On gay marriage

I am very proud to join at least three prominent members of the Williams community, Bill Simon, Michael Lewis and Samuel Edgerton, in opposing gay marriage. Until recently, Bill Simon ’73, Member of the Board of Trustees, was running for governor of California. At his campaign website simonforgovernor.org, he clearly states: “I believe only a marriage between one man and one woman should be recognized by the state of California. I support President Bush’s efforts to place a Defense of Marriage Amendment in the U.S. Constitution.” Michael Lewis and Samuel Edgerton, both art professors at the College, recently wrote letters to The Berkshire Eagle in response to a 7/28/03 editorial “On to Gay Equality.”

Lewis, current chair of the art department, believes that the language used in the editorial was excessively immoderate. “There was no recognition that those opposed to gay marriage might be men of good will, who have thought soberly and compassionately about the subject. Instead they are caricatured with a torrent of shrill invective. . . so immoderate that it seems that it is the editorial writer himself who is on the verge of hysteria.” Clearly ignoring the women who also oppose gay marriage, Professor Lewis continues, “Those who oppose ‘gay marriage’ do so out of an inchoate bundle of reasons – ethical, practical, traditional, empirical, anthropological – most of which are honorable. The sexual union between a man and a woman, resulting in the making of a child, is the only biological function that two human beings can perform jointly. It is the underlying basis for the institutions of marriage and family.” Professor Edgerton wrote a letter in support of Dr. Lewis, essentially arguing that we cannot predict all the consequences of legalizing gay marriage, and that writers should seek to educate rather than berate readers for their views.

I agree that this issue should be discussed rationally, but “gay marriage in contemporary America” is a subject where the personal and the political are effectively inseparable; people must be forgiven when rage is part of such a discourse.

Like Mr. Simon and Professors Lewis and Edgerton, I also oppose gay marriage. And yet I find it frightening that the rhetoric used to oppose gay marriage rings hauntingly close to the language used to support anti-miscegenation laws in this country. The last of these laws that prohibit interracial marriage was struck down in an Alabama court in 2000. The basis for such laws lay in the morality of the lawmakers who believed that the unforeseeable consequences of interracial breeding would have a detrimental effect on marriage and the family. Judges throughout American history have acted in order to defend racial purity and the sanctity of the marriage (quite like Professor Lewis) “out of an inchoate bundle of reasons – ethical, practical, traditional, empirical, anthropological – most of which are honorable.”

Many believe that it is unreasonable to compare anti-miscegenation laws to the Defense of Marriage Amendment or other such laws. This obviously has to do with the key element of marriage: the manufacture of children. For many, this joint biological project seems to be the only purpose for the legal contract of marriage. And yet there are many heterosexual marriages that do not produce children, either because the couple is infertile or because they choose not to conceive. The law says nothing about these people. In fact, in this country, any two people of consenting age can get married –that is, of course, unless they are close relatives or of the same sex. Heterosexual couples even get married on television programs and in drive-thru chapels in Las Vegas every day. One out of every two marriages today ends in divorce. And I am sure that many prominent members of the Williams community join me in recognizing these as signs of the decay of the family and the institution of marriage.

Unlike most of these people, however, I celebrate the destruction of such a grotesque institution. As a gay man at Williams, I oppose gay marriage because I oppose marriage and the family in general. I believe that the health of these filthy institutions is of the greatest concern to anyone in society today. Marriage is an institution with a terrifying history of oppression and violence. Married women have been the object of assault, abuse and rape for centuries without legal recourse. The traditional marriage has encouraged irresponsible people to breed children that should never have been conceived. The institution of marriage is inextricably tied to a history of unacknowledged victims: the widow, the orphan, the illegitimate child, the abused child. Not surprisingly, prostitution flourishes in societies where marriage is sacred. And just in case there is any doubt, we should remind ourselves that such things have accompanied marriage and the family throughout history. Immorality is not a symptom of the decay of society; it is the sign of the health of marriage.

I, like many others, celebrate the gaudy televised death of the family and honestly believe that humanity has progressed to a point where we can envision a more humane basis for society than the barbaric traditions of the family and the marriage. Happiness should not come from placing supreme value on any one thing or forcing others to conform to a set of moral values that one extends universally. Modern human relationships are too complex to conform to convenient ideological patterns. I, therefore, urge others to recognize that gay marriage, like all marriage in general, is a sin against the humane society America aspires to be.