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February 9, 2004

Something I Need to Work On

AM 630 WPRO talk host Dan Yorke just roped me into listening to his show for longer than just my round-trip to the post office, which is my habit. He's talking about gay marriage, and he told an anecdote about a friend of his. The friend was thinking about leaving his wife, and Yorke suggested therapy, not even thinking to suggest a priest (they're both Catholic), an oversight that blamed on the Church.

Well, to get to the point: I emailed him, hoping to make a reasonable statement, but for the second time in my interaction with his show, Mr. Yorke read the preliminary buildup but stopped at the sentence at which my argument began. It's largely my fault; my initial rhetoric is far too stringent, considering the dynamic and relative power inherent in the format. But here's the email, which Mr. Yorke stopped reading when he got to "not unlike a job."

Dan,

I've resisted calling in regarding the gay marriage matter because I don't even know where to start. Frankly, I don't even think you're asking the right question. It isn't a question of whether a particular gay marriage will harm your marriage; it's a question of the larger institution. It's more about your daughter's marriage, someday, than yours.

There are a variety of arguments that I'll leave aside just now, but I think your story about your friend creates an opening. First, the fact that you see your failure to advise your friend to see a priest as the fault of the Church illustrates how little you see marriage as a crucial matter of one's life and relationship with God, taking it to be a secular responsibility not unlike a job. Second, the fact that your friend is considering leaving his wife because "it's not there anymore" and it's "like being married to his sister" shows how much marriage has become a contract of romantic love rather than a commitment to stability no matter what.

That second point relates to the central factor that gives the government any legitimate reason to dabble in affairs of the heart in the first place: children. I don't know whether your friend has children or not, but civil marriage is a pointless exercise if it doesn't keep couples together even when they feel compelled to leave, and the reason that it doesn't do so as effectively as it once did is that we have this idea that it's all about passion and romantic love. On the basis of their biology, folding homosexuals into the institution --- at least for now, and particularly by judicial activism --- would write adult love into the law as the only defining attribute of civil marriage.

If it's all about adult love, then the government has no place getting mixed up in it. If it's only about mutual care, then any two people, or group of people, have a claim, and marriage means nothing.

I can promise you that I will never feel myself justified in writing self-help books about making friends and networking. I also suspect that my declining devotion to talk radio is a trend founded in wisdom.

But I'll tell ya: the broader, most reasonable arguments against gay marriage are locked out of the Rhode Island media, as far as I've been able to tell.

ADDENDUM:
Incidentally, I'm sure the gay marriage issue is going to hit Rhode Island in the not-too-distant future, and if the debate remains as one-sided as it is now, I don't see much room for hope.

On further reflection, it seems to me that the long pause when Yorke stopped reading my email could have indicated that he read more and decided that it didn't make the point he wanted to make. He also did little more than scoff off my point about what the real question should be. Adding that observation to my having been disconnected before hitting the air on the same issue a while back makes me wonder how much of the publicly aired debate is being deliberately crafted by WPRO, as it obviously is by the print media. This strikes me as among the most dangerous attributes of the gay marriage battle.

My reach isn't very far, but — perhaps contradictory to what one would expect — it's even less far within the context of Rhode Island. If anybody's got any ideas about ways to force the other side of the debate — which conforms with the majority opinion, after all — into the public view, I'd love to hear them.

Posted by Justin Katz at February 9, 2004 5:19 PM
Marriage & Family