Monday, March 15, 2004
Let me see if I get Andrew Sullivan's point right. A Christian conservative writes that marriage has been so thoroughly debased and drained of meaning over the course of the past 40 years (perhaps inevitably, given technological change) that it is now a purely symbolic matter. It's just a "shortcut way" to make certain legal arrangements. Same-sex marriage would not begin the destruction of the institution; it would "storm the last bastion" - it would be the coup the grace, not the opening shot.
This, Sullivan thinks, bolsters his case for same-sex marriage. Isn't marriage, as currently practiced, entirely hollow apart from the exclusion of gay souples? What's the worth of marriage if all it means is an exclusive club to which homosexuals are denied entry?
But, forgive me, I thought the m-word meant something to him? I thought civil unions were unacceptable because, even if they provide a comparable shortcut to a basket of benefits, they don't come with the same associations, the same power. They suggest that there is still a special meaning to marriage beyond a set of legal shortcuts.
Doesn't that leave open at least the possibility that those meanings have something to do with the historical institution? Something to do with, you know, men and women?
Sullivan can't have it both ways; he can't argue in the alternative. He can't say that, on the one hand, same-sex marriage is a civil right because marriage has been drained of traditional meaning by heterosexuals and therefore means only exclusion, and hence must be reformed to include same-sex couples - and on the other hand that marriage is full of meaning, meaning that matters enormously to gays and that they need access to for their own health and happiness, and therefore must be reformed to include same-sex couples. He cannot approvingly quote conservatives deploring the collapse of marriage (and same-sex marriage as the last straw) and posture as a someone advocating a conservative reform of the institution. He must choose.