Gay Marriage at the Court

03.27.13

Why Gay Marriage is Worth Fighting For

Boring, bourgeois gay marriage isn't a dystopian future. And it isn't just about the legal benefits.

I confess to being surprised at the reaction to yesterday's article on the boring, bourgeois future of gay marriage.  I expected people to point out--correctly--that I can't actually know this, and to say that in their opinion, I was wrong.  It's true.  I'm making a prediction about the future, and there's no way to know whether I'm right until, well, the future happens.  

What I didn't expect was for people to take this as some sort of veiled threat to gay people that they'd come to regret this quixotic battle for gay marriage.  For starters, I don't think it's quixotic.  Marriage is awesome!  I hope many more people do it.  I wish I'd done it sooner, except of course, that I only met my husband a couple of years before we got engaged, and I wouldn't want to be married to anyone else.  

Yesterday's post, while obviously speculative, was not some sort of elaborate concern troll.  I think that gay people will soon be able to get married throughout the United States, and that this will be good for them.  I'm very happy to think of loving gay couples settling down into the profound and wonderful banality of legal matrimony.  

I also happen to think, and hope, that the gay marriage revolution will be both cause and effect of a larger trend back towards a more traditional view of marriage as a lifelong project between two people who are expected to tough it out and build a life together unless their marriage is truly awful.  

On a somewhat related note, over the next few decades, I expect to see support for out-of-wedlock childbearing and premarital and extramarital promiscuity wane.  In fact, I think it is already waning among the elites, at least as regards to each other.  Yes, I am aware that there are non-monagamous couples who have good marriages.  But for various reasons, I do not think that this is ever going to be a sustainable norm for our society.

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Twitter has shown a lot of support for marriage equality.

That is not, to me, a horrible dystopian future; a future with more marriage and less fooling around is, in my opinion, a better one (and not because I have any particular moral brief against the fooling around: I'm a fairly secular social liberal, same as my critics).  Actually, I was shocked at how many people thought the point of that post was to threaten gays that we'd take all their nookie away if they got married--and threaten straights who supported them with the possibility that this horrible gay marriage legislation would force us all into sa grim, joyless existence, locked together in the house away from all the sex and the fun.  

Au contraire, mon frere! In general, married people report having more sex and better sex than single people.  They're happier with their lives, and report lower levels of loneliness and depression. Obviously, there's some selection effect here, but there's really no reason to think that more people getting married younger means a reduction in Gross National Fun. All the evidence suggests the reverse.

I did get one other fair criticism, which is that I seemed to be suggesting that gay people weren't in happy, stable relationships before.  More than one gay person informed me that they wanted marriage equality for the legal benefits, but they already had a loving, committed partnership, thankyouverymuch.  

Now, I didn't mean to suggest any such thing, but apparently I did suggest it, so let me apologize and offer a correction.  There are many, many committed gay couples, happily raising puppies and kittens and babies and crabgrass.  And I never thought that there weren't--I mean, literally, never.  I grew up around committed gay couples and I've seen beautiful relationships stretch into decades.  So if I may plead a bit of an excuse, I didn't take pains to note that gay people can form long term relationships because I thought that was too obvious to require elaboration.  

That said, I do want to take issue with the idea that the fight over gay marriage is just a fight for some legal conveniences.  If it were, it wouldn't be worth fighting for.  Aside from a few real estate conventions, the legal conveniences can be worked around fairly easily with a modicum of estate planning.  Or with civil unions.  Gay marriage advocates are fighting not to have to resort to legal conveniences or ersatz substitutes.  They're fighting for the real thing.  

And they're right to.  While I was working on a book last year, I got to interview Daniel Gilbert, who told me a great story.  Gilbert is one of the nation's leading happiness researchers, and one of the points he makes in his great book, Stumbling on Happiness, is that the human brain will actively craft happiness out of any situation we can't change.  Once we've accepted that we can't change it, the brain goes to work figuring out reasons why it's really pretty great.  

At one point, he got into a conversation about this with someone who said, "So marriage isn't something you do to signal your committment and love; it's something you do to create the committment and the love."  Gilbert thought about that for a minute and then said, "My god, that's exactly right!"

"So I went home," he told me, "and I proposed to the woman I'd been living with for 12 years, and he was right, I love her even more now than I did before we got married."

That's why the fight is for gay marriage, not gay civil unions or gay private marriage contracts.  And that's why I think that we should be fighting harder for heterosexual marriage as well.  Perhaps I'm optimistic, but I really do hope that the fight for gay marriage is ultimately going to help us save marriage for everyone.