As a gay conservative I find myself caught between the two camps. I am strongly in favor of gay marriage yet I understand the concern of conservatives at the perceived attack on marriage.
The gay rights movement was born in the late 60’s early 70’s as a segment of the greater Civil Rights Movement. The early gay movement forged a unique culture emblemized by gay pride parades, drag queens, and the Sexual Revolution. Since the mainstream institutions were vehemently opposed to homosexuality, gays and lesbians felt little desire to conform or emulate those institutions. As mainstream society grew more tolerant of homosexuals, it diminished the need for the extreme in-your-face advocates. While major issues of homophobia and hatred still face the community mainstream American society is moving in the general direction of greater acceptance of homosexuality.
Gay marriage is a relatively recent phenomena and reflects a shift in the LGBT community away from Sexual Revolution towards greater American mainstream. One of the earliest and most prolific advocates is gay conservative, Andrew Sullivan. In a 1997 debate with David Frum, he summed up the desire for gay marriage by explaining “We do not want any change in the obligations that marriage entails. We want the same limits as now apply–but applied to people regardless of their sexual orientation.” In this sense the desire for gay marriage is not merely a fight for the legal and social benefits, but rather a desire for the serious commitments that marriage entails.
In my personal experience, growing up in Conservative Judaism, so much of the faith and religious ceremonies revolve around the family and the relationship between husband and wife. The acts of devotion, compromises of commitment, and even the challenges of marriage are to be revered as powerful accomplishments of humans as social beings. Too often marriage is unappreciated or abused for monetary benefits or convenience, and it pains me to see how casual marriage has become in our society. It is with this understanding that many gays, myself included, seek to be a part of this institution.
On the other hand, marriage is not a static custom and has changed drastically over the past thousand years. The Western conception of marriage was purged of polygamy, marriage as means of diplomacy, incest, underage marriage, and most recently immutable gender roles for husband and wife. The evolution of marriage continues today. Recent uproars surrounding unfaithful politicians from both sides of the isle reflect the greater concern of the American public towards fidelity. The concern with the loyalty of our politicians to their spouses was absent fifty or even thirty years ago, and I believe is a change for the good.
Opponents of gay marriage often lump homosexual unions with socially unacceptable acts like polygamy, bestiality, and pedophilia. What is missed in these comparisons is that those sexual acts are either inherently unequal and unfair as is the case with polygamy, or do not have the consent of both parties as in the case of bestiality and pedophilia.
Some approach from the biological perspective noting gay marriage does not naturally produce children. The first response is that technology is constantly advancing to allow both gay and sterile couples options in child-rearing previously unavailable. Secondly and more profoundly, marriage is not a biological institution; it’s a uniquely human social creation. If we were to follow biology strictly, polygamy would be ideal for breeding and none of the relationship aspects of marriage would be relevant.
I assume that much of hysteria surrounding the extension of marriage to homosexuals is based on fears of gay promiscuity. The bath house culture of the ‘80s and the bar/club culture today are not the greatest reflections of a community in need of marriage. This is not however, uniquely homosexual. The straight community has a wide spectrum of lifestyles from lifelong marriages to permanent bachelor and bachelorettes. The difference is that the promiscuous segment of the gay community receives much greater coverage. The gay marriage movement is not a desire to slap a marriage sticker on the bar scene and dilute the purpose of marriage, but rather to apply rules of marriage to ourselves and be recognized by society.