The Peculiar Instituation – Terrific Gay Marriage Article

Being in San Francisco, gay marriage analysis filled with loud proponents and dissenters is commonplace. The Times’ book review section today has a terrific article reviewing two new books on the topic. It’s probably the most succinct article I’ve read on the topic. It opens:

Every movement that seeks to change society faces two great tasks. The first is to discredit the old order. The second is to offer a new one. Without the assurance of a new order, the debate becomes a choice between order and chaos, and order wins. This is the challenge now facing the gay marriage movement.

He continues by rebuking the claims by constitutional-amendment supporters that marriage is a tradition that has been grounded in society for 200 years:

But this is a fiction. As Chauncey and Wolfson demonstrate, the rules of marriage have changed constantly. In biblical days, adulterers could be put to death. In ancient Rome, people got hitched by shacking up and got unhitched by moving out. A century ago, 14 states barred marriages between whites and Asians. The Supreme Court didn’t strike down bans on interracial marriage until 1967. Marriage used to mean that women had no legal identity apart from their husbands; now it doesn’t. Spousal rape used to be a contradiction in terms; now it’s a crime. States used to ban contraception, on the theory that marriage was for procreation; now they can’t. At the time, these changes were condemned as perversions. Now we call them traditions.

The reviewer then articulates a key point: “Among Americans who think sexual orientation can be changed, fewer than one in five supports gay marriage. Among those who think orientation can’t be changed, a plurality supports it. This strongly suggests that the most effective way to change beliefs about gay marriage is to change beliefs about immutability.” Unfortunately, he concluded, the authors of both the reviewed books do not explore this path. He concludes with something I strongly agree:

We don’t have to honor every lifestyle we tolerate or treat cohabitation like marriage. It’s the enemies of gay marriage who want to make this debate an all-or-nothing, order-or-chaos proposition. Let’s not help them.

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