|The Marrying Kind
Same-sex marriage? The idea is, in one sense, breathtaking. Since the word "marriage" has always denoted a male-female pairing, can so fundamental an institution be redefined so radically, so quickly?
In another sense, however, such a change seems utterly innocuous. Whom, after all, would it hurt? It is an essentially conservative act to encourage couples, whether gay or straight, to settle down and take responsibility for each other. Isn't it wrong for the same right-wing activists who have decried gay promiscuity to now deny gay love and commitment?
If the religious right succeeded three years ago in getting middle Americans worked up over gays in the military, one can only imagine what it can accomplish with same-sex marriage, which has become an issue because Hawaii may soon sanction such unions.
At a recent Christian Coalition rally in Iowa, broadcast on C-Span, the audience was shown a videotape on same-sex marriage. It contained no rational arguments, only mendacious emotional appeals. It cut back and forth between idealized Hallmark card images of wholesome-looking brides and grooms -- who, truth to tell, bore little resemblance to the mostly dour people in attendance -- and Gay Pride Day shots of screaming, bare-chested leathermen -- who bore little resemblance to most gay men (and no resemblance to lesbians).
The video was crude and grotesquely dishonest, but looking into the faces of the audience one could see its effectiveness. These people apparently wanted to believe that their own marriages and families, however dysfunctional, were like those Hallmark images. They also wanted to believe in those stereotypical notions of homosexuals. The video helped people feel that they had something precious in their lives, something worth defending -- and that somebody was trying to take it away.
This is the essence of the argument against same-sex marriage: that it is an assault on the sanctity and integrity of heterosexual marriage. The argument is irrational but viscerally powerful.
Given a few years to discuss same-sex marriage, Americans might be able to recognize where fairness lies. But we won't have the luxury of years of discussion. Hawaii's Supreme Court will almost certainly legalize same-sex marriage by the end of 1997. Two state legislatures have voted to deny recognition of these marriages; 19 are considering such measures.
Under the circumstances, it's especially urgent that there be articulate heterosexual champions of same-sex marriage speaking out against the Christian Coalition. For instance, when the Iowa House of Representatives debated a bill banning such unions, Representative Ed Fallon told his colleagues: "There isn't a limited amount of love in Iowa. It isn't a nonrenewable resource. Marriage licenses aren't distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Heterosexual couples don't have to rush out and claim marriage licenses now, before they are all snatched up by gay and lesbian couples."
If there is any hope for same-sex marriage, it lies in the expectation that other political and religious leaders will have the courage to follow in Mr. Fallon's footsteps. Yet who will carry that message? In 1993, during the controversy over gays in the military, a gratifying number of prominent heterosexuals, in and out of the armed forces, stood up against bigotry. This time around, however, outspoken support of the sort offered by Mr. Fallon has been rare.
Will this silence end? Or is same-sex marriage so explosive an issue that even usually reliable champions of equal rights for homosexuals will dodge the duties of moral leadership?
THE NEW YORK TIMES, 8 March 1996