Sorry for the light posting today. I’ve been away attending to important matters, about which I can probably tell you later this week. Good news, though! My in-box is jammed; a Daily Beast piece by a gay writer named Jay Michaelson stood out from a first glance at my mail. In it, Michaelson, who favors same-sex marriage, says that Christians and other social conservatives may well turn out to have been right about the effect gay marriage would have on the institution of marriage. Excerpts:
[T]he future of marriage, in fact, may turn out to be a lot like the Christian Right’s nightmare: a sex-positive, body-affirming compact between two adults that allows for a wide range of intimate and emotional experience. Maybe no one will be the “husband” (as in, animal husbandry) and no one the chattel. Maybe instead of jealousy, non-monogamous couples will cultivate “compersion” to take pleasure in their partners’ sexual delight. And most dangerously, maybe marriage will be only one of many forms of such a compact; maybe people will choose their own intimate futures without coercion from the state. The horror!
Despite my own condescending tone to the ninnies of sexual repression, I want to admit a certain discomfort with this more radical vision. We are still a messed-up, male-dominated society that has trouble dealing with sexuality. Sure, polyamory works well for a few hyper-educated urban elites. But what about douchebags? What will sexual liberation look like at the bottom-feeding, lowest common denominator?
Will women be even more objectified, assaulted, and leered at? Is the future one long Miley Cyrus video?
I’m pretty sure that the deconstruction of marriage will work out well for some men and some women, but it will not work out well at all for most men and most women, and it will not work out well for almost all children. Gods of the copybook headings, and all that. More:
So, if I had to predict, I’d go with a gradual realization of the conservative nightmare—only it won’t be a nightmare, and plenty of straight people will thank us for it. Maybe gays will preserve marriage precisely by redefining, expanding, and reforming it—and maybe then it can be palatable to progressives, as one of a multitude of options.
We can entertain these divergent visions of the future because same-sex marriage was really a campaign, not a movement. For a moment, it brought together liberals, progressives, and even some conservatives. But now that its goal is within sight, the center cannot hold.
And then, things get interesting.
Yep. Because for the cultural left, there are always new fences to be torn down in the service of liberating the autonomous, desiring self. I was talking not long ago with a public school administrator from south Louisiana, who told me that their school is full of kids who are suffering bigtime from the chaotic lives of their parents. Black and white kids both, and not all of them poor. I doubt where the administrator lives that they have any kids of gay parents, but that’s not the point here. The point is that if marriage as an institution is culturally redefined entirely to suit the desires of adults, and that is considered a virtue — as Jay Michaelson hopes for — then the children raised in a society like that lose out. I agree with Michaelson that we’re headed there. Then again, we were headed there long before gay marriage became a mainstream cause. SSM only reveals and forces the contradictions within the contemporary idea of marriage. You can have freedom, or you can have stability, but you can’t have both.
UPDATE: Yes, I’ve been away from the computer all day, so I had to give y’all something to write and write and write about, as you’ve been holding it in all day and are no doubt about to pop!
UPDATE.2: Let me clarify an earlier statement. You can have maximum freedom, or maximum stability, but you can’t have both. There has to be balance. The marriage-redefiners err on the side of too much freedom, in my view.