In light of all the debate around DADT & marriage equality, the results from the most recent election in Maine, Washington, Maryland, and Minnesota, as well as President Obama’s inauguration speech, I want to leave you all with an excerpt from Bruce Bawer’s book Beyond Queer, which contains a piece from author Andrew Sullivan, former editor of the New Republic. This excerpt appeared in the piece “The Politics of Homosexuality” which he wrote for the New Republic on May 10, 1993.
But the critical measure necessary for full gay equality is something deeper and more emotional perhaps than even the military. It is equal access to marriage. As with the military, this is a question of formal public discrimination. If the military ban deals with the heart of what it is to be a citizen, the marriage ban deals with the core of what it is to be a member of civil society. Marriage is not simply a private contract; it is a social and public recognition of a private commitment. As such, it is the highest public recognition of our personal integrity. Denying it to gay people is the most public affront possible to their civil equality.
This issue may be the hardest for many heterosexuals to accept. Even those tolerant of homosexuals may find this institution so wedded to the notion of heterosexual commitment that to extend it would be to undo its very essence. And there may be religious reasons for resisting this that require far greater discussion than I can give them here. But civilly and emotionally, the case is compelling. The heterosexuality of marriage is civilly intrinsic only if it understood to be inherently procreative; and that definition has long been abandoned in civil society. In contemporary America, marriage has become a way in which the state recognizes an emotional and economic commitment of two people to each other for life. No law requires children to consummate it. And within that definition, there is no civil way it can logically be denied homosexuals, except as a pure gesture of public disapproval.
In the same way, emotionally, marriage is characterized by a kind of commitment that is rare even among heterosexuals. Extending it to homosexuals need not dilute the special nature of that commitment, unless it is understood that gay people, by their very nature, are incapable of it. History and experience suggest the opposite. It is not necessary to prove that gay people are ore or less able to form long-term relationships than straights for it to be clear that, at least, some are. Giving these people a right to affirm their commitment doesn’t reduce the incentive for heterosexuals to do the same, and even provides a social inventive for lesbians and gay men to adopt socially beneficial relationships.
But for gay people, it would mean far more than simple civil equality. The vast majority of us – gay and straight – are brought up to understand that the apex of emotional life is found in the marital bond. It may not be something we achieve, or even ultimately desire, but its very existence premises the core of our emotional development. It is the architectonic institution that frames our emotional life. The marriages of others are a moment for celebration and self-affirmation; they are the way in which our families and friends reinforce us as human beings. Our parents consider our emotional lives to be more important than our professional ones, because they care about us at our core, not at our periphery. And [therefore] it is not hard to see why the marriage of an offspring is often regarded as the high point of any parent’s life.