The part of my brain that does the writing can be annoying; it is often difficult for to sit down and write about what I mean to write about – often the topics seem to select themselves, and I just come along for the ride.
In this case, I meant to finish a pretty unfavorable commentary I’m writing on George Soros’ article on Iraq in this month’s Atlantic. ‘The Bubble of American Supremacy,’ and instead started writing about the recent Massachusetts court decision on gay marriage.
As is typically the case with me, I have three responses which somewhat collide, so writing this is a chance for me to try and set them out and see what evolves (probably why I’d rather write this than comment on Soros’ article; I already know why that’s wrong).
The facts, law, and politics, are already well covered by others, so I’ll make a quick point of information, than start rolling. Here’s the news: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided this week that denying gay couples the right to marry was unconstitutional, and ordered the legislature and executive branch to come up with something in the next 180 days.
Here are the three perspectives: One is broadly social, and talks about why it is that I support gay marriage and think that it should be legal. One is moral, and talks about the thorny issues that are presented when rights collide with deep-seated beliefs. And the final one is deeply personal, and I hope will explain why it is that I will always personally support gay marriage.
On the social front, I’ll suggest that we spend all too much time focusing on the wrong part of the body – the crotch – and not enough on the part that matters – the heart – of those involved. This is a part of the broader issues I have with the way society deals with sex, and with the collapse of traditional sexual norms and the fact that nothing has stepped forward to replace them.
Look, it’s like this. What is marriage about? It’s about a deep commitment between two people who promise to care about and for each other. Historically, it has been tied to sex and procreation – which means heterosexual sex – but that tie is eroding, in the face of the increasing sexualization of society.
Eroding? It’s eroded, folks. Paris Hilton may be ‘deeply shamed’ by the release of her self-made video; but the next celebrity won’t be, and soon we’ll have migrated celebrity to something like Gibson’s character Tally Isham, whose entire life (especially the naughty bits) becomes the subject of a reality show. Soon we’ll be just a credit card away from the weekend cavorts of our media stars, whose stardom will be reinforced, not destroyed, by granting us this access.
Please don’t take me for some kind of neopuritan – I’m not, and my own history (two marriages and divorces, with a variety of relationships stacked around them) doesn’t exactly make me the poster boy for durable relationships. But hey, I’m trying…
The old models are broken, and we can do two things – we can fight a rearguard action to try and reclaim them, or we can look at them anew, try to see what it is that we saw of real value in them, and forge new models that include those things.
What it is that matters in a marriage? Commitment. Duration. Primacy. It is a commitment – which means that in the face of conflicting desires, you have to anyway. It has duration – meaning it gains in value over time. An old good relationship is better than a new one. My dream is to grow old with TG, and to have the span of our history together as a part of what we share. It means that I will take care of her, and be taken care of by her in turn, and that in the time where long shadows come over our lives, we won’t be alone in facing them. And it has primacy over your other relationships. The act of saying to this person “You are the most important person in my life. Not my children, not my boss, not my pastor or anyone else matters more to me than you do,” fundamentally changes both one’s life and one’s relationships to others.
These are good things. They are not only good for people, they are good for society. They bind people to each other, and bind them to a future. They create the kind of ‘units’ of people that can successfully build societies and raise children.
The kind of sexual equipment that the people involved have, and what they do with that sexual equipment, has nothing to do with these core values. You’d hope that they were sexually compatible and satisfied, since seeking out other sexual outlets tends to conflict with the core values. But for crying out loud, what difference does their sexual behavior make to what really matters?
The answer to that, of course, cuts to the second point.
At one of my first blogger events – Roger Simon’s book signing – someone asked how I felt about gay marriage, and I replied “For it, of course.” Cathy Seipp was a bit put out – and I think rightly so – and pointed out that reasonable people could well disagree on this, and that for some people, it might actually be a deeply moral issue.
There are people for whom homosexual sex is, literally, a sin. For their government to recognize homosexual marriage – and put it on a par with normal marriage – means that their government is caving in to sin.
I used to be frustrated with those people, who thought abortion was murder and homosexuality was sin.
