March 18, 2004
Shelby Steele on gay marriage
Hoover Institute fellow Shelby Steele writes this Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he criticizes the notion that the gay marriage is a civil rights issue analogous to that of the struggle to end racial segregation in America. Mr. Steele, who favors civil unions for gay couples, nevertheless does not favor gay marriage. The entire op-ed is well worth reading, and here are a few of Mr. Steele's poignant observations:
But gay marriage is simply not a civil rights issue. It is not a struggle for freedom. It is a struggle of already free people for complete social acceptance and the sense of normalcy that follows thereof -- a struggle for the eradication of the homosexual stigma. Marriage is a goal because, once open to gays, it would establish the fundamental innocuousness of homosexuality itself. Marriage can say like nothing else that sexual orientation is an utterly neutral human characteristic, like eye-color. Thus, it can go far in diffusing the homosexual stigma.
In the gay marriage movement, marriage is more a means than an end, a weapon against stigma. That the movement talks very little about the actual institution of marriage suggests that it is driven more by this longing to normalize homosexuality itself than by something compelling in marriage. . .
But marriage is only one means to innocuousness. The civil rights framework is another. To say that gay marriage is a civil rights issue is to imply that homosexuality is the same sort of human difference as race. And even geneticists now accept that race is so superficial a human difference as to be nothing more than a "social construct." In other words, racial difference has been made officially innocuous in our culture, and its power to stigmatize has been greatly reduced. Evidence of this is seen in the steady, yet unremarked, rise in interracial marriage rates for all of our races. So if gay marriage, like race, is about civil rights, then homosexuality is a human difference every bit as innocuous. Thus, America should treat homosexuality like it treats race and give gays the "right" to marry as it once gave blacks the right to vote.
* * *
The civil rights movement argued that it was precisely the utter innocuousness of racial difference that made segregation an injustice. Racism was evil because it projected a profound difference where there was none -- white supremacy, black inferiority -- for the sole purpose of exploiting blacks. But there is a profound difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality. In the former, sexual and romantic desire is focused on the same sex, in the latter on the opposite sex. Natural procreation is possible only for heterosexuals, a fact of nature that obligates their sexuality to no less a responsibility than the perpetuation of the species. Unlike racial difference, these two sexual orientations are profoundly -- not innocuously -- different. Racism projects a false difference in order to exploit. Homophobia is a reactive prejudice against a true and firm difference that already exists.
Institutions that arise to accommodate these two sexual orientations can never be exactly the same. Across time and cultures, marriage has been a heterosexual institution grounded in the procreative function and the responsibilities of parenthood -- this more than in either love or adult fulfillment. Marriage is simply the arrangement by which humans perpetuate the species, whether or not they find fulfillment in it.
The true problem with gay marriage is that it consigns gays to a life of mimicry and pathos. It shoehorns them into an institution that does not reflect the best possibilities of their own sexual orientation. Gay love is freed from the procreative burden. It has no natural function beyond adult fulfillment in love. If this is a disadvantage when children are desired, it is likely an advantage when they are not -- which is more often the case. In any case, gays can never be more than pretenders to an institution so utterly grounded in procreation. And dressing gay marriage in a suit of civil rights only consigns gays to yet another kind of mimicry. Stigma, not segregation, is the problem gays face. But insisting on a civil rights framework only leads gays into protest. But will protest affect stigma? Is "gay lovers as niggers" convincing? Protest is trying to hit the baseball with the glove.
The problem with so much mimicry is that it keeps gays from evolving institutions and rituals that reflect the true nature of homosexuality. Assuming, as I do, that gays should have the option of civil unions that afford them the legal prerogatives of marriage, isn't it more important after that to allow quiet self-acceptance to lead the way to authentic institutions?
The stigmatization of homosexuals is wrong and makes no contribution to the moral health of our society. I was never worried for my children because they grew up knowing a gay couple that lived across the street, or because several family friends were gay. They learned early what we all know: that homosexuality is as permanent a feature of the human condition as heterosexuality. Nothing is gained in denying this. But neither should we deny that the two are inherently different. The gay marriage movement denies this difference in order to borrow "normalcy" from marriage. Thus, it is a movement born more of self-denial than self-acceptance, as if on some level it agrees with those who see gays as abnormal.
Meanwhile, in this Atlantic Monthly piece, Jonathon Rauch argues that principles of American federalism call for the gay marriage issue to be determined on a state-by-state basis.
Posted by Tom at March 18, 2004 7:44 AM |
But why do we need "civil unions" or state recognized marriages in the first place? It just seems odd to me that anyone is fighting for the right to plunk down money to license their relationships.
This doesn't mean that those who wish to have public ceremonies, church weddings that fall within their religious beliefs, or whatever value system you have, can't or shouldn't do that.
I just fail to see why folks feel the need to have any government provide a license for their love lives. My comments on this: http://ianism.com/postid=12
Other comments to the contrary to show me why it is so important to have state recognition of marriage are more than welcome!
Posted by: Ian Scott at March 20, 2004 10:32 PM
Well, I think the best answer is that you are correct, that there really is no reason to feel compelled to have the state license a union, as the law of common law marriage in many states reflects. However, there are benefits that the state provides to couples who license their union through the state that may not be available to those who live in a common law marriage. Perhaps the better question is whether the state should be allowed to deny benefits from those live in a common law marriage from those who license their union through the state?
Posted by: Tom Kirkendall at March 21, 2004 10:36 AM
"However, there are benefits that the state provides to couples who license their union through the state that may not be available to those who live in a common law marriage."
True. And this is something we should be concerned about. The more a government provides benefits based upon licensing (or any criteria really), the less freedom there is. Any "benefits" the government "gives" generally translate to tangibles being taken from someone else directly or indirectly. The government then begins to regulate more, including your licenced relationships.
Posted by: Ian Scott at April 14, 2004 1:53 PM
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