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Conservative vs. Liberal: Gay marriage

February 19, 2012 |  5:30 am

CanWeTalkOn Sunday, Charlotte Allen, who describes herself as a conservative somewhere to the right of Pedro the Cruel, and Diana Wagman, a pacifist, vegetarian, Prius-driving, NPR-listening liberal, explained in separate Opinion articles why they have trouble talking to people with different political views. ("Liberals vs. conservatives," "Conservatives vs. liberals.") But we've asked them to try, conducting an exchange of emails on the issues of gay marriage and healthcare. Here is their correspondence on gay marriage.  On Monday, we'll feature their exchanges on healthcare.  

Charlotte Allen to Diana Wagman:

I don't care whether two men or two women want to get married until the cows come home. What gets up my nose is having to pretend that they really are married. Do I really have to say "you and hubby" (as one of my libertarian friends did just recently) when I'm talking to a gay guy about his domestic affairs? That's the problem with the federal Prop. 8 ruling: It's not about the kind of relationship that gays have -- California's domestic partnership law gives them all the rights and privileges that married couples enjoy -- but about what other people are going to be forced to call that relationship. Gay marriage is coercive.

Wagman to Allen:

I can't quite figure out from your email what bothers you about gay marriage.  It seems to be the word "marriage."

Do you call Kim Kardashian's 72 days with her "hubby" marriage?  Is Newt Gingrich really married -- this time?  I'm offended by what a lot of people call marriage, but not by my friends Rachel and Deena.  They've been legally married for eight years and have two children.  And yes, Deena is Rachel's wife and that's how I introduce her.    

What's coercive is someone telling me what marriage must be.  It's between me and my partner.  If it bothers you to call Rachel and Deena married, then don't.  It's not up to you or anyone else to label their relationship.  

Don't Republicans want to get the government out of people's business?  You don't want the government telling me I have to buy health insurance, but you do want government to mandate who I can and cannot marry.  

Allen to Wagman:

1. Yes, it's the word "marriage," the same word that "bothers" the vast majority of Americans who believe that marriage can exist only between a man and a woman and who vote to uphold that belief and that definition whenever they are given a chance. Marriage reflects male and female sexual union and the complementary nature of males and females. Since male and female sexual unions are procreative by nature (if not always procreative in effect), marriage is the social recognition of that union, and the vows of fidelity that accompany it are supposed to guarantee that the children of that union know who their biological parents are and are raised and supported by them. This is something that every human society has recognized since time began, long before there were any laws regulating marriage. Even societies that have tolerated and even idealized homosexual unions (e.g. the ancient Greek world) have never purported to attach the name "marriage" to those unions. Same-sex marriage is a conceptual novelty of the last 20 years or so. It's coercive for a branch of government, in the case of the 9th Circuit, the federal judiciary, to force people to abandon a definition of marriage that has held for millenniums and to adopt a new and unprecedented definition. The 9th Circuit's majority opinion was all about the word "marriage."

2. Since I don't know what was going on inside Kim Kardashian's head (if she has one -- just joking!), I have no idea whether hers was a real marriage or just an excuse for a big party. I can't even remember her "husband's" name. As for Newt and his three wives, we do have liberal divorce laws in this country, whether we like them or not, and whether we think it's right for a man to be fooling around with Wife No. 2 while still married to Wife No. 1 and with Wife No. 3 while still married to Wife No. 2.

In short, yes, heterosexual couples have mucked up the institution of marriage quite a bit, with no-fault divorce being one of the chief culprits. That doesn't mean that the institution itself has disappeared or been radically redefined.

3. I'm sure that Rachel and Deena are wonderful people. But what do they have to do with the issues at hand? You are essentially making an argumentum ad misericordiam, an appeal to pity: "You're talking about my friends!"

4. Applying "labels" to things, people, abstractions, ideas and relationships is what human beings do when they think and then express their thoughts verbally with their power of speech. Animals don't "label." That's because they're not human.

Wagman to Allen:

Actually, Charlotte, according to a May 2011 Gallup poll, 53% of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be recognized by federal law as valid.  Opinions have progressed since the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.  And of course you can't even talk about procreation. Women aren't property anymore and kids aren't the reason people get married.  Many heterosexual marriages are child-free by choice, and many gay and lesbian couples have children.  It doesn't matter what they called it in ancient Greece. We don't sacrifice goats to the gods anymore either.  Society evolves.  People -- including the ancient Greeks -- used to own slaves, but we figured that one out.  I hope we as people are getting smarter and more empathetic and even "in the last 20 years" have learned a few things.

