The Traditionalist Case for Gay Marriage — The Week Ahead:

First, thanks to the Conspiracy for giving me this opportunity. Also, thanks to Maggie Gallagher for her contributions on marriage two weeks ago. Her writing is powerful. It constantly challenges and enlightens me. My hope is that one day the vast majority who share her views can be persuaded that gay families, united in marriage, are no threat to marriage and are even a small part of its revival.

But that day is many years, probably decades, away. My aim here is much more modest. It is to frame the debate in a way that’s quite distinct from the end-of-civilization vs. civil-rights-for-all rhetoric that has come to dominate it.

This week I will sketch the traditionalist case for gay marriage, by which I mean briefly this: (1) Marriage will help support and stabilize gay families, including the many such families raising children; (2) it will help channel these families into traditional patterns of living, providing them and their communities some measure of the private and public goods we expect from marriage; (3) it will, over time, tend to traditionalize gay individuals by elevating respect within gay culture for values like commitment to others and monogamy at the expense of hedonism and promiscuity; (4) it will make available the most moral life (in a traditionalist sense) possible for a sexually active homosexual; (5) and it will do all of this without hurting traditional families or marriage, (6) perhaps even helping to a limited extent with the revival of marriage. Of these, I regard points 1, 2, and 5 as the most important and most likely results. I’ll focus most of my attention on these. Points 3, 4, and 6 are possible, and would be good from a traditionalist perspective if they happen, but are more tenuous or are less likely. I’ll offer only some tentative thoughts on these. There are, in short, both individualistic (private) and communitarian (public, state) interests in recognizing gay families through marriage.

O.K., maybe my project is more ambitious than I thought.

If any significant part of what I described above actually came to pass, it would be a dark day for sexual liberationists, for opponents of marriage, for much of the gay left, and for many others who now say they favor gay marriage; conversely, if any significant part of it came true, it should be cause for rejoicing among conservatives, especially traditionalist conservatives. The key here is the “if.”

Subject to change, here’s how I plan to proceed. Today and tomorrow I will make the affirmative case for marriage for gay Americans. The affirmative case points to both the individualistic and communitarian benefits. Wednesday and Thursday I will respond to some of the most common arguments against marriage for gays, including the procreation and slippery-slope questions. (Sometimes the pro and con arguments will overlap.) Friday will be clean-up day, including suggestions for how to proceed, with some consideration of the role of legislatures vs. courts and marriage alternatives like civil unions.

I’ll try to respond to some reader commentary as we go along, perhaps in a single last post each night. In return, I ask this of commentators. Try to focus narrowly on the discrete point(s) made in the post to which you’re responding. There’s a tendency in this debate, on both sides, to “kitchen-sink” every argument, that is, to respond to specific points with unrelated points or with global observations about the nature of marriage, the world, the meaning of life, and so on.

Here are some things I will not do this week. First, I won’t try to change anyone’s religious views about gay marriage or homosexuality. If your religious faith leads you to oppose gay marriage, and if your faith further commands that this tenet be mandated in secular law, not much I say this week will matter to you. However, if this tenet (like others?) need not necessarily be mandated in secular law, come along for the ride. The faith-based traditionalist opposed to homosexuality, like all those generally uncomfortable with homosexuality, might reluctantly reconcile himself to gay marriage as the most realistic public-policy way to make the best of the bad.

A related point: though there’s no logically necessary connection, attitudes about gay marriage correlate strongly with a person’s underlying views of homosexuality. Is it a harmful or benign variation of human sexuality? Is it chosen or unchosen? The best evidence strongly favors the benign/unchosen answers. I may devote some, but not much, space to these Gay 101 issues if it seems necessary.

Second, I will not make rights-based arguments, e.g., that there is a constitutional right to gay marriage. Lots of people spend lots of time arguing about this; indeed, rights-talk has monopolized the debate. The traditionalist case is consequential and moral, not legal.

Finally, I won’t be accusing the opposition of bigotry. Many Americans oppose gay marriage out of a fear of possible unintended and unforeseeable consequences. These opponents of gay marriage are not bigots; they are prudent. Their prudential concerns must be treated seriously, not dismissed as blind prejudice. Such concerns can and should be accommodated in the time-frame and process by which we get to gay marriage.

At the same time, I hope nobody will think I’m intentionally trying to destroy marriage. Put simply, I believe in gay marriage because I believe in marriage.

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