The first response to this Real Clear Policy column by Jim Antle was a mix of about equal parts smug, wrong, and stupid. It reminded me again a) why I tend not to write about gay marriage, and b) why I established this blog’s restrictive comments policy.
The commenter attempts to summarize Antle’s arguments against gay marriage back to him thus, “‘It’s gross, mostly because they can’t have kids, and childless/infertile couples are too insignificant to matter and should get over themselves.” He charges Antle has abandoned the good fight and “simply shift[ed] to a different goal: namely, keeping those AWFUL homosexuals (boohoohoo) from raising kids” and then says some stupid things about sociology and the March of Science.
The question at issue in this whole debate, which Antle grasps but most of the people on the other side strain mightily to ignore is, What is marriage about? Is it about sex, love, rights, recognition, or what? Why does the institution exist in the first place in such a way that governments have taken a justified interest in it?
A lot of us can answer unambiguously that marriage is about children. As Antle writes, “sex between men and women frequently produces children. Even when that is not true in specific cases (childless couples, the infertile), it is indisputably true in general.” And thus “Heterosexuals need an institution that channels their sexuality into something fruitful, that makes adults responsible for the children they create, makes parents responsible for one another, and curbs male promiscuity.”
Is gay marriage compatible with this objective? Probably not, is Antle’s considered answer. He entertains the idea that gay marriage could exist as something “similar to married priests in the Catholic Church: an exception to the rule for people in a unique set of circumstances that doesn’t alter the basic character of the institution,” but offers us good reasons to doubt that will turn out to be the case.
Antle concludes, “Men, women, and children need an institution that does what marriage does. The question remains how well marriage can perform its vital functions when redefined to make men, women, and children optional.”
Along the way, he makes a few important distinctions, including the observation that most opponents of gay marriage don’t really want to, well, ban it: “We don’t want the cops to interrupt gay weddings, throw both grooms in jail, or interfere with anybody’s financial arrangements or hospital visitation rights.” In fact, “virtually none” of the reasons for defining marriage as between one man and one woman “have anything to do with stigmatizing gay people.”
I’m tempted to close this post with a Carly Simon joke (“You’re so vain / you probably think this wedding is about you”) but, perhaps not.