This morning as I was commuting, I read an article on First Things called “The Failure of Gay Marriage.” As I got off the train and pocketed my phone, I said to my wife, “I’m not sure what I just read, but I don’t like it.” That was my first impression of this ridiculous article and it is my continuing feeling about it. Honestly, this article makes less sense than almost any other argument against gay marriage I have seen anywhere, including Westborough Baptist.
At this point, I must iterate my usual encouragement to read the article before you continue, but you don’t have to. Having read it probably won’t help you understand it anyway.
Essentially, this article is arguing that because it is not heterosexual marriage, gay marriage is a failure. That’s what it boils down to. The reason gay marriage is a failure, however, are more complex than that. Here’s a list to aid understanding (yours and mine):
- Because it is “romantic marriage” (as opposed to arranged marriage, convenient marriage, shotgun marriage and political marriage, I suppose), there is no concept of virginity.
- There is no reason to care about chastity.
- There are no prohibitions on incest.
- There is no creation of a new family, a merging of families, or creation of lineage.
Confused? So am I. Still. And I’ve read it three times.
Instead of trying to understand what this is saying, let’s try to understand why I am/we are confused. I’m confused because gays do have a notion of virginity and chastity and incest and family. Simply put, all those social prescriptions that heterosexual people “enjoy,” like virginity and incest, gay people still have. I would not participate in an incestuous relationship with any of my relatives simply because we are of the same sex. Is this article saying that because I cannot produce children with any of my female relatives that incest doesn’t matter? God forbid.
Sticking with the example of incest, look at the argument this article makes about it:
Because gay marriage detached marriage from the kinship system, incest prohibitions have no weight: “If Tommy marries Bill, and they divorce, and Bill later marries a woman and has a daughter, no incest prohibition prevents Bill’s daughter from marrying Tommy. The relationship between Bill and Tommy is a romantic fact, but it can’t be fitted into the kinship system.”
This isn’t even a case of incest. Bill’s daughter is not Tommy’s daughter. They did not have the child together, so this is not an example of Tommy having a relationship with his daughter. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, Tommy, as a gay man, most likely would not embark in a relationship with a woman anyway. I make allowances for the fact that Tommy could be bisexual, but since the topic of this article is gay marriage, Tommy’s possible bisexuality makes little difference.
So this article is making a specious argument regarding incest and gay marriage. What about the rest? What about virginity and chastity? The article seems to say that because there are no “shotgun” weddings for gays that neither chastity nor virginity matter. Firstly, it ignores the fact that shotgun weddings are increasingly rare as straight society has embraced a culture of cohabitation and long-term, non-wedded relationships. Second, how do they know gay shotgun weddings don’t happen? Maybe more of them would happen if there actually was legal gay marriage? But, honestly, who cares? Lacking a social provision for a forced marriage does not make gay marriage less valuable or viable. In fact, it might make it stronger.
What I found particularly disturbing about this article, though, was its emphasis on virginity and procreation. First, let’s tackle virginity. It is not true that there is consideration of virginity for members of the LGBT community. It is, in fact, an important thing, just as valued and protected among gays as it is heterosexuals. Let me make the personal disclosure that I remained a virgin until I was 19 and I did so on purpose. I “saved myself” for someone I knew would be important to me; not necessarily my last relationship, but a meaningful one.
My virginity and the virginity of other gay people is valuable, but not for the same reasons it is to some straight people. It is meaningful because it is a valuable emotional experience, a mutual sharing of feelings and intimacy. Now, this is present in many heterosexual relationships, but in this article there is an assumed and unspoken value placed on virginity that is not being expressed clearly: the archaic value of a woman remaining in her ability to produce legitimate heirs to a man and in the ability of a man to regulate her sexual activity. You can see this in the emphasis the article makes on “creation of a new lineage.” That lineage is a man’s lineage and its consideration is part of the ancient law of inheritance. This value of lineage has reduced in the last century or so as understandings of family and changes in inheritance law have been affected. For instance, the legal ability of a woman to inherit and own property changed considerations of lineage.
About the issue of virginity, however, I see something wholly insidious. This argument is an argument about control of women’s sexuality. Historically speaking (something the article appeals to), virginity was only regulated in women. Men could have sex indiscriminately before marriage and even after. This explains the prominence of brothels and prostitutes in previous eras which catered to men. Women, however, were not allowed to have sex in the same ways. The concept of the “fallen woman” is completely a creation of the regulation of female sexuality and the primacy of men. Essentially, this article is advocating a patriarchal message that was outdated even when it was current.
And in case you doubt my assessment, let me include this sentence from the article.
One of the things marriage has done is to force men to respect the chastity of women until sex becomes socially acceptable within marriage.
Once again, women are only valuable if they are chaste. Otherwise, men have no respect for women.
I hope that I am sounding relatively cogent in this discussion. I am still shaking with rage at the implications of this article. I just want to wrap up with one last matter the article discusses: how people act in a marriage.
Because gay marriage doesn’t bear the burdens of virginity and chastity, it doesn’t bear the burdens of real marriage which, Schulman argues, even today are “honored in spirit if not in letter, creating for women (women as modern as Beyoncé) the right to demand a tangible sacrifice from the men who would adore them.”
For an article that argues that gays are making a mockery of marriage by concentrating only on sex, this is perhaps the most hypocritical assertion it makes. Apparently, the sacrifices a woman asks a man to make are a giving up of the sexual freedom he enjoyed but she didn’t. That’s just stupid.
In reality, the sacrifices of marriage are far more deep and intimate than just a change in sexual habits. They involve time commitments, energy and effort, the sacrifice of foibles and pet peeves, an acknowledgment that priorities cannot be selfish, but must include the needs of another person. Marriage, for better or worse, is a melding of two people and their souls into a working and caring whole. That doesn’t change for two people based on their sexuality.
I think what truly outraged me about this article was the complete twisting and discounting of my own relationship. My “wife” and I are not married. It is not legal where we live, but that does not mean that we take our relationship any less seriously than straight people. The commitment may not have been made as publicly, but that does not make it less binding. We have acknowledged each other’s rights to make demands on each other, to remain exclusive in our sexual relations and to recognize a relationship with each others’ families because of our connection to each other. I am no less connected to my in-laws than a straight person is.
It was well and truly dehumanizing to see my relationship and very person so maligned by this article. I am insulted by the implications of incest. I am insulted that my only value as a woman or a person in general is based solely on the status my hymen. I am insulted by the patriarchal attitude of this article and its insistence that marriage is irrelevant to me. And, frankly, I am insulted that this intellectual shallow and lazy argument was made at all. If you are going to insult me and others like me, at least do it in a way that is intelligent. If you can’t, then don’t bother making a fool of yourself.