March 29, 2004
The Human Dimension of Same-Sex Love
by Nick Morgan
Andrew Sullivan is exactly right:
[i]nter-racial marriages are often sexualized to a degree others are not. All the complexities, banalities, duties and responsibilities that marriage entails are reduced to a sex fantasy between a black woman and a white man (and often even more so when it's a black man and a white woman). Reducing people's relationships to mere sex is a subtle way of dehumanizing them. And that's one analogy between the deep animus toward inter-racial love and that toward same-sex love that rings as true today as ever.
I made a similar point a while back at Ichiblog:
Kevin Drum had a question about gay marriage:
I know we won't convince everyone, but what's the best way of convincing fence-sitters that gay marriage just isn't that threatening? "Live and let live" is the idea I have in mind, but how best to say it? I'm not sure.
I don't think live and let live will get the job done. It doesn't overcome the basic thrust against gay marriage: the deeply engrained assumption that it's not really marriage if it's same sex. Presenting gay marriage as harmless cannot challenge an impetus that itself has virtually no consequentialist origin. What fence-sitters should hear more of are accounts that emphasize the love and livelihood of the bond, regardless of its gender composition, so they might see that everything beautful and valuable in traditional marriage can exist equally in same sex unions.
Sexuality has always been circumscribed by peculiar cultural prohibitions and cultural blessings of all sorts. I assume that what is left of the American reaction against same-sex sexuality is gradually on its way out, but to be sure, the message can't be about sex. It should be about the more basic and treasured values that have persuaded me, and many gay rights activists: acceptance and love. Isn't that what it's actually about, in the end?
March 29, 2004 08:49 PM
I still have to ponder why people think that, at least among honest religious proponents, citing 'love' or sex is going to be a particularly winning argument. Certainly it's an argument that appeals to those who already buy the argument for same-sex marriage. But it seems a peculiar way to appeal to those who don't.
Again, I'd point to C.S. Lewis's continual description of marriage as something which exists irrespective of whether there is love between the partners, although it's perfectly capable of leading to it. I can't get the feeling that this is a rather less vitriolic form of the contention that if you're against same-sex marriage, you must hate gays. To those for whom marriage is something more than a package of government benefits, or a set of legal relationships that must be respected by any member of the general populace, I don't think love is a particularly good counterargument.
I'd say to Drum that the best counterargument you'll come up with arrives after you anticipate what your opponents are concerned with. The idea that same-sex marriage sanctifies a given relationship, or grants it equal sanctity with another pre-existing type of relationship, would be the best place to start. (I.e., telling them that same-sex marriage 'isn't really marriage' in the same sense that marriage is understood within, say, the Catholic Church.) Making very specific the line between legal marriage and religious marriage--and being honest that you'll honor that distinction later--is a good way to start.
Of course, that path eventually leads to the dissolution of civil marriage, which is my preferred outcome, so I suppose one should be suspicious of my support for it. But in the end, I don't think emphasizing 'love' will convince anyone whose opposition to homosexual marriage is based upon anything but hatred of homosexuality per se. Similarly, anyone whose opposition is based on such hatred isn't going to be reached by any argument. (And for those who believe there is no difference between the two groups, contemplating an argument seems a waste of time.)
Those who oppose same-sex marriage on firmly and honestly religious grounds are not the fence-riders Kevin Drum and I are concerned with. I'm not qualified to speculate about how religious folks may eventually change their minds, or how religious institutions would become persuaded to change their official positions. I would, however, generalize by saying that movements toward achieving equal standing among a minority group with respect to some particular benefit (education, marriage, or even drinking fountains) are most powerful whhen they humanize the minorities. Racism obviously involves implicit or explicit judgments that people of another race are somehow ontologically "lower" or "lesser," and one needn't look too far to find characterizations of other races as bestial, animal, brute, or otherwise beneath "humanity" as it is conceived by the "superior race." My contention is that such deeply engrained prejudices cannot be removed by logically sound rebuttals to slippery-slope concerns, or careful arguments about how no harm will come of granting equal standing. Rather, a lower level ideological appeal is necessary--prejudice is removed when we learn to see that other races are on equal standing as part of humanity. Prejudice does not always equal "hate," so I'm not sure why you bring it up, but adhering to a prejudiced religious doctrine is no less prejudice--whether it be prejudice against race, gender, or sexual orientation. For those who insist on adhering to those aspects of religious tradition that characterize homosexuality as "lower," well, I don't know how to reach them. But I personally know many christians (including Catholics) who feel that christian principles of love and acceptance take precedence, and who have accordingly embraced the gay rights movement.
So I think the project of humanizing same-sex relationships is about getting people to stop viewing same-sex marriage as somehow "lesser" or "lower" than heterosexual marriage. presently, this is a very rare viewpoint--I bet many gay rights advocates are reluctant to take that angle, and instead view gay marriage as a civil liberatarian entitlement that's only fair, even if it's ontologically less desirable than heterosexual marriage.
And so even though you're right that appeals to "love" won't address the specific concerns of opponents to gay marriage, my view is that these specific concerns wouldn't exist as much once people see gay marriage as a very humanistic bond. Maybe there's a better way, but the best way I can come up with is to emphasize the love in same-sex marriages--cause that's the most natural common ground for empathy.