On being in favor of marriage equality

holyoakThe last two weeks featured a series of prominent politicians who have come out in favor of marriage equality. As of this writing, there are only three senate Democrats who oppose same-sex marriage. Even two Republican senators have voiced their support for marriage equality. This trend is likely to continue. Nate Silver has run the data through his numbers machine to demonstrate that, by the end of the decade, even states like Utah will have a majority of citizens who favor same-sex marriage.

Not one to be outdone by multivariate analysis and a bunch of midwestern Republicans, I’m hereby officially coming out in support of marriage equality.

I’ve informally supported marriage equality for years now, likely beginning with the pubescent realization that I wouldn’t mind ending up in a gay marriage myself some day. But I didn’t develop an intellectual position on gay marriage until as an undergraduate at Southern Utah University. There I read, on an Indian summer day near the grove on upper campus, Same-Sex Marriage: The Moral and Legal Debate. The book contains a series of heartfelt essays both for and against same-sex marriage, but the tidal wave of evidence–morally, religiously, economically, politically–all fell on the side of same-sex marriage.

That isn’t to say marriage equality isn’t without its problems. But most of those problems are rooted in the marriage part, not the equality part. As an institution, marriage is about as conservative as they come. To quote my favorite comedian-curmudgeon Fran Lebowitz:

Do you think gay marriage is progress? Are you kidding me? This was one of the good things about being gay. I am stunned that the two greatest desires apparently of people involved in the gay rights movement are gay marriage and gays in the military. Really? To me these are the the two most confining institutions on the planet: people used to pretend to be gay to get out of going into the army.

My own brand of progressivism–peppered as it is with bohemian ideals I still harbor from too many years as a graduate student in the humanities–strongly resonates with Lebowitz’s position. Marriage seems so old-fashioned.

But, as Andrew Sullivan has been arguing for decades, marriage equality is both a conservative and liberal issue:

It’s liberal because of its insistence on equality; it’s conservative because of its insistence on responsibility, and because the alternatives – domestic partnerships/civil unions – are actually damaging to a critical social institution, civil marriage, by providing a marriage-lite option for all.

I suppose that, at the end of the day, this is where I finally fall: with Sullivan. Progressivism–which is for me a combination of liberalism and Mormon communitarianism–favors policies that allow both individuals and communities to make choices that maximize human agency. There is a lot to be done before marriage is ever a truly equal institution, but in the meantime, allowing gays to marry will go a long way to making that happen.



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