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November 20, 2003

"Queer Eye on a Straight Institution"

Of all the ink that has been spilled about gay marriage, Richard Cohen's WaPo column headlined This May Be Good for Marriage belongs at the top of the heap. And lest anyone worry, I am a bit more bouyed by the Massachusetts decision than I was at first blush. In my fit of cynicism and self-interest, I was unable to cheer for the Massachusetts couples for whom the decision ratifies decades-long commitments.

Having almost had an aneurism yesterday listening to some paleo-con from the Hoover Institute on NPR yesterday flogging the tired "gays will hurt marriage and that will hurt children" line (which is at root just a slightly extended riff on the abominable "gays hurt children" boogeyman), I was thrilled for this gust of sanity. Huge thanks to my dear friend Rachel "Anne" Webber for sending the link! I've taken the unusual step of copying the whole thing in the "extended entry" but want to excerpt a few of the best bits.

Gays, bless 'em, may wind up saving marriage.

In ways that DeLay and his conservative cohorts seem not to recognize, marriage itself is on the rocks. Twenty percent of all first marriages don't make it past five years, and after a mere decade, one-third of all marriages are kaput. Married couples, once dominant in both life and sitcom TV, have gone from 80 percent of all households in the 1950s to 50 percent today. If you peek into the average home, the chances of finding a married couple with kids are just one in four. DeLay, don't delay, marriage needs help.

Now along come gay couples to rescue marriage from social and economic irrelevance, casting a queer eye on a straight institution. They seek it for pecuniary reasons -- issues such as estate taxes, etc. -- but also because they seem to be among the last romantics. (No shotgun marriages here.) The odd thing about the opposition to gay marriage is that if the opponents were not so blinded by bigotry and fear, they would see that gay men and lesbians provide the last, best argument for marriage: love and commitment.

...

There is an analogy here -- I think. Just as gays are renowned for moving into urban areas that others have fled, for refurbishing whole neighborhoods and making them attractive, so they might rehabilitate and renew marriage. Of all people, they need it the least. They have already shattered convention with their lifestyles, and demolished our comfy and parochial notions of sexual categories -- heterosexual male, heterosexual female and nothing else. But when it comes to marriage of all things, some of them want to veer toward the traditional. They want commitment and love -- a universal truth in a manner that Jane Austen never envisaged.

Of course by this point in the column I'm already cheering. To want something that so many have abandoned is to love it in a wholly new way, to love it against the grain--and that love inevitably shapes not only the lover but also the beloved. But the article just gets better.

The dour Republican Party, with DeLay and others promising a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (can Elizabeth Taylor be included, too?), is once again willing to stand athwart history, yelling stop. In the short term, it will work, since little in politics has the power bigotry does -- certainly not reason. The many GOP politicians who have gay children will have to stifle all that their kids have taught them and fall behind DeLay in his backward march toward a vanished world. Some, though, may succumb to knowledge and empathy and suggest -- softly, of course -- that love and commitment are universals and not confined to a single category of sexual orientation.

Gay marriage will not and cannot weaken the institution of marriage. A heterosexual is not somehow less married because a homosexual has tied the knot.

...

Love is as much a recipe for failure as it is for success, and yet we cling to it because it ennobles us. Love is our emotional opposable thumb, what differentiates us from lower animals, and why we vow -- sometimes over and over again -- a lifetime's commitment, marriage. If gays can do it and maybe do it better, then Tom DeLay could do us all a real public service by just stepping aside.

A whole lot of wonderful people want to come down the aisle.


And we're coming down that aisle whether you want us to or not. David and I can't get married here, or in Oklahoma, but we can in Canada and could (sort of) in Australia. Speaking of my home state, Oklahoma's motto is (after a fashion) "Amor Omnia Vincit." Love does conquer all, and it will.

We and our love will eventually prove the haters wrong--for ourselves, at least. Whether we gays can pull a Fab Five, give wedded bliss a haircut and a paint job and undo all the damage heterosexuals have done to marriage is another question altogether. They keep getting it wrong--and most of their weddings are really just ghastly from a stylistic perspective-- but we have to love them for trying. The least they could do is return the favor.

