Jonathan Rauch gets an A for effort for his beautifully written, Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America (Times Books, 208 pages, $22) but the polemic comes up short.
Rauch’s tact in this book is fascinatingly counterintuitive. He positions himself, a gay man in a committed relationship, and the gay community at large, as the true defenders of marriage, blasting away at the various pundits and politicians, mostly Republican, who are considered “pro-marriage.” He accuses conservatives of “panicking when they should be thinking” and muses whether marriage can be “saved from its friends.”
“I don’t doubt that the people who insist on ‘defending’ marriage from homosexuals sincerely believe they are defending marriage itself,” he writes. “And yet their claim to be doing marriage a favor is at best questionable.”
So what would gays bring to marriage? Well, first of all, Rauch says, happy homosexual couples would stop being “walking billboards” for cohabitation, and, presumably, become advertisements for marriage. Full gay marriage would also thwart what he sees as the true threat to marriage — civil unions, or as he prefers to call it, “marriage lite” — endorsed by an “outspoken assortment” of “radical” leftists.
Gay marriage is also a matter of law and order and national security. “Whether in the Third World or in inner-city America, a good way to create an angry and restless underclass is to create a population of unmarriageable, low-status men,” Rauch warns, and he’s got a point. Who among us wants our children to grow up in a world of warring gay gangs? Although it could go a long way toward addressing the dearth of gay hip-hop artists.
Anyway, the point is, this gay marriage thing is going to be great, and we all should get on board.
RAUCH HAS TAKEN GREAT care to attach his view to the solemnity of marriage, which he calls the “gold standard” of commitment and “the great civilizing institution.” He insists that he “wouldn’t support same-sex marriage as a matter of equal rights” if he thought it would wreck that wonderful new coinage “opposite-sex marriage.”
In order to be sure there is no disaster and to gather the data necessary to find out the true effects of whether same sex marriage will work, Rauch proposes a federalist solution. Gay marriage should be instituted by one or two really swinging states as a testing ground. If the results are as fantastic as he thinks it will be — that is, if gays can single-handedly pull marriage out of the abyss — then other states will follow suit.
And there the train of logic goes off the rails. Rauch spends the first half of the book attempting to convince the reader that gay marriage is a “win-win-win” situation by listing all the benefits it will bestow upon society. He’s being a salesman, and a fairly effective one at that. But in the second half of the book, Rauch begins to play the civil rights card. “Discriminating in order to pin a badge of inferiority on some group or another is not a legitimate use of law,” he lectures.
To quote Keanu Reeves: “Whoa!” If gay marriage is not a preference, but rather a civil right, is it likely we will really be experimenting with it for a bit? Think about it: Could a state, say Texas, decide tomorrow to experiment with disenfranchising women, and see how it worked?
A civil right is a civil right. By playing that card, Rauch is essentially telling us: “Here is my argument. Gay marriage is a wonderful thing and I hope you accept it voluntarily. But if you don’t, we have ways of making you go along.”
FOR A GUY WHO quotes Hayek extensively, Rauch is rather dismissive of the libertarian take on gay marriage. Many laissez-faire types say that state sponsorship of marriage is an unnecessary bit of social engineering that should be eliminated. Private groups and churches should be allowed to recognize, or refuse to recognize, whatever cohabitation arrangements they choose.
Rauch rejects this view, saying that marriage is too special to take out of the hands of the state. But it’s worth remembering why the state is in the business of promoting marriage. It isn’t to make sure everyone is happy, it is to help ensure the survival and continuation of our society. Rauch rightly points out that the rearing of children is not why all heterosexuals get married. However, it is why the government is involved. Rauch’s personal happiness may be important to him but it’s hard to see why his relationship would be the concern of the government.
The libertarian position would then seem the most natural fit, but it does not fit into Rauch’s argument because he has an idyllic, perhaps pedestallic, view of the institution that has been denied him. And he’s angry: “If your first choice is for the whole gay thing to go away,” he writes, “remember that children can demand their first choice or nothing, but adults must often deal in second choices.”
Rauch himself proves remarkably unwilling to compromise. “The world is changing,” he explains “and marriage, like it or not, is changing, too.”
Pardon me for asking, but I thought the rest of us were going to have some say in this decision?