David Brooks’s argument for gay marriage begins with a characterization of sexual promiscuity as spiritually deadening. Gay marriage is worth supporting, on his view, either because it would actually reduce promiscuity or because it would make a symbolic statement against it (I’m not sure which). I wonder whether there are other cases in which Brooks believes the government should adopt policies to combat spiritually deadening practices simply because they are spiritually deadening. I also wonder how solid the spiritual, or even moral, case against promiscuity is. If we were truly debating promiscuity, rather than gay marriage, obviously he would need to fill in his account of why promiscuity is so terrible. I am not sure he can, on his own premises. But in any case, having moved the debate from rights to morals and religion, Brooks cannot avoid engaging the moral and religious objections to homosexuality.
I don’t, by the way, think the argument against gay marriage based on gay promiscuity works either. That argument, with which NR readers are doubtless familiar, holds that gay promiscuity will undermine marriage rather than vice-versa. Nobody has tried to make this argument (to my knowledge) with respect to lesbians. But there is a deeper problem with it, even assuming that its factual premises are true. Why should a committed, monogamous gay couple be refused marriage simply because other gay couples would be less faithful than they? We would not exclude other classes from marriage simply because they had a higher-than-average likelihood of breaking their marriage vows. (Traditionalist readers will object to some of this terminology. The question, they will say, is not one of “refusing” marriage to anyone or “excluding” anyone from it. Rather, gay couples cannot meet the definition of marriage. They cannot become “one flesh,” a phrase that Brooks wrongly assumes is merely metaphorical. But this traditionalist objection should not be made to my argument. I am writing against an idea that implicitly accepts that framing of the debate. Its point, if it has independent force, is that we could extend marriage to this group except that it has a higher-than-average propensity to promiscuity.)
None of this is to say that there are no good arguments for, or against, gay marriage. I just don’t think that arguments concerning the effects of gay marriage on promiscuity, or vice-versa, are among them.