I remember quite a few years ago having a conversation with a gay man about marriage. I believe this must have been shortly after same-sex marriage became legal for the first time in Massachusetts. I spoke about Göran’s and my own yearning to be legally married, and I think I said something to the effect of, “I don’t understand why any gay couple, if they had a choice, wouldn’t prefer to be married.”
I was a bit surprised by the vehemence of the response, by the moral outrage my comment provoked. I thought I was making a commonsense statement. But this individual replied, bristling, “Why should we mimic corrupt heterosexist norms?”
I continue to see occasional murmurings in the gay community about where all this marriage stuff is leading. Isn’t it more honest, some folks continue to insist, to acknowledge that human beings are not by nature monogamists? Isn’t it unhealthy to start to uphold a marital standard that holds up unreasonable expectations? (That argument is fascinating to me, if only because it was an argument embraced by 19th century Mormons in defense of polygamy.)
But at the moment, there seems to be a convergence between radical sex liberationists and conservative opponents of same-sex marriage. In 2012, when I was staffing phone banks and talking to people about marriage, one of the most vociferous opponents of same-sex marriage I encountered as a gay man who insisted he was voting for Minnesota Amendment 1 (to ban same-sex marriage) because he believed nobody should be allowed to marry.
But let’s look at the primary reasons why supporters of same-sex marriage support it:
*We should have the same standard of morality for everyone in our society. It is unfair to hold gay individuals to a standard of celibacy while heterosexual couples are permitted the socially acceptable context of marriage for the expression of sexuality. It undermines marital monogamy as a moral norm when large numbers of couples are forced to cohabitate without the full rights and responsibilities of marriage.
*Individuals thrive best in a context of committed love. The framework of commitment that marriage reinforces benefits not only the partners in a marriage themselves, but everybody associated with the married couple: children raised by the couple, family, in-laws, friends and neighbors of the married couple. Everybody benefits from the increased stability and happiness that marriage is designed to ensure. Society benefits when individuals care for each other, instead of being forced to fend alone for themselves.
*We should treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated.
I have perceived a dramatic, culturally seismic shift within the gay and lesbian community in the last 30 years since I have been publicly out of the closet as a gay man. I have seen stability in relationships lead to personal stability, increased emotional and mental health and overall happiness. I have seen it empower gay and lesbian individuals to make increasingly significant contributions to the neighborhoods and communities in which they live.
I have also perceived a dramatic, culturally seismic shift in the broader society. Straight people in American society, instead of pitying gay people, instead of patronizing us or repeating falsehoods about us, are listening to us, empathizing with us, and seeking to empower us.
What about this can be characterized as moral decline?