United in matrimony PRO: Why do gays want to marry? For the same reason anyone else does.

June 02, 1996|By Andrew Sullivan

"A STATE cannot deem a class of persons a stranger to its laws," declared the Supreme Court recently.

It was a monumental statement. Gay men and lesbians, the conservative court said, are no longer strangers in America.

They are citizens, entitled, like everyone else, to equal protection -- no special rights, but simple equality.

For the first time in Supreme Court history, gay men and women were seen not as some powerful lobby trying to subvert America, but as the people we truly are -- the sons and daughters of countless mothers and fathers, with all the weaknesses and strengths and hopes of everybody else.

And what we seek is not some special place in America but merely to be a full and equal part of America, to give back to our society without being forced to lie or hide or live as second-class citizens.

That is why marriage is so central to our hopes. People ask us why we want the right to marry, but the answer is obvious. It's the same reason anyone wants the right to marry.

At some point in our lives, some of us are lucky enough to meet the person we truly love. And we want to commit to that person in front of our family and country for the rest of our lives.

It's the most simple, the most natural, the most human instinct in the world. How could anyone seek to oppose that?

Yes, at first blush, it seems like a radical proposal, but, when you think about it some more, it's actually the opposite. Throughout American history, to be sure, marriage has been between a man and a woman, and in many ways our society is built upon that institution.

But none of that need change in the slightest. After all, no one is seeking to take away anybody's right to marry, and no one is seeking to force any church to change any doctrine in any way. Particular religious arguments against same-sex marriage are rightly debated within the churches and faiths themselves.

That is not the issue here: There is a separation between church and state in this country. We are only asking that when the government gives out civil marriage licenses, those of us who are gay should be treated like anybody else.

Of course, some argue that marriage is by definition between a man and a woman. But for centuries, marriage was by definition a contract in which the wife was her husband's legal property. And we changed that. For centuries, marriage was by definition between two people of the same race.

And we changed that. We changed these things because we recognized that human dignity is the same whether you are a man or a woman, black or white. And no one has any more of a choice to be gay than to be black or white or male or female.

Some say that marriage is only about raising children, but we let childless heterosexual couples be married (Bob and Elizabeth Dole, Pat and Shelley Buchanan, for instance). Why should gay couples be treated differently?

Others fear that there is no logical difference between allowing same-sex marriage and sanctioning polygamy and other horrors. But the issue of whether to sanction multiple spouses (gay or straight) is completely separate from whether, in the existing institution between two unrelated adults, the government should discriminate between its citizens.

This is, in fact, if only Bill Bennett could see it, a deeply conservative cause. It seeks to change no one else's rights or marriages in any way. It seeks merely to promote monogamy, fidelity and the disciplines of family life among people who have long been cast to the margins of society.

And what could be a more conservative project than that? Why indeed would any conservative seek to oppose those very family values for gay people that he or she supports for everybody else? Except, of course, to make gay men and lesbians strangers in their own country, to forbid them ever to come home.

Andrew Sullivan is a senior editor of The New Republic and the author of "Virtually Normal: An Argument about Homosexuality." This article was distributed by New York Times Special Features, 1996 Newsweek.

The debaters

In favor: Andrew Sullivan is a senior editor of The New Republic and the author of "Virtually Normal: A Argument about Homosexuality."

Against: William Bennett, editor of "The Book of Virtues," is a co-director of Empower America.

(These articles were distrubuted by New York Times Special Features, 1996 Newsweek.)

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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