Then we deliberately got pregnant (not me, exactly, but my first wife).And the nature of what was going on in doing abortions fundamentally and irrevocably changed for me. Do I stand outside clinics with pictures of bleeding fetuses? Not a chance. I’m still on the other side, and support abortion, but with a wince.
And I do understand how, legitimately, people might want to stand outside a clinic, or how legitimately, people might be uncomfortable with the acceptance of homosexuality, and I won’t condemn anyone for those views (I will freely condemn them for their behavior, however, should they choose to commit murder, arson, or simple rudeness in my presence).
To me, people may choose to live pretty much however they want to. I have friends who are ultra-Orthodox Jews, and friends who are devout Catholics; each operates their life around their principles, and wishes everyone else did as well. But I draw the line when someone restrains another from leaving – as some Muslim families violently do with their adult daughters, or Muslim men do their wives (note that this happens with Christian sects as well, and over issues other than religion; I’m wary about pointing to Muslims, but I’m more wary of ignoring the real stories in order to be inoffensive). And I draw an even bolder line when someone wants to change the laws of the state to make them congruent with their especial cultural choice.
So how do we resolve these things? Awkwardly and over time. We all operate in a mesh of invisible social norms, which change slowly – and inexorably. The tug-of-war that we are going through is the tension that drives that change, and while we all participate in it, we all ought to be understanding of it for what it is, as well.
Do I support gay marriage? Of course. Do I think that all right-thinking people do? Of course not.
But for those who don’t, I keep wanting to ask – given the array of horrible sexual behavior that we all see around us every day; given the fact that most of the specific sex acts homosexual couples commit are committed by heterosexual couples as well – shouldn’t we look more favorably on a gay couple that has made a lifetime commitment and is living it out, and willing to do so before the state, and maybe a bit less favorably on someone like me?
And finally, I support gay marriage because of the piece of paper on my desk. It’s a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care; TG and I are updating ours (since we’re not yet married), and I pulled this out of the file.
Back in the 80’s, I made a lot of money, and actually had investments (as opposed to bills). I hired a pretty good asset manager, and he became one of my closest friends. He ultimately became the godfather to my oldest sons. His name was Steve, and he was gay and died of AIDS in the early 90’s.
When he came out, he was fired by his parents from the family owned firm that he was a partner at; when he got AIDS, he was fired from his job at Drexel. As he got sicker, he couldn’t always manage his medical affairs, and his parents – who had fired and rejected him, became conservators of his estate over his objections. He didn’t want them to take control of his medical care, so he asked me to.
He’d been in a committed relationship for six years at this point, and his parents undid much the estate planning he’d done to ensure his partner’s financial security; his partner couldn’t do anything about it – after all, in the eyes of the law at the time, he was a nonentity. His partner couldn’t legally control Steve’s health care without a document; and because of the legal conflicts over the financial matters, Steve was concerned that it would be invalidated. So I took the legal responsibility. His partner made the decisions; I was the formal authority that the hospitals could use to validate it. Because his partner was, after all, a legal nonentity when it came to the legal authority over Steve’s care.
Ultimately his parents lawyered up and attempted to get me removed. We’d have won, and I’d have gladly spent the money to win, but at the very end, Steve did what he should have done in the beginning, and married.
He married a casual lesbian friend, who managed his care for the last six months of his life, and when he died, took the remaining assets and left Steve’s partner – the person who should have had them – destitute and alone.
You know, if you believe homosexuality is wrong, I can understand not doing business with Steve. I could understand not socializing with him, or even politely expressing your disapproval.
But I have a really hard goddamn time understanding why it is that his control of his dignity and assets should be stripped from him – and the man who he had lived with in a committed relationship for as long as I had been married to my first wife – because of it.
And so personally, I’ll support gay marriage until it becomes legal. If we need to do anything about marriage in this country, it ought to focus on we straight people who seem to be doing such a bad job of marriage on our own.
(in a personal note, TG is certainly working on that issue as far as I’m concerned.)
FEB/04 UPDATE: TG and I are taking the plunge and getting married ourselves!. There’s a good friend who we’d like to have at the wedding. Can you help?