Just As I Thought

Riding to the rescue of marriage

There’s a good column today in the Post by Richard Cohen:

If Tom DeLay had half a brain (if pigs had wings), he would have cheered the news that Massachusetts may legalize gay marriages. The institution for which the House majority leader has such concern, traditional marriage, is both wobbly and wheezing — the butt of cynical jokes, a gold mine for divorce lawyers and, even for the non-initiated, the triumph of hope over experience. Gays, bless ’em, may wind up saving marriage.

In ways that DeLay and his conservative cohorts seem not to recognize, marriage itself is on the rocks. Twenty percent of all first marriages don’t make it past five years, and after a mere decade, one-third of all marriages are kaput. Married couples, once dominant in both life and sitcom TV, have gone from 80 percent of all households in the 1950s to 50 percent today. If you peek into the average home, the chances of finding a married couple with kids are just one in four. DeLay, don’t delay, marriage needs help.

Now along come gay couples to rescue marriage from social and economic irrelevance, casting a queer eye on a straight institution. They seek it for pecuniary reasons — issues such as estate taxes, etc. — but also because they seem to be among the last romantics. (No shotgun marriages here.) The odd thing about the opposition to gay marriage is that if the opponents were not so blinded by bigotry and fear, they would see that gay men and lesbians provide the last, best argument for marriage: love and commitment.

Just as gays are renowned for moving into urban areas that others have fled, for refurbishing whole neighborhoods and making them attractive, so they might rehabilitate and renew marriage. Of all people, they need it the least. They have already shattered convention with their lifestyles, and demolished our comfy and parochial notions of sexual categories — heterosexual male, heterosexual female and nothing else. But when it comes to marriage of all things, some of them want to veer toward the traditional. They want commitment and love — a universal truth in a manner that Jane Austen never envisaged.

The dour Republican Party, with DeLay and others promising a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (can Elizabeth Taylor be included, too?), is once again willing to stand athwart history, yelling stop. In the short term, it will work, since little in politics has the power bigotry does — certainly not reason. The many GOP politicians who have gay children will have to stifle all that their kids have taught them and fall behind DeLay in his backward march toward a vanished world. Some, though, may succumb to knowledge and empathy and suggest — softly, of course — that love and commitment are universals and not confined to a single category of sexual orientation.

Gay marriage will not and cannot weaken the institution of marriage. A heterosexual is not somehow less married because a homosexual has tied the knot. On the contrary, the institution will be strengthened, bolstered by the very people who for conservatives represent everything loathsome about modernity. Gays are not attacking marriage. They want to practice it.

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