about, and it could help many heterosexual women further realize their dignity and equality in a relationship of mutual love and commitment. Still, I don't exactly see this as a social or human disaster. And I think its impact on heterosexual marriage would be minuscule compared to, say, the advent of available contraception, or women's large-scale entry into the workplace in the 1970s and 1980s, or abortion on demand. In fact, I think the most remarkable thing about the advent of equal marriage rights would be how little would actually change in heterosexual marriage. The sky would surely not fall. Indeed, it's precisely because the far right fears this that they're so desperate to stop it happening anywhere, even in one tiny, distant state, because their scare stories about the apocalypse would be shown to be completely hollow.
       You say that your denial of marriage rights to a young lesbian girl is not your fault; it's her fault because she's gay. And you pleasantly analogize being gay and married to being blind in the Indy 500. But what if the blind driver shows that he is perfectly capable of being in the race, even winning? What if he drives skillfully and passes every relevant qualification for entry? Wouldn't his extraordinary capacity to be a part of the race be something to celebrate rather than condemn? Wouldn't he be an American hero? Yet this is exactly the case with gay people and their capacity for commitment, care, and responsibility for each other. Rather than panicking over their support for this institution, why not welcome them with open arms, and celebrate their desire to be a part of this as the biggest vote of confidence marriage has received in a generation? Your answer is definitional: Two people of the same sex cannot be married because marriage requires a man and a woman. But you still haven't persuaded me why this is necessarily so. As we've seen, the ability to produce children cannot be the reason, since we allow childless marriages, and marriages for the old and infertile. In a world where some husbands stay at home and some wives work, it cannot be because traditional gender roles are integral to the right to marry. So what is it exactly? Beats me. You huff and puff with every digression you can find--from Oedipus to divorce--but what it seems to come down to is that you are simply horrified at the notion that two blank names, without the prefixes Mr. and Mrs., might be required on a child's school form identifying her two parents. Well, I guess what I'm asking you to do is take a deep breath and examine whether there really is any rational basis for your horror. Or whether it is simply fear of the unknown and the different. Surely, the children of two gay parents have just as much a right to two legitimate parents as anyone else, especially when those parents are just as much capable of love, responsibility, and support as any heterosexual. (Oh, and by the way, you wonder what you would call the lesbian mother of her wife's biological child. How about "Mom"?)
       When you are done panicking, your argument basically comes down to the notion that the burden of proof rests squarely on those proposing this "revolutionary change." It is up to them to prove that no possible evil can come from it. But of course, there's no way I can prove that no conceivable bad consequences won't follow from such a change. It's impossible to prove a negative. I can merely argue that I see no reason why bad things should happen, and there is no evidence to suggest that they will. But I can also argue that you have the issue entirely backward. This is not, after all, a minor right that a group of citizens are demanding, like the right to shop on Sundays, or watch network television on a cable channel. It is a right that you have never, once in your life, ever considered could be taken away from you. It is a right that you have taken for granted from the very beginning of your social being, a right that is embedded in every heterosexual's consciousness as something that is utterly inalienable from their humanity, their future, and their citizenship.
       Here's how the Supreme Court described it in Loving vs. Virginia: "The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men. ... Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival." Or again in Griswold vs. Connecticut: "We deal with a right ... older than the Bill of Rights--older than our political parties, older than our school system." Or, to quote Hannah Arendt, "Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs." When a right is this vital, this profound, this important, does not the burden of proof rest with those who seek to deny it rather than those who seek to secure it?
       The truth is: Gay people do not, properly speaking, seek the right to marry. We are already guaranteed it by the Constitution of the United States. It is you who seek to deny a group of people, for no good reason, a right that is theirs from birth. If homosexuals were denied the right to vote, it would not be up to me to argue that no possible harm could come from our being admitted into the political system, and come begging at the door for consideration of such a revolutionary change. It would be up to you to justify this obvious and flagrant denial of fundamental equality. But the right to marry is, in many ways, more fundamental than the right to vote! You suggest that this is merely an attempt to make me and my friends happy. But we are not asking for this out of sympathy. And we have no illusions that these responsibilities will make us instantly happy. We are demanding the right to marry in the same way and for the same reason that the founders of this country demanded it--because it is impossible to conceive of the right to pursue happiness without the right to marry the person you love. And the pursuit of happiness is not some 1960s-style self-indulgent cop-out. It is the birthright of every American. Which is why this change will eventually, I think, come to seem as natural and as patriotic and as inevitable as the previous milestones in the civil-rights movement. And why eventually, I fear, you will look back, like so many conservatives in the past, and wish you had been on the winning side.

Sincerely,
Andrew

David Frum is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard. He is the author of What's Right. Andrew Sullivanis a senior editor at the New Republic and editor of Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con, a reader published next month by Vintage Books.

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