Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Gay Marriage, oh me, oh my!

Okay so what better way to jump into this than on the whole gay marriage fracas.

Honestly, I have trouble trying to figure out what the big bru-ha-ha over two gays (or gals) getting married is, but then again, I’m areligious so that probably has something to do with it.

I wanted to address the difference between marriage as a legal entity and marriage as a cultural entity and how they’re very often mistaken for one another. A good example of this is in the common conservative argument bandied about (from, for example, David Brooks, a conservative advocate of gay marriage) that liberal gay marriage advocates are “cheapening” marriage. Apparently we do this by describing it simply as a list of legal benefits, instead of talking about its less tangible qualities, like flatulence in bed or gaining weight because you’re not “in the market” anymore.

Here the category error is pretty obvious. The fight for homosexual equality is both a legal and a cultural one, but the fight for gay marriage rights is almost purely legal. If it were cultural, gays would be complaining about churches that refuse to marry them, but gay marriages in (some) churches have been going on for a long time. So if all we’re talking about is legal rights, the cultural angle of things is actually irrelevant to the conversation. Or at least it should be, considering that whole establishment clause thing. If the legal definition of marriage included its cultural value we would be creating another link between church and state.

We make this mistake a lot in the States, because I don’t think we really want to look at the law in all of its nitty-gritty. We’d much rather be lead by our gut feelings, emotions, prejudices etc. Another example of this confusion is the abortion debate. I met a woman who defined herself as pro-life but didn’t think Congress had the right to decide what people do with their bodies. When I told her she was pro-choice, she was horrified. This is because of the same confusion: she was pro-life (didn’t think people should get abortions) culturally, but pro-choice (thought people should have the right to make the decision) legally.

Don’t get me wrong—there’s a very important cultural conversation that needs to happen around this issue. By confusing the legal and cultural parts of the issue, we keep the two important (and very different) conversations from happening. I don’t think, by the by, conversation is really what the pro-amendment people want. For a good example of what I mean, check out this ludicrous Op-Ed piece from the weekend Times, and then contrast it with this article from Frank Rich on the same issue.

(I guess what I'm also saying is that if Jerry Fallwell doesn't want gays to get married, he shouldn't perform marriage ceremonies for them, but I don't get why they shouldn't have the legal rights to take their business elsewhere.)

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