The Worst Case Yet Against Gay Marriage

by Isaac Chotiner | May 23, 2009

There is something nice--refreshing even--about a single article that incorporates everything you despise in a certain worldview. What's more, rather than looking for polite or euphemistic words, it is lovely to be able to say that the article is, simply, dreadful. 

The story in question was written by someone named Sam Schulman. It is entitled, 'The Worst Thing About Gay Marriage.' Schulman's argument is as follows:

When a gay man becomes a professor or a gay woman becomes a police officer, he or she performs the same job as a heterosexual. But there is a difference between a married couple and a same-sex couple in a long-term relationship. The difference is not in the nature of their relationship, not in the fact that lovemaking between men and women is, as the Catholics say, open to life. The difference is between the duties that marriage imposes on married people--not rights, but rather onerous obligations--which do not apply to same-sex love.

As part of the "kinship system," marriage has, according to Schulman, four effects. The first is too poorly presented to be summarized coherently or cogently. The second has to do with, yes, incest:

Incest prohibition and other kinship rules that dictate one's few permissible and many impermissible sweethearts are part of traditional marriage. Gay marriage is blissfully free of these constraints. There is no particular reason to ban sexual intercourse between brothers, a father and a son of consenting age, or mother and daughter...A same-sex marriage fails utterly to create forbidden relationships.

Third:

Marriage changes the nature of sexual relations between a man and a woman. Sexual intercourse between a married couple is licit; sexual intercourse before marriage, or adulterous sex during marriage, is not. Illicit sex is not necessarily a crime, but licit sexual intercourse enjoys a sanction in the moral universe, however we understand it, from which premarital and extramarital copulation is excluded. More important, the illicit or licit nature of heterosexual copulation is transmitted to the child, who is deemed legitimate or illegitimate based on the metaphysical category of its parents' coition. Now to live in such a system, in which sexual intercourse can be illicit, is a great nuisance. Many of us feel that licit sexuality loses, moreover, a bit of its oomph. Gay lovers live merrily free of this system. [Italics Mine]

Okay, terrific. Fourth:

Even in modern romantic marriages, a groom becomes the hunting or business partner of his father-in-law and a member of his clubs; a bride becomes an ally of her mother-in-law in controlling her husband. There can, of course, be warm relations between families and their children's same-sex partners, but these come about because of liking, sympathy, and the inherent kindness of many people. A wedding between same-sex lovers does not create the fact (or even the feeling) of kinship between a man and his husband's family; a woman and her wife's kin. It will be nothing like the new kinship structure that a marriage imposes willy-nilly on two families who would otherwise loathe each other. 

The sense that Schulman has never met a gay person gets stronger by the paragraph, before culminating with this gem:

Gay marriage may reside outside the kinship system, but it has all the wedding-planning, nest-building fun of marriage but none of its rules or obligations (except the duties that all lovers have toward one another). Gay spouses have none of our guilt about sex-before-marriage. They have no tedious obligations towards in-laws, need never worry about Oedipus or Electra, won't have to face a menacing set of brothers or aunts should they betray their spouse. But without these obligations--why marry? Gay marriage is as good as no marriage at all.

Uh huh. Schulman goes on to fret about children losing their "status as nonsexual beings" once all the gays are allowed to marry. He also informs the reader that he has been married three times. He concludes:

Every day thousands of ordinary heterosexual men surrender the dream of gratifying our immediate erotic desires. Instead, heroically, resignedly, we march up the aisle with our new brides, starting out upon what that cad poet Shelley called the longest journey, attired in the chains of the kinship system--a system from which you have been spared. Imitate our self-surrender. If gay men and women could see the price that humanity--particularly the women and children among us--will pay, simply in order that a gay person can say of someone she already loves with perfect competence, "Hey, meet the missus!"--no doubt they will think again. If not, we're about to see how well humanity will do without something as basic to our existence as gravity.

The neocons have long been obsessed with homosexuality, but it's nice to see that this focus has not completely clouded their charming self-pity. And, really, Sam: Married only three times? Surely there is a fourth woman out there, somewhere, who would not instantly see through this paragraph. Schulman's article, like others of its kind, is further proof that people who are unhappy or sexually frustrated or just angry will never stop lecturing the rest of us about what is proper and right. We can at least take comfort in the fact that a generation from now, the fight for gay rights will have advanced even further, and people like Schulman will be more marginalized and laughable than they are today.

--Isaac Chotiner

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-plank/the-worst-case-yet-against-gay-marriage