We Asked; You Said
Feedback From Communitarian Update
What is a communitarian position on gay marriage? Marriage is not merely a two-person affair; it involves a couple coming before a community to make a commitment in terms of the community’s values. Gay couples could do the same. But is there a way to extend to gay couples the same rights as heterosexual married couples while respecting the values of the millions of people who oppose gay marriage? Could a community ask gays to accept 97% of the benefits entailed by marriage–to have same rights of inheritance, visitation, Social Security benefits, etc.–but call that institutionalized relationship a “civil union” rather than “marriage?” For a beginning discussion of this issue seehttp://www.amitai-notes.com/blog/.
Here are the responses we received.
It is hard for me to understand why the prejudice against gays is respectable, but the prejudice against racial minorities and women is not. I am a strong believer in marriage, indeed in principle in the indissolubility of marriage. Making gay marriage legal would strengthen the institution of marriage, not weaken it, as promiscuity, gay or straight, certainly does. There was a time when it was socially acceptable to discriminate against blacks and withhold the right to vote from women. That time is past. It is also past time to withhold equal rights from gay people.
Robert N. Bellah
Is marriage necessarily defined first and foremost by sexual intimacy of some sort? There appear to be thousands if not millions of sexless marriages involving men and women. And doubtless thousands if not millions of heterosexual marriages in which traditional coitus plays only a small part of what their intimacy includes. Certainly homosexual couples who want to marry should enjoy the rights that go with any civil union in this society. Beyond that, I expect religious denominations to have to struggle with this question for any number of years, as they try to understand what it is the community is saying when it supports marriage. Most major religions have such defective theologies of human sexuality that it is no wonder they cannot even contemplate a dialogue on the question.
William V. D’Antonio
Visiting Research Professor
Catholic University of America
“Marriage is not merely a two-person affair; it involves a couple coming before a community to make a commitment in terms of the community’s values.” This statement begs the question: Which community? If the community means the entire population of the United States, couples marrying today are aware that the values of this community lack the stability and uniformity necessary to support a long-term commitment. The marriage is likely to outlast today’s community values.
It seems to me that we all want to be able to enter into family relationships with a certain degree of stability and predictable expectations. It also seems apparent that over the last 40 years or so the rules have changed rapidly and repeatedly, so that expectations of marriages are much less predictable than they were earlier in the last century. What we differ on is the best way to restore a sense of predictability. At one end of the spectrum are those who wish to establish a single standard that would return us to the past. At the other end are those who wish to make marriage simply a matter of private contract, providing a legal system that will enforce these as mere contracts, without any government-sponsored privileges connected with particular types of relational contracts. All are dissatisfied with the current patchwork of rapidly-changing laws independently legislated in 50 states.
From a practical standpoint, more legislation (more change) cannot achieve greater stability. India’s different marriage laws for different religions provides much more stability, but is not adaptable to American society. The route of privatization holds more promise. Does this necessarily mean that each family relationship will be an individually negotiated and self-defined contract? I think that privatization would lead very quickly to the formation of communities and affinity groups supporting different forms of marriage contract. Rather than going it alone, couples could opt into one of these forms, based on their preferences, and be assured at least as great a degree of stability and predictability as our current family laws afford.
Many of those who wish to have their marriages governed more conservatively oppose the only practically available means to do this because it would also mean that different expressions, such as gay marriage, would also be permitted and equally recognized. Like freedom of religion, different expressions of marriage must be tolerated by those who wish to have their own expressions supported.
La Mirada, CA
Of course a community could ask gays to accept [97% of the benefits of marriage] but call that institutionalized relationship a “civil union” rather than “marriage”, but it would definitely hurt the feelings of gay people. It would show that their values are still not respected, that they are not respected, that gay people are not considered to be equal, that the community thinks they are worth less than other couples. It would be a not-so-good compromise, and, if it works, this is a sign that shows that gay people do not even expect any more to ever be fully accepted by society. It is necessary to see why millions of people oppose gay marriage, and in my personal opinion these reasons do not have to be protected as they are nothing else but prejudice and discrimination. It is more important to do something against that, to explain and talk, and it is less necessary to protect prejudice and discrimination. I doubt if you could call that “values”. A compromise could only have one good: people who oppose gay marriage could grow accustomed to it and take their time to accept it.
I am in a heterosexual marriage of 18 years and am not sure I understand how this union is in any way threatened if other marriages look different than mine. The state sanctioned (not religious, but state) aspect of marriage – that part where you fill out a form and pay a fee – is essentially a contract between two people where you notify the state that this is the person who is your “next of kin” the inheritor of your social security benefits, a dependent on you health insurance, a guardian to children produced during the union. This not only protects you and your spouse – it also helps the state maintain stability in these relationships as this is the person the state will recognize as your “spouse” for legal purposes until you go through another state sanctioned rite of passage (another form, another fee) to end the union, called a divorce.
