Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Brief Comment on Gay Marriage

This is the first time I have posted on gay marriage and for a simple reason -- it just isn't my issue.  On the one hand, it is of benefit to people who want it, and I don't see how it can harm anyone else, so why not.  On the other hand, I do understand why people might hesitate at such a radical redefinition of such a long-standing tradition.  So I mostly regarded it as a minor and mostly symbolic issue, more like flag burning or anti-obscenity pledges attached to NEA grants, rather than something important like the Iraq War, indefinite detention, torture, surveillance, a collapsing economy, or financial reform.  I give Andrew Sullivan (too much work to find the link) credit for convincing me otherwise.

Andrew Sullivan was born in 1963 and is part of the surviving remnant of gay men of his generation.  He witnessed the AIDS epidemic as seen up close and personal, watching friends all around him die, with their partners often not allowed to visit them in the hospital, and never allowed to make medical decisions on their behalf because they were not officially family.  Seen from a survivor's perspective, marriage is an important, indeed, critical issue.  Having a formally recognized partner can be very important in a crisis.

And it is interesting that AIDS had not been much discussed during the whole gay marriage debate.  Perhaps it seems too judgmental on the left and too bigoted on the right, but one lesson that should have emerged from AIDS is that all-out, unrestrained promiscuity is not a good idea.  While there is no mandatory way to forbid or prevent promiscuity among gay men that is also consistent with a free society, it is possible to bring social pressure to bear to disapprove of it.  I do not pretend to know how much gay male promiscuity of the time was simply male promiscuity without women's restraint and how much of it was a relic of underground days, or an overly exuberant coming out of the closet party.  But I do know that men are not inexorably programmed to be promiscuous beyond any power of society to restrain.  People act against social norms, but social norms nonetheless have power.  If we consider stable pair bonds a good thing to encourage among all people regardless of sexual orientation, then it seems only reasonable to give those stable pair bonds formal recognition and reward them.

Well, I still don't think gay marriage is quite up there with the Iraq War, indefinite detention, torture, surveillance, a collapsing economy, or financial reform.  But I no longer think of it as a trivial or symbolic issue like flag burning or NEA anti-obscenity grants.  To the people involved, it is a very important issue indeed.

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