A leading Washington journalist argues that gay marriage is the best way to preserve and protect society's most essential institution
Two people meet and fall in love. They get married, they become upstanding members of their community, they care for each other when one falls ill, they grow old together. What's wrong with this picture? Nothing, says Jonathan Rauch, and that's the point. If the two people are of the same sex, why should this chain of events be any less desirable? Marriage is more than a bond between individuals; it also links them to the community at large. Excluding some people from the prospect of marriage not only is harmful to them, but is also corrosive of the institution itself.
The controversy over gay marriage has reached a critical point in American political life as liberals and conservatives have begun to mobilize around this issue, pro and con. But no one has come forward with a compelling, comprehensive, and readable case for gay marriage-until now.
Jonathan Rauch, one of our most original and incisive social commentators, has written a clear and honest manifesto explaining why gay marriage is important-even crucial-to the health of marriage in America today. Rauch grounds his argument in commonsense, mainstream values and confronting the social conservatives on their own turf. Gay marriage, he shows, is a "win-win-win" for strengthening the bonds that tie us together and for remaining true to our national heritage of fairness and humaneness toward all.
In this highly readable but rarely innovative polemic, Atlantic Monthly correspondent and National Journal columnist Rauch argues that the gradual legalization of gay marriage can only strengthen the institution it wishes to expand. He argues that pervasive separate-but-equal strategies would weaken the institution of marriage more than marriage for all, because of the inevitable appeal of "marriage-lite" to heterosexual couples who might otherwise marry. (A recent New York Times article documents precisely that phenomenon in France.) Yet for Rauch, currently a writer-in-residence at the Brookings Institution, the most compelling argument for gay marriage is moral, and only tangentially related to the principle of granting citizens equal rights under the law. Echoing recent arguments by Andrew Sullivan and David Brooks, Rauch defends gay marriage as the only social reform that can save gays from what he characterizes as the adolescent and unfulfilling lifestyle that love and sex outside of marriage has forced upon same-sex couples for centuries. Allowing gays to participate in "the great civilizing institution" would inevitably ennoble gay relationships; providing access to marriage would give them access to "a better kind of love." Such sallies will leave some readers wondering whether "better," for Rauch, really means "straight"; "If I could have designed myself in the womb," writes Rauch (who is openly gay) elsewhere, "I would have chosen to be heterosexual." Reporting such fantasies may win Rauch points for honesty, but they don't do much for his argument, other than to allow straights who support equal rights but are uneasy with homosexuality itself to identify with his position more easily. Such mixed signals make for a decidedly mixed bag.