As the Senate has been considering repeal of the appalling Clinton-era Don't Ask Don't tell rule this week, I've been giving a lot of thought to how far the country has come in the last decade and a half on our attitudes towards gay rights. And it caused me to reflect on the fact that, although I personally feel very strongly about both the importance of repealling DADT and also offering access to marriage for gay men and women, I think of the two issues a bit differently.
Don't Ask Don't Tell is, as I see it, the most straightforward and indefensible example of outright legal bigotry still in place in our system. I can't think of any other group of individuals who are straightforwardly banned from participating in any part of our civil society purely on the basis of who they are. Can you? What if we told Jewish soldiers that they could serve with their Christian comrades, but only if they never aknowledged their faith? Of if we told Hispanics that they could serve only if they could "pass" for anglo? What if we told married heterosexuals that they could serve only if they never told anyone of their marriage, or did anything that might allow their fellow soldiers to understand that they were married? That is quite literally exactly what we are asking gay men and women to do - and all for the priviledge of fighting and dying to defend... us. It's appalling, it's morally reprehensible, it unduly traumatises good men and women who want to serve, it harms our national security by preventing highly qualified people signing up, and there is broad agreement from both the top military leaders and the rank and file soldiers themselves that repealling it would do no meaningful harm to our military capacity. In fact, of the 70% of currently serving military who said that they believed they already were serving with gay or lesbian colleagues, 92% of them said that it had had no effect on the performance of their unit.
Everyone who continues to defend this policy should hang their heads in shame, as they no longer have even a fig leaf of a reason to do so.
Yes, I'm talking to you, John McCain.
But gay marriage is something different. Although I fully accept and agree with the contention that it is also bigoted to exclude gays from this institution, I can understand the rationale of the people who say that this to some extent change the nature of the institution. Marriage WOULD change if gays and lebians were allowed to fully participate in it. Just as it changed when it turned from a financial arrangement in which the bride was offered up as collateral for a bargain between two men. Just as it changed when women gained legal rights to property within marriage.
I support the innovation of allowing gay men and women to participate in the institution of secular civil marriage because I believe that this would not only be of great benefit to the couples who would now be allowed to marry, but also because (as with heterosexual marriage) encouraging two people to make a lifelong commitment of mutual responsibility and promise solemnly before the state and their loved ones to honour and care for each other is of enormous benefit to society as a whole.
Very large numbers of gay households are raising children - I believe it's better for children to have two parents than one. Sometimes, in gay couples, one partner will find themself in financial difficulty - I believe it's better for the community if that person is financially supported by their partner than through the welfare system if this is possible. Sometimes, in gay couples, one partner will become sick - I believe it's better for them and everyone if that person is not only loved, cared for and supported by their partner but also, yes, has access to their partner's health insurance so that they avoid having to potentially end up in medical bankrupcy. Sometimes in gay relationships, one partner come from another countries - I think it's better that they are able to stay in America rather than have to flee the country to be somewhere that their relationship can be aknowledged by the immigration authorities. Sometimes in gay relationships, people fight. I think on the whole, if they still love each other, that there be some reasonable expectation that they make an effort to work things out.
I support marriage for gay people, in other words, for the exact same reasons that I support it for straight people. And because I think it would be a change to the institution of marriage that would improve it.
Also, because... weddings. Dontcha just love em?