Today, California same-sex couples are rushing to the altar. But this November, California voters will have their chance to say “I do” or “I do not” to gay marriage.
In the meantime, what have we learned about what gay marriage will mean for gays, for marriage, and for the wider society? In just the last few months, a newly confident same-sex-marriage movement is becoming more open and revealing about the answers.
The New York Times, of all places, gave us a glimpse in its front-page story this past Sunday, “Gay Couples Find Marriage Is a Mixed Bag.” What can we tentatively conclude? First, the conservative case for same-sex marriage is looking pretty tattered.
Same-sex marriages are tailing off rapidly, after what the New York Times describes as “an initial euphoric rush to the altar.” In Massachusetts, that rush included residents of other states — as indicated by the New York Times headline of May 18, 2004: “Despite Uncertainties, Out-of-Staters Line Up to Marry.” The latest data indicate that 867 gay weddings took place in Massachusetts in the first eight months of 2007, down from 6,121 gay weddings in the first six months of 2004.
This is the same pattern seen in other jurisdictions where same-sex marriage has been allowed. A 2006 report The Demand for Same-Sex Marriage, released by the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy (where I am president), looked at every nation and Canadian province that had same-sex marriage and concluded: “Trend data is extremely limited, but the available data suggest that the number of gay marriages tends to decrease after an initial burst (reflecting pent up demand).”
Second, many gay married couples reject “heteronormative” assumptions about marriage, and they (as well as the New York Times) are becoming remarkably more open about this.
When Andrew Sullivan tentatively suggested in the early Nineties that gay couples have a thing or two to teach heterosexuals about the rigid presumption of sexual fidelity, the public outcry lead him to recant (and today, he gets mad at you if you point out that he actually did say it).
Less than a decade later, Eric Erbelding from the perch of his legally recognized Massachusetts gay marriage, is quite comfortable explaining to the New York Times that “Our rule is you can play around because, you know, you have to be practical.”
Eric elaborates why he think it works for gay men: “I think men view sex very differently than women. Men are pigs, they know that each other are pigs, so they can operate accordingly. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Still, Mr. Erbelding said, in what to the old-fashioned ear is the most astonishing single sentence in the whole piece: most married gay couples he knows are “for the most part monogamous, but for maybe a casual three-way.”
For the most part . . . except for the casual three-way?
But hey, if the word “marriage” can be redefined as a civil-rights imperative, why balk at lesser ideas like “monogamy” or “fidelity”?