The fact that many people augment this legal arrangement with a religious ceremony in no way affects the state. Just as some religions may choose not to recognize a “religious” divorce, some may choose not to recognize a “religious” marriage between members of the same sex. The state, however, needs to recognize both of these legal arrangements.
Deborah M. Brock Ph.D.
Public Policy and Administration
This is a difficult issue. The very definition of marriage has to be changed if gay persons are to be married and as yet there has not, to my knowledge, been created a new and broader definition. It may be that “marriage” and “gay couples” simply cannot be joined. I think we have to ask about the purpose of marriage and in our society. This will necessarily have a Judeo-Christian perspective. From that perspective, marriage is for the creation of life and the mutual fulfillment of the desire of persons for community (intimacy). While homosexual couples can experience the second of these purposes, they cannot experience the first. Thus, I do not know how we can speak of gay “marriage” in the traditional sense that marriage has been considered.
And yet, there has to be sensitivity to the need of gay people for community (intimacy) with another person. In some way, this should be recognized, ritualized, and affirmed by society.
I am a United Methodist clergyman. I genuinely struggle with this issue from a pastoral perspective and the desire that all of God’s children be offered redemptive love. Yet I do not know how we can bridge the gap between the traditional definition of marriage and gay unions. Is it possible to create another social institution that is designed for the unique circumstance of gay people? I do not know and fear we yet as a society have quite a bit of struggle to engage before this issue is resolved.
Senior minister of First United Methodist Church
Baton Rouge, LA
I’m not a communitarian; I am a constitutionalist. Regardless of what the states choose to do on this matter, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence was wrong. It relied heavily on a brief submitted by historians that made a number of astonishing, and easily refuted claims. The fact is that the same reasoning used to strike down Texas’ sodomy law was used in the Lochner decision in 1905 to strike down all state regulation of working conditions. Since then, the Court has taken a different view of the matter. A consistent application of this notion would destroy big chunks of the regulatory state that liberals love so much–so I think we can be pretty sure that all their high sounding rhetoric in Lawrence is just a cover for striking down a law that they don’t like.
Clayton E. Cramer
Regarding Marriage: The states’ involvement and control over marriage should begin and end with the definition of property rights and responsibilities, much as is the case with business partnerships. Past that, the officiating agencies should have no more and no less prescription and proscription than is the case for special business agents (for instance real estate salesmen). These people so empowered to conduct marriage already exist in many places. The extent of council to those wishing to marry should relate to the scope of legalities resulting. Above all, unless the partners wish to be married in a church, the term “Holy Matrimony” should in no way attach to law. “Lawful Matrimony” would suffice. As should be evident, the gender of the partnership should not be a question other than to the parties themselves. By the way, I am heterosexual, but I think it criminal that people of other attractions should be denied their own choices.
The two other constraints which I would and do support, are that there should be an age below which people may not be married, and no one should force anyone into marriage. If the proscriptions of age and coercion can be managed, I also would have no problem with polygamy.
Gay persons should be treated as fairly as we treat any other persons. Their only difference is a preference for same sex activities. We must respect all persons as responsible persons with rights and duties to self and to community. There is no evidence that what they do harms thecommunity or each other or any children they may bring into their relationship. If they have such a strong commitment to each other that they want to formalize it and make it legal, why should we not accept that? These are not frivolous decisions, but lifelong ones that can only benefit thecommunity. The community should then grant them all the civil rights that belong to any other marriage. I am not sure that giving it a different name, “civil,” is fair, since it immediately may stigmatize them in the eyes of those who might be prejudiced.
Leo Rain M.D.
Granada Hills, California
Your premise mentions the “millions of people who oppose gay marriage” as if it is legitimate for me to say to two consenting adults that they cannot get married because I am morally opposed to that marriage. It is not a legitimate position to hold. I agree with Communitarians that we cannot only focus on rights but also responsibilities. However, with something as basic as two consenting adults deciding that they want to share the rest of their lives in the bonds of matrimony, who am I to stop them? Fifty years ago many people felt that it was a legitimate position to prevent the intermarriage of blacks and whites. It took the Supreme Court (Loving v. Virginia) to get rid of that notion. I view the opposition to gay marriage as a similar bigotry that needs to be swept away if we truly want “justice for all”.
Jules J. Mermelstein
Upper Dublin Township Commissioner
Managing Attorney, Levin & Associates
I do not believe that should be a communitarian position on gay marriage.
Fox Island, WA