I wrote my first piece in favor of same-sex marriage on Oct. 12, 1989. And though my views have developed a bit since then, today seems like a good day to run that column again. So here it is:
Like broccoli pizza, homosexual marriage is a concept that seems to be at war with itself. But emboldened by social acceptance and prodded by AIDS, homosexuals are increasingly considering how their unconventional needs might be served by the most conventional symbol of heterosexuality. The day may be coming when the law will recognize the eternal union of husband and husband, wife and wife.
Most conservatives would prefer that gay relationships be permanently consigned to an inferior status, barred from the legal recognition and privileges that go with marriage. Some homosexuals and free thinkers want to legalize gay marriage precisely because they think it would confer social legitimacy and undermine heterosexual dominance.
Traditionalists may wonder what other conceivable reason there could be for gays to walk down the aisle. The biggest reason heterosexual marriage arose (and endures) is to provide a framework for raising children, which homosexual couples don`t produce. Besides, if gays want to pledge themselves to a lifetime union and a 30-year mortgage, who`s stopping them?
Framed this way, the dispute allows no compromise. For one side to win the other has to lose. Luckily, there`s a better option that would protect gays, advance goals of broad public interest and allow the state to avoid endorsing or disavowing homosexuality.
Gays have good reason to envy the formal legal status that married people enjoy. If a gay man dies, his partner won`t inherit anything, unless the deceased had the foresight to draw up a will. Nor will he be entitled to Social Security survivor benefits.
Employee benefits that extend to spouses rarely extend to homosexual partners. Any joint ownership of property by a gay couple has to be spelled out in tediously unromantic contracts. Without such agreements, splits can be messy and expensive.
Some of these problems can be addressed by the people involved, if they`re willing to spend some money on a lawyer. But that`s just the point. Gays have to go to a lot of trouble to spell out the rights and obligations of a long-term relatonship. A man and a woman can go to a justice of the peace.
Why should heterosexuals care about inconveniences to homosexuals? Partly because fairness and tolerance suggest it. Gays aren`t trying to take anything away from straights; they`re only asking for comparable treatment by the law. Partly because nothing is gained from denying homosexual relationships a secure foundation.
Unsympathetic heterosexuals accuse homosexuals of practicing reckless promiscuity and spurning permanent relationships-not to mention endangering public health by sexual behavior that facilitated the AIDS epidemic. But by denying gay couples the routine rights of married people, the law fosters just the sort of irresponsible (and sometimes lethal) conduct that heterosexuals abhor.
The whole point of marriage is to promote responsibility. In 1989, people don`t get married to escape a bleak life of celibacy; they get married because they want to exchange temporary pleasures for more lasting satisfactions. If heterosexuals weren`t allowed to wed, they`d behave less responsibly too.
Of course, gays don`t need to marry to rear kids. But not all heterosexuals have or want children either. A lot of them get married anyway, because they want to anchor their love in something permanent. Is it too much to concede that gays might be justified in wanting the same thing?
Some of the opposition to gay marriage stems from a simple distaste for homosexuality, which no amount of calm reasoning is going to change. Some of the objections, however, arise from the idea of letting gays take over an institution that was never designed for them.
But why do we have to call a legally acknowledged homosexual relationship a ``marriage,`` anyway? Why should we transplant all the customs of heterosexual marriage to alien soil, where many will wither?
A better approach is to call the new institution by a different name and tailor its rights and obligations to the different needs of gays. That way, gays would get the legal protection that some of them want, and straights wouldn`t feel their most revered institution is being mutilated and mocked.
The point, after all, is not to endorse homosexuality or disparage heterosexuality, but to let people pursue their own happiness in their own peaceable way. Like broccoli pizza, gay marriage isn`t for everyone, but that`s no reason to keep it off the menu.
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