I'm not sure your definition of marriage has held for millenniums.  Marriage has been around -- as a business contract -- since before Christianity. Love had nothing to do with it; it wasn't really marriage as we know it. Here's the definition of marriage I like:

"In its essence, marriage is a selfless act. It is the act of giving oneself to somebody else and becoming one. Of course, it is impossible for two people to unite and remain separate. And since the essence of marriage is selflessness in a self-centered society, it faces opposition from today's popular culture."

Guess who said that?  Rick Santorum in a 2003 speech to the Heritage Foundation.  And that has nothing to do with children, or the generations who have come before, or whether that selfless act is between opposite-sex or same-sex partners. 

Same-sex marriage is the last civil right prohibited by the federal government.  A  domestic partnership recognized by the state of California offers no protections federally.  If a soldier dies in Afghanistan, his or her same-sex spouse cannot receive a military pension, or Social Security benefits or any other federal advantage.  If a soldier falls in love with an Afghan while in the service -- as has happened -- only a heterosexual Afghan is allowed to immigrate and be with the person he or she loves.

All the studies show marriage is good for society, good for children and good for the health and well-being of the people involved.  Don't you want that for everyone?  Shouldn't everyone -- and by extension all of society -- reap the same benefits? 

As to labels, you're right, only people label and I have to label you as selfish.  No one else's marriage, as you rightly state about Kim's and Tom's and Newt's, reflects on yours in any way.  So why should you get a federal benefit my friends, as examples of countless homosexuals who pay taxes and vote and fight for this country, are not entitled to?   

Allen to Wagman:

If, as the 2011 Gallup poll indicates, 53% of Americans believe in recognizing same-sex marriage, why not put the matter up to a vote in the democratic process? Then, Americans would be able to redefine marriage as they see fit. Why not rerun Prop. 8 in California instead of relying on razor-thin judicial majorities to declare it null and void?

Otherwise, your email seems to consist of a mishmash of topics that I never raised: Christianity, women as property, the romantic thoughts of Rick Santorum. None of this has anything to do with the definition of marriage that I offered, which is:

"Marriage reflects male and female sexual union and the complementary natures of males and females. Since male and female sexual unions are procreative by nature (if not always procreative in effect), marriage is the social recognition of that union, and the vows of fidelity that accompany it are supposed to guarantee that the children of that union know who their biological parents are and are raised and supported by them. This is something that every human society has recognized since time began, long before there were any laws regulating marriage."

This is a definition that hardly depends on social context. It has held for people who sacrificed goats to the gods (some still do that today!) and for people who thought that God was a goat. Some societies practice polygamy, some essentially sell daughters to husbands, and some require fathers to pay large sums of money to have husbands take their daughters off their hands. In some marriages, mutual love isn't an element; in others, mutual love is the very essence. All of those arrangements are grounded in the ineluctable biological reality that men instinctively need assurance that the children they raise are their own, and that women instinctively need the support of a man while they are bearing and raising young children. This is marriage.

I suppose that you could say that in just the last 20 years (when gay marriage suddenly became the numero uno issue for gays) we've "evolved" to a higher plane -- or at least we in the West have evolved, as there's been no such revolution in the Islamic ummah. Yes, lots of people now get married with no intention of having children. Other people, same-sex couples, "have" children (typically by importing the gametes of some outsider into the household and then pretending that the resulting offspring is both of theirs, an arrangement that undoubtedly works well for some but can go haywire if the couple splits).

If this is so, and there is now suddenly a "right" to same-sex marriage, let's have a vote on whether the institution should be redefined. This may be already happening, as some state legislatures (and the council of my own District of Columbia) have done that very thing. Yet to date, when same-sex marriage has been put up to a popular ballot initiative, it has failed. In any event, the decision of what marriage means ought to be a societal decision, not the coercive fiat of progressive federal judges.

Finally, I don't understand what is "selfish" about wishing to retain the age-old definition of marriage. I personally don't have anything to gain by it. But society has a great deal to lose when it disconnects marriage from the most stable and durable social institution that human beings have ever invented, the biological family.   


Why gay marriage is inevitable

Prop. 8 simply can't justify itself

Conservative vs. Liberal: Healthcare

Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times

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