You may have noticed, I’ve stayed out of much of the Corner badinage over the issue of gay marriage. I am sympathetic to all — or almost all — of the arguments made by Frum, Kurtz, Derbyshire and others. I’m also sympathetic to Stuttaford (and Andrew Sullivan). On the one hand, I’m perfectly willing to accept the possibility that if we legalized gay marriage it would turn out to be an unmitigated disaster. Of course, as with so many cultural disasters, the odds are it would unfold so slowly few people would recognize its causes. We’d probably just redefine disaster as another form of success as we do so often when the culture goes to hell.
But I guess the only question I have for the conservative opponents of gay marriage — and I count myself among them, I suppose — is: What do they propose to do about gays? Let’s assume gays aren’t going anywhere. Let’s assume that whether it’s nurture or nature or both, there’s nothing we could do culturally or medically or otherwise to change the fact that out-of-the-closet-gays are a permanent fixture of human reality for centuries to come. What then do they propose? If their answer to the permanence of homosexuality is “nothing,” that’s certainly ideologically defensible. Inactivism should always be the first instinct of the conservative.
But if we take Stanley at his word that homosexual promiscuity is as bad as he seems to think it is, what cultural signals should we send to discourage it? After all such promiscuity is bad for the unmarried too, right? Certainly encouraging gays to enter stable relationships would curb such behavior. As a matter of politics – cultural and democratic – it just strikes me as impractical not to have an alternative social institution on offer for gays if, as a society, we are going to deny them access to the institution of marriage. If marriage is off-limits, is it such a horrendous compromise to change the laws so as to allow gays to share assets and entitlements with their partners? What is wrong with permitting private contracts to deal with such things as visitation rights to hospitals and all of the other “rights” currently denied to couples who cannot marry? Yes, I think government should give social space to the institution of marriage, but why should government forbid private contracts between private citizens. If a single man wants to designate another man who is not a blood relative as the beneficiary of his social security death benefits why should the government stand in the way?
In short, while I’m tempermentally sympathetic to “do nothing” proposals, this seems like one of those cases where you can’t beat something with nothing. I’ve come out in favor of civil unions of one kind or another, not because I’m excited about it, but because I don’t see how there’s any other option in the long run.