The gay marriage issue brings out the worst in people like nothing else I’ve ever written about. So you can imagine how surprised and grateful I was to spend all day yesterday fielding respectful, even complimentary letters from BBC readers of my gay marriage column — readers, that is, who do not agree with me on gay marriage. Sure, about half the letters I received on the piece were of the “Dear Ignorant Christianist Bastard” sort. But a disarming number of them came from people who strongly disagree with me, but who thanked me for the tone of the piece. Many of them came from gay people who took the time to write at length about their own lives and experiences, and wanted to know, in a genuine, respectful way, how and why I came to the conclusions that I have done about same-sex marriage.
Unfortunately there were so many e-mails that I cannot begin to respond — something I actually feel bad about, because lots of readers took the time to write with great care and civility. I doubt many of them will find their way to this blog, but if they do, I want to thank them for their correspondence. It was especially gratifying to read so many letters from readers — again, readers who think I’m very wrong to oppose gay marriage — who complained (in a way complimentary to me) that there is so little new or philosophically interesting to read about same-sex marriage, and they appreciated reading something thoughtful about the issue — especially from the other side. A number of them, understandably, wanted me to explain why I don’t believe gay marriage is analogous to interracial marriage. I’ll do my very best to get to that later today, but I have a deadline to meet for the magazine, so I can’t post anything else until I get that piece finished.
Anyway, I just wanted to say that it was very, very encouraging to hear from such intelligent and gracious readers, men and women who understand that we may be opponents, but we need not be enemies. Their e-mails put me in mind of Jonathan Rauch, one of the leading proponents of same-sex marriage, and a commenter who is unfailingly decent and respectful of his opponents. I commend to you this speech he gave a few years ago, in which he tried to get inside the heads of his opponents on the issue, and understand them on their own terms. Here, from Rauch’s speech, is as succinct a summation of the contrasting worldviews at issue here as I’ve seen anywhere:
In Blue World, gay couples fit the paradigm perfectly. They are responsible adults trying to live more stable, more responsible lives, and trying to improve the prospects of any children they may have. Who could ask for anything more?
In fact, in Blue World, marriage is incomplete if it excludes gay couples! Excluding them sends all the wrong signals about family and responsibility. It would make a hypocritical nonsense of what it is that marriage is supposed to be all about.
In Red World, things look very different. The Red project is to maintain the linkage between sex, marriage, and procreation. In Red World, de-linkage has wrought all kinds of social problems.
Same-sex marriage, in this view, is in some sense the ultimate symbolic assault on what is left of the unity of sex, marriage, and procreation. “Ultimate,” I might add, in both senses of the word: “extreme,” but also “last,” the blow that completes the most destructive demolition work of the sexual revolution. After gay marriage, in the Red view of things, how can sex, marriage, and procreation ever be put back together again?
And though Rauch makes it clear that, as an out gay man, he is thoroughly on the Blue side of the gay issue, he observes that many more people favor gay adoption than favor same-sex marriage. That is, a number of people who do not support gay marriage do support same-sex child custody and same-sex adoption. Isn’t that interesting? he asks. Here’s what that means, he says:
It is not that I think same-sex marriage opponents are right. Even within their own traditionalist framework, gay marriage makes sense, or at least more sense than the alternatives. But that is a case I will save for another day.
Today I would merely point out a kind of integrity in their position. If it were all about animus against homosexuals, or if it all stemmed from lies about a gay menace to children, the custody and adoption issues would be paramount. The deeper arguments here are over what constitutes family normalcy, and how we structure the transition to adulthood, and who is entitled to set up a family at a time when many American families are under all too much stress.
I wish everyone who argued about this issue, on both sides, were like Jonathan Rauch. I’m grateful to the BBC readers, in this country and in the UK, who showed themselves to be Rauchian in their correspondence.