25 May 2009

Gay Marriage Will Never Work

Predicts Sam Schulman, who proceeds to explain why Gay Marriage will prove a failure as social experiment, while nonetheless inflicting serious harm on society.

The relationship between a same-sex couple, though it involves the enviable joy of living forever with one’s soulmate, loyalty, fidelity, warmth, a happy home, shopping, and parenting, is not the same as marriage between a man and a woman, though they enjoy exactly the same cozy virtues. These qualities are awfully nice, but they are emphatically not what marriage fosters, and, even when they do exist, are only a small part of why marriage evolved and what it does.

The entity known as “gay marriage” only aspires to replicate a very limited, very modern, and very culture-bound version of marriage. Gay advocates have chosen wisely in this. They are replicating what we might call the “romantic marriage,” a kind of marriage that is chosen, determined, and defined by the couple that enters into it. Romantic marriage is now dominant in the West and is becoming slightly more frequent in other parts of the world. But it is a luxury and even here has only existed (except among a few elites) for a couple of centuries–and in only a few countries. The fact is that marriage is part of a much larger institution, which defines the particular shape and character of marriage: the kinship system.

The role that marriage plays in kinship encompasses far more than arranging a happy home in which two hearts may beat as one–in fact marriage is actually pretty indifferent to that particular aim. Nor has marriage historically concerned itself with compelling the particular male and female who have created a child to live together and care for that child. It is not the “right to marry” that creates an enduring relationship between heterosexual lovers or a stable home for a child, but the more far-reaching kinship system that assigns every one of the vast array of marriage rules a set of duties and obligations to enforce. These duties and obligations impinge even on romantic marriage, and not always to its advantage. The obligations of kinship imposed on traditional marriage have nothing to do with the romantic ideals expressed in gay marriage. …

Sooner rather than later, the substantial differences between marriage and gay marriage will cause gay marriage, as a meaningful and popular institution, to fail on its own terms. Since gay relationships exist perfectly well outside the kinship system, to assume the burdens of marriage–the legal formalities, the duty of fidelity (which is no easier for gays than it is for straights), the slavishly imitative wedding ritual–will come to seem a nuisance. People in gay marriages will discover that mimicking the cozy bits of romantic heterosexual marriage does not make relationships stronger; romantic partners more loving, faithful, or sexy; domestic life more serene or exciting. They will discover that it is not the wedding vow that maintains marriages, but the force of the kinship system. Kinship imposes duties, penalties, and retribution that champagne toasts, self-designed wedding rings, and thousands of dollars worth of flowers are powerless to effect.

Few men would ever bother to enter into a romantic heterosexual marriage–much less three, as I have done–were it not for the iron grip of necessity that falls upon us when we are unwise enough to fall in love with a woman other than our mom. There would be very few flowerings of domestic ecstasy were it not for the granite underpinnings of marriage. Gay couples who marry are bound to be disappointed in marriage’s impotence without these ghosts of past authority. Marriage has a lineage more ancient than any divine revelation, and before any system of law existed, kinship crushed our ancestors with complex and pitiless rules about incest, family, tribe, and totem. Gay marriage, which can be created by any passel of state supreme court justices with degrees from middling law schools, lacking the authority and majesty of the kinship system, will be a letdown.

When, in spite of current enthusiasm, gay marriage turns out to disappoint or bore the couples now so eager for its creation, its failure will be utterly irrelevant for gay people. The happiness of gay relationships up to now has had nothing to do with being married or unmarried; nor will they in the future. I suspect that the gay marriage movement will be remembered as a faintly humorous, even embarrassing stage in the liberation saga of the gay minority. The archetypal gay wedding portrait–a pair of middle-aged women or paunchy men looking uncomfortable in rented outfits worn at the wrong time of day–is destined to be hung in the same gallery of dated images of social progress alongside snapshots of flappers defiantly puffing cigarettes and Kodachromes of African Americans wearing dashikis. The freedom of gays to live openly as they please will easily survive the death of gay marriage.

So if the failure of gay marriage will not affect gay people, who will it hurt? Only everybody else.

As kinship fails to be relevant to gays, it will become fashionable to discredit it for everyone. The irrelevance of marriage to gay people will create a series of perfectly reasonable, perfectly unanswerable questions: If gays can aim at marriage, yet do without it equally well, who are we to demand it of one another? Who are women to demand it of men? Who are parents to demand it of their children’s lovers–or to prohibit their children from taking lovers until parents decide arbitrarily they are “mature” or “ready”? By what right can government demand that citizens obey arbitrary and culturally specific kinship rules–rules about incest and the age of consent, rules that limit marriage to twosomes? Mediocre lawyers can create a fiction called gay marriage, but their idealism can’t compel gay lovers to find it useful. But talented lawyers will be very efficient at challenging the complicated, incoherent, culturally relative survival from our most primitive social organization we call kinship. The whole set of fundamental, irrational assumptions that make marriage such a burden and such a civilizing force can easily be undone.

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5 Feedbacks on "Gay Marriage Will Never Work"

Susannah

Mr. JDZ, I’ve read several of your posts & find this blog to be absolutely pristine in its argument against same sex marriage. I’ve written a post about it & had a lengthy discussion in my comment section as to the impact gay marriage would have (will have) on our society. I’ve been called all the inflamatory names, but I find it affirming that many of the positions represented here are almost identical to the points I’ve attempted to make. And your argument is far more in depth than mine. Thank you for your wisdom, your clarity of thought & for your courage to speak.



JDZ

Thanks for the kind words.

David



Susannah

You’re very welcome.

I would like to do a ‘same sex marriage part II’ post using your blog piece. May I, linking to you in my text?



JDZ

Of course.

Cheers,
David



Upton Updike

Are you sure?



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