The Corner

Sullivan and Jonah

Andrew Sullivan has responded to Jonah’s syndicated column on the New York Times piece about Canadian gay marriage. Sullivan disputes Jonah’s critique of the analogy between misogyny and gay marriage. First of all, I think it needs to be stressed that marriage is not strictly a question of civil rights. On the basis of individual rights alone, legal marriage would have to be abolished–a position favored by many libertarians. In marriage, society holds that there is a compelling interest for the state to give special support and encouragement to a particular kind of family arrangement. Given such special state support to heterosexual couples with children, gays, polygamists, polyamorists, and single people all have a basis for claiming that they are being discriminated against. In fact, single people have begun to organize to fight state favoritism of married and childbearing couples. I believe that the state is entirely justified in giving special support and encouragement to traditional marriage, despite the complaints of, say, singles rights activists. Given this special state support, is skin color relevant to one’s ability to participate in marriage? No. There is nothing intrinsic about skin color that matters here. But the differential sexual and child-bearing dynamics of gay, lesbian, and heterosexual couples are highly relevant to marriage. That is why the civil rights analogy does not hold. By the way, in responding to my long “Beyond Gay Marriage” piece, Sullivan agreed that was fair to worry about the effects of gay marriage on monogamy. It seems to me that, in saying this, Sullivan has already acknowledged that the civil rights analogy does not hold. Sullivan believes that the intrinsically more stable dynamic of lesbian coupling will cancel out any negative effects of sexually open gay relationships. I disagree, and have said why many times. But in conceding that the effects of gay marriage on monogamy is a fair topic for concern, Sullivan has implicitly conceded that the analogy to skin color is flawed–that the dynamics of sexual coupling raises questions intrinsically related to marriage in a way that skin color does not. The danger is not that gays won’t marry each other, it is that they will–but with a different understanding of the rules of marriage. That is what made that Times article such a matter for concern.


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