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Conservative Brits on Gay Marriage
06/14/2003

The NRO writers born across the pond are discussing gay marriage in the Corner — Derb against, Stuttaford for. With all due respect (which is considerable), I think Andrew Stuttaford's first and only salvo is, well, foolish. (Derb more-politely terms it "cavalier.")

... surely comparing the 'stability' of homosexual relationships against some presumed heterosexual standard (is there such a thing?) is impossible in the absence of a legally recognized form of gay 'marriage'.

This suggestion is simply specious unless one restricts the comparison being made to a sum total. One obviously could compare unmarried heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Honestly, I don't know what the full picture looks like on either side of the inclinational divide. I can state, however, that the vast majority of heterosexual relationships (meaning longer term than casual sex) with which I've ever come into contact — either as a member or a third-party acquaintance — have involved at least the presumption of fidelity. My sense is that the same simply isn't true among homosexuals.

The first objection to what I've just written would likely be that heterosexual relationships inherently point toward marriage; however, not only is this a stretch, in my opinion, but it is also beside the point when dealing with a newly proposed social arrangement. I'll explain in response to another chunk of Stuttaford's post:

The real issue here is that the current state of the law makes it far less likely that gays will be able to establish and enjoy the advantages of long-term relationships, long-term relationships that would be good for the individual and, for those who see such matters in utilitarian terms, society.

Apologies for my dropped jaw, but is a writer for a conservative magazine really suggesting that the failure of a government to rubber stamp a personal relationship "makes it far less likely" that such a relationship can be formed? Apart from the types of ill effects that are already forbidden by law — such as those around employment — I can't fathom what currently exists in our society that would have any negative effects on two men who want to foster a caring, committed relationship — much less act as a disincentive. Are homosexuals made incapable of prolonged monogamy because they cannot file joint tax returns?

The underlying issue to which this brings the argument is the question of what "the advantages of long-term relationships" are. Is marriage a relationship of affection — involving the sharing of burdens, joys, and life's experiences — that is sufficiently important and valuable to merit work and compromise to make it lifelong? Or is it merely a contractual arrangement for the purpose of procuring such economic advantages as the only one that Stuttaford lists: the death tax exemption?

Giving Mr. Stuttaford the benefit of the doubt that he does see marriage as more than a loose matter of legal and economic convenience, I'm forced into disappointment that he would seek to avoid the entire argument — to brush it away — by means of the following:

As to the effects of such unions on the institution of marriage, I would think that they would be minimal.

To be sure, our society does not see marriage as the sacrosanct institution that it ought to be, but this factor only serves to accentuate the danger of further eroding it. So we're back to Derb's initial point: "a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for me to support 'gay marriage' would be a sure knowledge, based on reliable statistics, that homosexual unions are not much less stable than marriages currently are."

To suggest, as Stuttaford does, that homosexual unions cannot be made stable without the incentives of marriage is to limit the idea of marriage — the reason for individuals to enter into the arrangement — to its socioeconomic perks. Considering that none of those perks are contingent upon or even directly affected by duration, this is, in turn, to deny the necessity of stability. This very erosion of the idea of marriage is what opponents of gay marriage (quite reasonably) fear, and it is a factor that extends to cover separate-but-equal arrangements such as "civil unions."

Were homosexuals to strive to foster the impression that they want the relationship denoted by marriage, not just the perks, they would undermine many of the strongest objections to the legal recognition of such an arrangement. Certainly, attempting to force the issue through the wrong branch of government can only result in the opposite impression being given. Worse: it suggests that, beyond the emphasis not being on the personal, loving relationship, the advantages of marriage to society are not being considered either.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:58 PM EST