Same Sex Marriage in the Current Context


The Stonewall Inn, 1969

The passing of the monumental bill by the NY Senate last Friday (in addition to the UN commitment to protect LGBT rights) demonstrated clearly the increasing social acceptability of same sex marriage. While the movement started and is continuing with the passionate support of marginalized people, the case for same sex marriage is gaining momentum because it is becoming “cooler” to support it – being pro-gay-marriage is slowly becoming the default, and voting against it is more commonly seen as bigoted and discriminatory.

Even just a few years ago, only the more socially liberal Democrats would support same sex marriage (like in 2009, when every Republican and 8 Democratic senators voted the bill down in the New York Senate) – but this last Friday all of the Democrats in the Senate and 4 Republicans voted for gay marriage.  So…what changed? 2011’s bill included that amendment that protects the right of religious institutions who refuse to marry same-sex couples, but that wasn’t the only reason – it’s the slow change of what’s socially expected.

In that strange way that things viewed as “radical notions” can eventually trickle down and become accepted common sense, supporting same sex marriage is becoming the the norm.  Not long ago, anyone who campaigned for same sex marriage in the US had to explain their case persuasively and passionately to be taken seriously, but now the pressure is shifting to the other side – those who oppose gay marriage are the ones who are required to defend themselves. Being pro-gay-marriage is almost universally assumed for Democrats, and some Republicans are “coming out” as supportive of the cause too, like NY Senator Roy McDonald, who said “f*** it, I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing.” Apologetic hand gestures and the requisite “But hear me out…” are being reassigned to the “traditional marriage” crowd – especially among academics, the upper middle class, and young adults, it would seem.

Interestingly, as views on gay marriage are shifting, the view of marriage in general is changing too. The “married scene” (or whatever you would call it) is one filled with unmarried couples who refer to their pets as children, couples who live together for decades before getting married, couples who don’t get married at all, divorce cakes, and an annoyingly-often-quoted-and-never-cited 50% divorce rate.The Western idea of marriage is conflicted: we still say “Til death do us part”, we still tend to teach (or at least show) the ideals of marry-young-and-live-Happily-Ever-After, but we’re getting married at an older age2 and marriages don’t tend to last “til death”.  I’m not here to argue the healthiness or unhealthiness of divorce or cohabitation, – the point is that, whether good or bad, the idea of marriage is changing in the West, and we don’t seem to be sure into what.  Same sex couples are fighting and protesting their way into a strange and fickle club; one that (technically and idealistically) promises lifetime commitment and doesn’t really deliver.  It’ll be interesting to see what the statistics will look like for newly married same sex couples in the future.


Outside the Stonewall Inn, June 23, 2011

Support for LGBT marriage rights seems to be going the way of racial equality and women’s rights – our kids are probably going to be baffled at the idea of the Defense of Marriage Act, like we were at some women’s rights and racial discrimination issues that we take for granted. One difference, though, is that same sex couples, unlike women and racial minorities, will definitely always be a minority, unless demographics change hugely (or there are way more of us in the closet than we thought). This is another thing that’s going to make the future interesting for same-sex politics – the discrimination might just cycle around again after all of the people who witnessed the fight for marriage equality are gone, unless the idea of LGBT rights settles itself into a comfortable position as the social norm. That seems to be the case so far.3

1 the best source I could find, figure 13; the second best source I could find
2 source
3But maybe this will be a short-lived trend, considering the growing muslim population in the EU and the US; juxtapose that with the fact that the 7-9ish countries in which homosexual activity is punishable by death (Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Mauritania, Yemen, Somalia [Somaliland], Afghanistan [capital punishment until 2009, which is still often unoficially enforced], Pakistan [sometimes, where Shar’ia law applies]) are all Muslim-majority states. If demographic trends continue and Muslim-majority states continue to tend to enforce Shar’ia law, it doesn’t seem that same sex marriage will be able to remain a social norm, at least in Europe, for more than a few decades.

5 responses to “Same Sex Marriage in the Current Context

  1. When you said “unless demographics change hugely (or there are way more of us in the closet than we thought)”, the only thing I could think of was Andy on “he Office being worried he was homosexual just because Michael started a rumor (“Michael…am I gay?”).

    I’m sorry if bringing The Office into this takes away from what you’re trying to say here. I think you say a lot of good things here. The whole homosexuality issue is frustrating for me, mostly because I don’t know what I think about it as a Christian, an American, a person, and a maybe future pastor who will have to perform marriages and represent the church. I’m trying to have a stronger, more-informed opinion though, and this post helps with that. But it’s still morally confusing for me. I don’t know if that’s better or worse than being pro-gay or anti-gay, but there it is.

    • (Sorry it took me so long to reply)
      I think being confused about it is perfectly acceptable because, like you said, there are multiple ways to look at it (as a person, as a Christian, as an American; legally, ethically, etc..) – and, I’d personally prefer a discussion with someone who thoughtfully considered the issue, no matter what their stance on the whole thing, over a discussion with someone who violently and unthinkingly happens to agree with me.

      But being pro- or anti- isn’t the point – can one be ethically against homosexual activity and not have any qualms with its legalization? It’s a complicated issue, and one much too complex to be split into “pro-gay or anti-gay”. The problem with . . . well, the world is that we tend to love polarity, and so it’s hard to tell whether our desire to remain polarized is due to conviction, a love of truth, or just our human tendency towards political laziness. And when things like the potential oppression of people’s rights is involved, figuring that out becomes a very difficult and delicate situation.

