Fresh from the afterglow of a recent post on sex, I’ll take another stab with a remark about gay marriage. Noah Millman observes in passing an exchange between David Frum and Andrew Sullivan which went like this:
the question – as Andrew Sullivan posed it repeatedly to David Frum over the years, Frum being well-aware of these alternative approaches to the marriage “problem” and their potential normative costs – is: what, in your worldview, are you offering to gay people, if not marriage? And there was never a good answer to that. And, there being no good answer – good in the sense of being something that would be readily accepted as an answer – the marriage movement grew, and burgeoned.
I know some of this exchange had to do with policy alternatives to existing marriage laws, but I am still puzzled by the substance of Sullivan’s question — as if changing marriage law will fundamentally change gay life in the United States. As most married couples know, the respect of a spouse is as important to the survival of a relationship as is romance, more so. Right now in the U.S. gay men receive more respect without marriage than African-American men ever did before (and arguably after) the Civil Rights Act. The image of gay men may trade on stereotypes but compared to those associated with heterosexual young males, being articulate, having impeccable taste, knowing table manners, being able to throw a great dinner party, knowing how to decorate a room beat pretty much any day of the week being crude, unrefined, poorly read, wearing t-shirts and baseball caps backwards, drinking bad beer, and watching televised sports. In fact, it takes marriage to domesticate most heterosexual men. Gay men generally don’t need it.
Of course, this is not argument against gay marriage. It is only to say that marriage may not be the panacea that Sullivan imagines. Here the old line of Irving Kristol comes to mind. When asked about gay marriage, Kristol said, “Let them have it, they won’t like it.”