Aug. 4, 2003: Gays may be hope for marriage

 

So what is it you have against gay marriage?

I'm not talking to the guy next to you. He doesn't have a problem with it. No, I'm talking to you, who is fervently opposed. The number of folks who agree with you is up sharply since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws in Texas. As recently as May, 49 percent of us supported some form of gay marriage, according to The Gallup Organization. The figure has since dropped to just 40 percent. That's a precipitous decline.

So what's the problem? What is it that bothers you about gay people getting married?

Don't read me that part in Leviticus where homosexuality is condemned. I mean, that same book of the Gospel mandates the death penalty for sassy kids and fortune tellers, by which standard the Osbourne children and Miss Cleo should have been iced a long time ago.

I read The Book. I believe The Book. But I also know that it's impossible to take literally every passage in The Book, unless you want to wind up in prison or a mental ward.

So don't hide behind the Bible. Let's just be honest here, you and me. Why do you oppose gay marriage, really?

It just feels wrong to you, doesn't it? At some visceral level, it just seems to offend something fundamental.

Hey, I understand. It's one of the emotional sticking points for us heterosexual types, this primeval "ick" factor where homosexuality is concerned. I won't try to talk you out of it.

I will, though, point out that once upon a time, the same gut-level sense of wrong - and for that matter, the same Bible - was used to keep Jews from swimming in the community pool, women from voting and black people from riding at the front of the bus. All those things once felt as profoundly offensive to some people as gay marriage does to you right now.

The issue has been vaulted to the forefront in the last few days. Political conservatives have been galvanized by it. President Bush says he wants to "codify" marriage as a heterosexual union. And the Vatican has told Catholic legislators that they must oppose laws giving legal standing to gay unions, unions the church describes as "gravely immoral."

Which is funny, given the level of sexual morality the church has demonstrated lately.

Anyway, the reasoning seems to be that gay people will damage or cheapen the sanctity of marriage and that this can't be allowed because marriage is the foundation of our society.

I agree that marriage - and I mean legal, not common law - is an institution of vital importance. It stabilizes communities, socializes children, helps create wealth. It is, indeed, our civilization's bedrock.

But you know something? That bedrock has been crumbling for years, without homosexual help. We don't attach so much importance to marriage anymore, do we? These days, we marry less, we marry later, we divorce more. And cohabitation, whether as a prelude to, or a substitute for, marriage, has gone from novelty to norm.

We say we shack up because we don't need a piece of paper to tell us we are in love. I've always suspected it was actually because we fear the loss of freedom. Or because we're scared to bet forever.

I'm not trying to beat up cohabitors. A long time ago, I was one.

But it strikes me as intriguing, instructive and poignant that gay couples so determinedly seek what so many of us scorn, are so ready to take the risk many of us refuse, find such value in an institution we have essentially declared valueless. There's something oddly inspiring in their struggle to achieve the social sanction whose importance many of us long ago dismissed.

So tell me again why it is you don't want them to have that.

I mean, yeah, some people say they are a threat to the sanctity of marriage. But I'm thinking they might just be its salvation.

Read more Leonard Pitts Jr. stories from the Miami Herald

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