by Joe Shea
September 7, 2010
THE FIRE THIS TIME
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- If you've ever wondered why so many Americans become agitated over the idea of gay marriage, you might be interested in an explanation by author Jonathan Rauch.
Rauch, writing in the Summer 2010 issue of the Journal of Law and Inequality, first points out that gay marriage is far more controversial than same-sex adoption or same-sex child custody, which have the potential to be hotter issues.
Why aren't they? According to Rauch, for centuries it's been a truism that sex makes babies and babies make marriages.
"A core purpose of marriage and of many other conventions is to regulate sexual and social behavior so as to provide for the formation of stable, nurturing families," Rauch writes. "Under these rules families formed early, sometimes by choice, sometimes at the point of a shotgun. That was alright, however, because the man could get a job and support his wife and kids. Divorce was hard to get, and over time, we had reason to hope, the spouses would grow into their responsibilities."
In the Sixties, thanks to the birth control pill and a burgeoning global information economy, society changed.
People now need advanced education and training to earn a living. Women have entered the workforce. Lifetime jobs have all but disappeared. Today it takes more time to become an adult. And in the meantime, you can have sex without making babies.
So there's a new paradigm: You form a family after you've finished your education, started your career and found a mate.
For conservatives, then, babies make adults. "They are trying to maintain the linkage between sex, marriage and procreation," Rauch said. Gay marriage doesn't fit the model.
For liberals, marriages make babies. And gay marriage fits perfectly.
"Gay marriage opponents are wrong, I think, to see gay marriage as the problem and its prevention as a solution," Rauch writes. "But they are not wrong to believe that, for many Americans, the new rules are not a perfect or complete or sometimes even adequate substitute for the old. And so I would hate to lose touch with the traditionalist ethic along the way to whatever is coming next."
If the conflict is between babies making marriage or marriage making babies, you can view it as two world views that desperately need to be reconciled. And soon, before more cynical people fan the flames for their own personal gain. People like Ken Mehlman.
Last week, in an interview with Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic, Melhman - President George W. Bush's former campaign chief and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee - announced that he is gay. Why now? Because he is fighting in California for gay marriage and gay rights.
Why should we care?
Because the announcement catapults Mehlman into a special place in the annals of hypocrisy. Mehlman was at Karl Rove's side in 2004 when the Republican Party, to gain votes, whipped up the viral strain of homophobia that we still face today. Many states passed antigay marriage amendments in that election and some, like California, are still trying.
"His odious work led to broken families, gay teenagers committing suicide, LGBT couples who were not able to marry, broken people joining silly 'ex-gay' programs and individuals who lost their jobs or were hate crime victims," wrote Wayne Besen in the Huffington Post.
Bush, according to Mehlman, was not a homophobe; he was sympathetic to his coming out. Dick Cheney, as we know, has a lesbian daughter and supports gay marriage.
"It means that the former president's antigay policies were nothing more than a cynical and amoral attempt to divide America for the sake of political power," Besen wrote. "Mehlman played along with this tragic game. He willingly demonized marriage equality. He orchestrated some of the most vile antigay campaigns in history and profited handsomely from the wreckage."
As late as 2009/2010, Mehlman was still making campaign contributions to anti-gay politicians.
"He remains a proud Republican and does not think gay marriage should be a litmus test issue," Ambinder said.
Choire Sicha of The Awl points out that anyone making the difficult journey out of the closet deserves our sympathy and support. But Mehlman is a special case.
"To extend the empathy that he never once exhibited, it's sad that he has spent 40+ years blinded by ambition, in love with power, literally unable to think properly about causes and effects," Sicha wrote.
"And that he'll spend the rest of his life trying (one assumes) to compensate for his self-betrayal. But really, I find it next to impossible to keep any empathy going, given that his self-betrayal has a body count."
Joyce Marcel (joycemarcel.com) is a journalist and columnist. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.