      So I’m all for more informed opinions. Stronger, though? Well, good luck with that in any case.

  2. Elisa First I must begin with 2 apologies. First, i know that I am being a bit of an archaeologist, commenting on what may seem an old conservation. Second, like Dan, this post leaves me confounded as it marks questions of my own rather than answers. I have to say that your post is probably correct. For better or worse, American cultural attitudes towards marriage and relationships are changing in ways that are alien to members of previous generations, as well as members of other more traditional societies. Unfortunately, I feel like I am being alienated from my generation in the process.
    I say this for two reasons, the first is because I am a armature philosopher, the second is because I am Roman Catholic. As a philosopher (an especially as a writer) I like to consider the implications and presuppositions of the many views I hold and encounter in my life. Unfortunately, the philosophy behind the Gay Rights movement strikes me as one that is unsatisfactory in it’s explanations. basing them in the appetites of an individual. To my understanding the it’s reasons for justifying gay marriage is “I have a homosexual desire. I have a right to pursue happiness. (Some even say ” I have a right to happiness.”) Satiating my desire makes me happy. Therefore, my homosexual actions should be legally sanctioned.” This is what confuses and frightens me. Not the fact that homosexuals are saying this; indeed, most of America seems to be saying it, but it is an argument that fills our national consciousness. This is where my Catholicism steps in, and gives my stomach the willies.
    The reason my Catholicism gives me the willies, is not the fact that I may have to live with more and more openly gay persons in the future, and these people are being seen as normal. If I believed so, I would not be following the great example of Christ and the Saints. What concerns me it the emphasis on the self. While it is true that the self is an essential part of my religious teaching, and that it has been ignored or devalued by many Catholics in the past; it seems that our current culture has gained too much momentum in its efforts to correct this mistake, emphasizing the self too much.
    This is a fact which I have read much about and discussed to some extent in Dr. Pearse’s Crisis class that I took last semester. A key crisis of our Generation, is the very fact that our identities are becoming more and more amorphous as they become more and more self-centered. I feel like I am an alien in my own time, proclaiming a Gospel of death and resurrection when the masses seem content with idleness and the feeble nothingness of materialism. And I fear, that attitude could produce the destruction of the nation which I love so much. I say this, because I know our generation knows little of the sacrifices that my Grandmother had to live with. She remembers living in a time when sugar, chocolate, and nylon stockings were nearly impossible to acquire. A time when the death of schoolchildren was common, and the conscription of a generation was accepted a necessary evil. In contrast, God help the legislator who proposes a change moving towards these events today. And despite our prosperity and security, I believe that we are the worse nation because of it.
    I guess what I am saying here, is that I fear that while the changing views of Americans concerning gay marriage may be accepted by some, I fear that it is part of a larger national trend which could ruin our nation…
    I hope that I am wrong.

    • Zekiel,
      This is an excellently thought out and articulated comment. Thanks for that. Also, I can see the Pearse in your eyes.

      I think that you are right in pointing out that many of the arguments for the legalization of gay marriage are a larger part of the West’s lunge towards the denial of the many for the self, and that that larger trend will probably be crippling to society in general.

      Your point about the necessary sacrifices made by the previous generation was also pertinent – those were things necessary for the survival of the whole, and it certainly doesn’t seem like any sort of thing would be able to pass in today’s society – again, possibly something that points to the weakening of current social values and structure.

      But I would like to make the small point – just to avoid the drawing of a false parallel – that while these things are very true, and those sacrifices benefited the population, gay marriage remaining illegal is not a sacrifice that benefits the population, not that can be demonstrated, anyways (I’d suggest this summary [and others like it] of myriad studies that found no difference in the well-being of children of same-sex parents, for one:, nor will gay marriage tax or draw on the resources of society the way that other socially irresponsible actions do.

      So while your point definitely addressed the larger and probably harmful trend of diminishing social responsibility, I discourage the immediate inclusion of the legalization of gay marriage into the larger group of socially selfish actions, or other refusals to sacrifice for the betterment of society. If you do intend to call the legalization of gay marriage socially irresponsible in the same sense that the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation were socially responsible, then there needs to be proof that refusal of gay marriage would benefit the state, legally or socially.

  3. Touche Elisa. You are correct when you say “But I would like to make the small point – just to avoid the drawing of a false parallel – that while these things are very true, and those sacrifices benefited the population, gay marriage remaining illegal is not a sacrifice that benefits the population, not that can be demonstrated.” I guess I should have expanded my penultimate to read like this: “I guess what I am saying here, is that I fear that while the changing views of Americans concerning gay marriage may be accepted by some, I fear that it is part of a larger national trend which could ruin our nation through the use of arguments and premises that overemphasize the individual to the breakdown of society.”
    Elisa I owe you thanks for presenting me with the following quandary: How does a individual of faith interact with the world? Especially when one lives in a democratic society where a majority seems to hold beliefs and ideals contrary to one’s belief. How does one affect change without being totalizing or a doormat. In simpler terms, how do I remain loyal to the United States when it conflicts with Rome? Indeed, this may be a fundamental question that could boggle our generation of Christianity. How do we give to Cesar (or Obama) what belongs to him, while still giving God his due? Of course this question is noting new, both the early church, and Jesus himself, were forced to contend with individuals and a society that disagreed him. Perhaps, the Church of today is receiving a chance to grow in love and wisdom like it did as it did in it’s early years.

Join the discussion-

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s