As probably comes as no surprise, I've gotten quite a lot of email in response to last night's post on the gay marriage issue.
Some of those responses seemed to me to miss the thrust of the post, since it was intended more as a critique of what has been my position on this issue than a statement of that position.
Yet I'd rather not try to interpret what I wrote. Some, or rather most, of the posts I write on TPM are intended as arguments. Sometimes they're closely reasoned, or flippant or polemical; but in every case I am making a specific argument, a specific point. Others, like the one from last night, are more like thinking out loud. I'm trying to present an honest reflection of my thinking, or my wrestling with an issue, rather than a deliberate argument.
In any case, this is all a long way of saying, take it as you will.
One other point.
Many readers have written in to say that the real answer to this controversy is simply to get the state out of the marriage business, with all its trappings of sanctity and traditionalism. The state should only be in the business of issuing value-neutral marriage licenses -- perhaps called civil unions for gays and straights. And then individuals can decide what sort of religious ritual they want to add on, or whether they just want a civil ceremony.
The underlying argument here is that our present notion of marriage is really an improper tangling together of church and state. And the sooner they're untangled, the better.
Part of me agrees with this proposition. But we're fooling ourselves if we think this gets us out of the political thicket. That sort of change would be a radical break from past practice and it is profoundly secular in outlook.
I think there is little way of getting around the nub of this issue. Our current laws announce, and are based upon, a clear value judgment: that unions between a man and a woman are both different from and better than unions between members of the same gender.
[ed. note: I don't like making interlinear comments like this. But some people have apparently read the above graf as my saying that I think heterosexual unions are 'better'. To this I can only say, please read more carefully. I am noting the value judgment embodied in our law, which I believe is indisputable.]
You can't get around that uncomfortable fact. To get the state out of the marriage business would simply take the state from its current position in favor of heterosexual unions to one of agnosticism, a grand 'no comment.'
I think that might be a good solution. But let's not imagine that the people who oppose gay marriage or gay rights generally aren't going to have any problem with that. And thus the politics of it remains largely the same, though perhaps slightly more palatable to one slice of the electorate.
In any case, there's no escaping how revolutionary this moment is in the way we order the state's relationship to the most intimate aspects of our lives. And the inescapable fact that the status quo means the continued denigration of committed same-sex relationships is why I'm reconsidering my position of supporting civil unions rather than gay marriage outright.
Here are some letters I received in response to last night's post ...
I'm 62 years old and grew up in Missouri. When I married my first wife, who as Japanese American, we had to do so in another state. At that time it was against Missouri state law for interracial marriages to take place. Times change.
40 years later the pain of that state-sanctioned inequality, which made some couples second-class citizens, still stirs an old, deep-felt resentment. While I'm not gay, I certainly have sympathy for the state-sanctioned unfairness that gay couples endure and believe that in another 40 years (probably much sooner) gay marriages will be a simple, accepted fact of life.
I've been reading your website for several weeks now and have enjoyed it.
I appreciate your article on Gay Marriage and understand your feelings about it. I do not want to debate the subject with you, we are clearly on the same side.
I just want you to know that my partner and I were married at city hall on Thursday this week. We waiting in line for about 9 hours and were prepared to camp out on the side walk overnight if we had to. In line behind us were two women who had driven 27 hours from El Paso with their son in tow. Just in front of us were two women who had flown in from Virginia and two men who'd flown in from Kansas City. There were also lots of Bay Area couples there. There were couples with babies in strollers and one couple with an aged mother in a wheelchair and hooked up to oxygen.
This is not the right time. There is no right time. There is just the right thing to do. This was the right thing to do.
The Republicans and the far right are going to us as scapegoats no matter what we do. We all know that. We have always known that.
Now they know a little more about us.
Your post for today about your struggle on gay marriage was very interesting. I just explained exactly your points to my Christian massage therapist so it confirmed what I perceived as the struggle in the world - at least for reasonable people! I'm sure you'll get emails galore. I appreciate your openness and honesty. I'll try to be brief. As a gay woman, 52, with 3 adult open minded heterosexual children, spiritual but not Christian, partnered for 13 years, married (in our own minds/hearts with our God as a witness) for 10 years - and looking forward to the paperwork and rights to catch up with the feelings and commitment....I have to simply say - accepting anything short of equal is NOTHING. No matter how others can use it politically or not - what's right is right. When you settle for anything short of right - you're selling yourself and this country short. So many people forget what America stands for - Freedom and equality. Any form of intellectualizing away equal rights for gay families has no foundation in logic or law. This will be proven - it's just a matter of time.
Thanks for your site... I read it every day.
I hope you don't catch too much flack for your thoughtful post on gay marriage. I appreciate your honest description of your own conflicted thoughts on this and I very much share them (hopefully not just the two of us). As a married straight man, I genuinely feel that my state-sanctioned marriage will never be entirely valid until my gay friends enjoy the same priviledges as my wife and I do. At the same time, one can easily see how Rovian Republicans must be salivating at the thought of having another fear-based issue to stir the troops with. "So, you're not as afraid of terrorists these days? How about GAY PEOPLE getting MARRIED just like YOU AND THE MISSUS?????". I don't know the answer either, but in the end, I know I'll be standing alongside my gay friends, cheering them on and maybe, just maybe, being someone's best man some day.
Thanks for your good work,
I'm a fan of TPM.
I feel sure that you are a logical person. The rationale you are pursuing in your mind re gay marriage is typical of a lot of decent, middle of the road Americans. I think that after the smoke clears you'll have no reasonable alternative to admitting that your reluctance to back gay marriage is simply based on the idea that we are too "different" to join with straights in celebrating a loving commitment. It's the old miscegnation argument.
I know you'll finally come around to seeing it for what it is.
Thanks for all your hard work and wonderful blog.
Linda, who just celebrated her 31st "anniversary" with a wonderful partner.
As an openly gay man who was actively involved in Democratic politics and fundraising a few years ago, I initially shared your apprehension about the backlash involved in making gay marriage an issue in a presidential election year. I suffered my friends reaction to this position as recently as a few weeks ago.
"Don't ask, don't tell" strikes me as the military equivalent of gays ceding the right to even civil unions. The fact remains that while gays can serve in the military and not be asked about their sexuality, they're still not protected...let alone embraced for their service...under law.
So, the pragmatism you subscribe to and I did as well until very recently is much like Bill Clinton's "look, I tried and this is the best I can do." I've come to the conclusion that it's better to have fought the battle and lost than never fought at all. Like chosen careers in the military, we're dealing with peoples lives here, not abstract concepts.
Thanks for your very thoughtful post on gay marriage.
I'm a gay man, mid 50s, happily partnered. My immediate and visceral response to the fight over gay marriage is, like many of your readers, to settle for nothing less than true equality.
I'm also a literate and thoughtful man, deeply concerned about the steep slide into danger that Bush's policies and actions have taken us. My immediate and visceral response to that is to put aside all other goals and focus only on defeating Bush.
My fear is that gay people will be 2004's Nader, handing the right a slim victory. I haven't a clue how to resolve my hopes and my fears! But thanks for helping me examine and articulate them.
To conclude, I should say that I've made no particular attempt to find a representative sampling of the letters I received. These are the ones that caught my attention, moved me, or just made me think the most. To the extent that I could characterize them, I would say that the majority of the letters had a tone and content of friendly criticism, though there were more than a few that contained only one or two epithets.