I’ve made no secret that I’m a big fan of libertarian Jonathan Rauch. His book “The Kindly Inquisitors” is one of the best defenses of free speech and free inquiry in the modern era. And he made what is probably the best conservative case for gay marriage in his 2004 book, “Gay Marriage: Why it is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America.” Most recently, he had an essay published in the Wall Street Journal, recounting that latter argument in brief: “Gay Marriage is Good for America”
Take this part at the beginning, where Medved concedes to Rauch that marriage has positive social effects:
No fair-minded observer can argue against any of these observations, but at this point Mr. Rauch makes a logical leap that involves some neat rhetorical sleight-of-hand. Concerning the institution of marriage, he suggests that “its absence can be calamitous, whether in inner cities or gay ghettos. In 2008, denying gay Americans the opportunity to marry is not only inhumane, it is unsustainable.”
The weak point in this argument is the attempt to use the term “marriage” when he really means “long-term relationships.” Not all committed, long-term relationships are marriages. And not all marriages result in committed, long-term relationships (unfortunately).
But Rauch hasn’t made any logical leaps here at all. He really means what he says, and he’s done a lot of good work documenting his claims about marriage, and marriage specifically, being a civilizing force. His whole point is that marriage, the idea, the cultural institution itself, has benefits above and beyond mere long-term relationships. No, marriage isn’t logically necessary in order to have a long-term relationship, but all the evidence is that it can enhance and preserve them. Medved has completely missed the point here, speaking of marriage solely as “official sanction” rather than the powerful cultural idea that sanction represents, which is what Rauch really cares about.
Rauch isn’t arguing that marriage is a panacea: he’s fully agrees that marriage is an embattled institution. It’s just that he’s made a persuasive case that the best way to preserve and defend it is to promote it as a universal aspiration again. One that every little boy and girl, gay or straight, can see themselves and their relationships as heading towards. The inevitable alternative is to turn marriage into a quaint predilection: just one option amongst many. Different strokes for different folks.
In contrast, Medved’s argument is a bizarre “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” trap. Gay men won’t be helped by marriage he argues, because what they ultimately lack is the civilizing, monogamizing influence of women that supposedly leads to lasting long-term relationships. Lesbians on the other hand, form long-term relationships pretty easily, and so don’t need marriage (and hence we shouldn’t feel bad denying them this right). In other words, no matter what capacity for lasting relationships gay people demonstrate, it still somehow proves that marriage wouldn’t help any of them to do any better.
How does Medved justify this bizarre contradiction? By insisting that the power of marriage only comes into force when opposite sexes join up.
Men and women are different –profoundly, irreducibly, eternally. It is ridiculous and dishonest to suggest they are interchangeable in relationships. This undeniable truth obliterates the notion that a guy who takes another guy as life partner instead of a woman is just expressing his personal preference – like choosing a blonde over a brunette, or a Latino over an Asian.
Now, I’m not someone who believes that men and women are wholly interchangeable when it comes to relationships: that gender is all cultural and has no real, underlying biological basis in the brain. But Medved and his allies haven’t even come close to providing evidence that the differences between men and women are what make marriages work, let alone that they’re the only things that work. Men and women may well be dramatically different in how they approach sex and relationships. But as anyone whose come into contact with actual married people knows, the difference between a given man and a given woman can often swamp out these factors. There’s no one marital dynamic that works, no one personality type for each gender.
And Rauch, again, has made an extended case for exactly what does make marriage so powerful: a case that relies far more on the social power of public commitments and legal obligations than on the stereotype of ball-busting wives reigning in their randy husbands. Medved doesn’t even acknowledge those arguments, let alone make a shadow of a case against them. Instead he just keeps harping on non-sequiturs:
[Rauch] wants his readers to believe that the missing factor in this dysfunctional subculture is governmental sanction for marriage when in truth that absent element is women.
Of course, Rauch has already made and substantiated his argument that marriage would improve the “dysfunctional subculture” of gay relationships, period, irregardless of any other “missing factor.” Claiming that the addition of women could also help is neither here nor there: maybe it could, maybe it couldn’t, but that doesn’t contradict the assertion that marriage could help.
And, of course, there’s also the tiny little problem that when closeted gay men do what Medved advocates and actually marry straight women, we know the likely result: not a complimenting harmony, but frustration for both partners, resentment, and ultimately martial disaster. It’s sort of sad to have to point this out, but even if Medved were right, and there was something magical and complimentary about two different sexes that gay couples can’t recreate, it’s still just not a realistic or workable option for gay people.
Like most anti-gay marriage crusaders, Medved basically has no solution to offer gay couples aside from simply ceasing to exist. He refuses to grapple with the idea that they do exist, will exist, and will have children. That’s the reality Rauch is dealing with, after which the question becomes: so, given that, what can we do? Medved, on the other hand, is simply in denial: offering gay men straight wives as a solution without even thinking how silly that is, and how destructive in practice it’s proven.
But that’s just what you get for trying to have a demagogue do the job of a real writer and thinker.