This May Be Good for Marriage

By Richard Cohen
Thursday, November 20, 2003; Page A41


If Tom DeLay had half a brain (if pigs had wings), he would have cheered the news that Massachusetts may legalize gay marriages. The institution for which the House majority leader has such concern, traditional marriage, is both wobbly and wheezing -- the butt of cynical jokes, a gold mine for divorce lawyers and, even for the non-initiated, the triumph of hope over experience. Gays, bless 'em, may wind up saving marriage.

In ways that DeLay and his conservative cohorts seem not to recognize, marriage itself is on the rocks. Twenty percent of all first marriages don't make it past five years, and after a mere decade, one-third of all marriages are kaput. Married couples, once dominant in both life and sitcom TV, have gone from 80 percent of all households in the 1950s to 50 percent today. If you peek into the average home, the chances of finding a married couple with kids are just one in four. DeLay, don't delay, marriage needs help.

Now along come gay couples to rescue marriage from social and economic irrelevance, casting a queer eye on a straight institution. They seek it for pecuniary reasons -- issues such as estate taxes, etc. -- but also because they seem to be among the last romantics. (No shotgun marriages here.) The odd thing about the opposition to gay marriage is that if the opponents were not so blinded by bigotry and fear, they would see that gay men and lesbians provide the last, best argument for marriage: love and commitment.

There is scant reason for marriage anymore, which is why it has become a dicey proposition -- and why 86 million adults are unmarried. Women don't need men to support them or defend them from saber-toothed tigers -- and they can, I have read, even have babies on their own.

Men, of course, still need women, if only to bear children and to remind them that they are uncommunicative. (Is a marriage between two men a zone of total silence?) But single guys can adopt kids, and sex is readily available almost anywhere, or so I am told by various city magazines.

There is an analogy here -- I think. Just as gays are renowned for moving into urban areas that others have fled, for refurbishing whole neighborhoods and making them attractive, so they might rehabilitate and renew marriage. Of all people, they need it the least. They have already shattered convention with their lifestyles, and demolished our comfy and parochial notions of sexual categories -- heterosexual male, heterosexual female and nothing else. But when it comes to marriage of all things, some of them want to veer toward the traditional. They want commitment and love -- a universal truth in a manner that Jane Austen never envisaged.

The dour Republican Party, with DeLay and others promising a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (can Elizabeth Taylor be included, too?), is once again willing to stand athwart history, yelling stop. In the short term, it will work, since little in politics has the power bigotry does -- certainly not reason. The many GOP politicians who have gay children will have to stifle all that their kids have taught them and fall behind DeLay in his backward march toward a vanished world. Some, though, may succumb to knowledge and empathy and suggest -- softly, of course -- that love and commitment are universals and not confined to a single category of sexual orientation.

Gay marriage will not and cannot weaken the institution of marriage. A heterosexual is not somehow less married because a homosexual has tied the knot. On the contrary, the institution will be strengthened, bolstered by the very people who for conservatives represent everything loathsome about modernity. Gays are not attacking marriage. They want to practice it.

"Love. Of course, love. Flames for a year, ashes for 30." So says the prince in Giuseppe di Lampedusa's classic novel, "The Leopard." This cynical observation, attributed to a 19th-century man by a 20th-century writer, is hardly out of date. Love is as much a recipe for failure as it is for success, and yet we cling to it because it ennobles us. Love is our emotional opposable thumb, what differentiates us from lower animals, and why we vow -- sometimes over and over again -- a lifetime's commitment, marriage. If gays can do it and maybe do it better, then Tom DeLay could do us all a real public service by just stepping aside.

A whole lot of wonderful people want to come down the aisle.

Posted by jay at November 20, 2003 03:33 PM | TrackBack
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I confess that I continue to read the Daily Oklahoman's opinion page far more frequently than can be good for my mental and spiritual health. So it was a genuine thrill to read a column about gay marriage that didn't make me shake with rage or bury my head in my hands and weep. Instead, I found myself nodding quite vigorously and wishing I were half as eloquent as Mr. Cohen.

And now that Jay has seen to it that my name has been prominently displayed here at nonfamous, I look forward to my first stalker!

Posted by: Rachel on November 21, 2003 12:59 PM
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