The conservative case for marriage equality
Earlier today, I commented on John McGuirk’s piece, Shut Up, Marriage Hypocrites!! and think it worth writing a few words on the conservative case for allowing gay couples to marry. One way of looking at this is an analogy with the conservative approach to the question of whether multiculturalism or integration is the best approach for dealing with immigrant communities. Conservatives argue that the same rules and customs should exist for all. They would point to the danger of encouraging people to form separate identities, and that in the eyes of the state no special treatment should be granted to sections of the communities, treating people on individual merit. They oppose identity politics, saying that no woman should be promoted just because she is a woman and that the Congressional Black Caucus is racist.
Of course, while I could understand such expressions in the abstract, and believe that while individuals have rights, groups do not, in most of those cases identity politics grew out of a specific denial by a conservative establishment to a group of the rights accorded with others. Conservatives would not have had to deal with a feminist movement had they been less reticent about granting the vote and barring married women from the civil service and positive discrimination in employment would never have been an issue without the history of slavery, colonialism and racism. This does not give free reign to those who organize politically of behalf of certain groups, nor do I hold with all their claims (I believe, for example, that the membership of Portmarnock Golf Club is its own concern).
But if conservatives are in earnest about seeking to end separate rules for groups of people, they should favour marriage rather than civil partnership for gay couples. If society treats a lesbian or gay man as they do anyone else, I am nearly certain that we would see a slow diminishing of the popularity of gay pride parades.
Catholic morality recognizes the existence of homosexuals, but believes that it is a burden that should be borne through a celibate life. However unrealistic what it asks of straight people in matters of private behaviour is, this stance is infinitely more so. Those more enlightened churches who have realized that their moral guidance should not exclude a minority should be commended. If some conservatives have a feeling that gay people are more promiscuous, this could perhaps be because of the absence of the stabilizing institution of marriage.
Civil partnership does resemble marriage and could provide something of that effect. But the resentment caused by introducing a similar institution has caused a recent surge among gay people for full equal access to marriage. By admitting that gay relationships merit recognition, but not marriage, the law is making separate laws for situations it clearly acknowledges are equivalent.
I also do not understand the claim that this is an attack on the institution of marriage. Apparently, according to the ruling of the KAL case, a marriage between a lesbian couple cannot be recognized because of the Constitutional provision, in Article 41.3.1, that “The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack”. Yet surely establishing an institution meant to resemble marriage, with the claim that these rights are just as good as the real things, does more to damage marriage than allowing more people who wish to marry to do so.
In this way, marriage is something conservatives should see as a desirable option for gay couples, and to be promoted, rather than something to be grudgingly accepted as inevitable when it happens. Instead of simply waiting for society to be ready for this moment, they should argue the merits of this institution they so believe in.
I’d also recommend “The moral and constitutional case for a right to gay marriage,” by Robert A. Levy, chairman of the Cato Institute (h/t: Tom G. Palmer).