One of the core arguments social conservatives employ in opposing same-sex marriage is that it would set a dangerous precedent—pushing the institution of marriage down a slippery slope toward state-sanctioned bestiality. I’ve thought this rationale to be vacuous.
If anything, I think that same-sex marriage is a shortsighted idea that doesn’t go far enough.
Most Americans insist that they want the word “marriage” to continue to mean a long-term, opposite-sex union, as it has in the Judeo-Christian world for nearly two millenniums. To put this issue into better perspective, imagine that English were more like German and that the word marriage had a lot more syllables: longtermoppositesexunion. Should same-sex couples wed under that label? I say no—and that gay activists have been fighting the wrong battle.
The real challenge is to have the state begin to recognize the full range of healthy, non-exploitative, romantic partnerships that actually exist among human beings. Gays are correct in expressing outrage over the fact that official recognition, the power to make health decisions, inheritance rights and tax benefits, have long been granted to only one kind of committed partnership in the United States. But wanting their own committed relationships to be shoe-horned into an old institution makes little sense, especially given the poor, almost pathetic performance of that institution in recent decades. Half of first marriages fail in the U.S., after all, as do nearly two-thirds of second marriages. Is that really a club you want to join?
Even if marriage were redefined to accommodate same-sex couples in California, would any real benefits ensue? The state’s current domestic partnership law—wait, I mean its longtermsamesexunion law—does everything a state can do for a romantic same-sex couple, creating complete parity between gay and straight couples. Gay “marriage” adds nothing except the label, still leaving those all-important federal rights—accelerated immigration rights, Social Security and federal tax benefits, veterans benefits and many others—completely inaccessible.
Let’s fight a larger battle, namely to have government catch up to human behavior. That means recognizing the legitimacy of a wide range of consensual, non-exploitative romantic partnerships, each of which should probably have its own distinct label.