It struck me how central gay marriage has become to the liberal agenda over the last five years or so. Should this really be a top priority for liberals, I wondered? I thought back and tried, objectively, to make a list of liberal priorities in my lifetime:
Opposing President Nixon
Opposing the war in Vietnam
State-by-state ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) ratification
Defending legal abortion
Opposing aid to Contra fighters in Nicaragua
Nuclear freeze movement
AIDS research and awareness
Mobilizing against/sanctions against South Africa apartheid regime
Advocating national health care
2000's (first decade, not the whole century):
Opposing President Bush
Opposing the buildup to the war in Iraq and opposing the subsequent war
Opposing efforts to crack down on illegal immigration
Advocating national health care
Advocating nationwide and state-by-state legalization of gay marriage
So gay marriage is worth all this time and expense? Maybe it is. Maybe if I were gay, I would agree. The impetus for this piece, which I've been meaning to write for some time, was Eric Zorn's blog post about the couple who walked the plank (well, almost) at the top of Willis Tower Aug. 27. Willis Tower's observation deck on the 103rd floor has a new feature, the Ledge, in which tourists/guests can step out over downtown Chicago in a glass box about the size of an elevator cab. So this couple got married there, and Zorn thinks getting married at the top of a skyscraper is ridiculous and degrades marriage.* He doesn't understand why this is acceptable and legal, but gay marriage is not. It's an "outrage about which I will never hold my peace." Tell us how you really feel!
Gay marriage proponents nationwide spent about $40 million to defeat Proposition 8 in California on Election Day last November. Prop 8 is an amendment to the California State Constitution that says "Only marriage between a man and a woman is legal and valid in California." It doesn't ban civil unions, which California has. Prop 8 passed by four points after its opponents easily outspent its advocates. In analyzing the exit poll data (fascinating, by the way), gay marriage proponents, Zorn included, quickly concluded, "Well, once the bigoted old farts die out, we'll be able to repeal Prop 8."
Not so fast.
Besides gay people, who were the anti-Prop 8 movement's most dependable voters? Young people. Specifically, single young people. What happens to single young people? They get older, and they get married.
I'm making a proposal, and I know I'm not alone on this one: once people get married in traditional marriages to members of the opposite sex, they realize how special and unique marriage really is. They realize it's nothing like dating and nothing like shacking up in a love nest with someone. It has real responsibilities and real challenges, especially with raising children. It is about celebrating the differences between husband and wife, man and woman, and it is a truly rewarding experience.
When people get married and are utterly surprised and shocked by the special bond they just made, I think they realize that the relationship they share isn't possible between two men or two women. Some married people think that's okay and remain strong advocates for gay marriage. But I think there's a significant percentage of people who take another look at gay marriage after getting married themselves. "Maybe it's not the same. Maybe it doesn't deserve the same label." The relationship between husband and wife can't be duplicated in any other relationship. Zorn can stamp his feet all he wants--perhaps changing the law in the process--but he can't change that basic fact.
*Judging from the comments, some people thought this aisle walk degraded marriage too. It's not traditional--that's for sure--but I like it.