Meeting the Emotional Needs of the Elite
Brown professor Anne Fausto-Sterling, recent Massachusetts-made spouse of Brown professor Paula Vogel, skirts the heart of the same-sex marriage debate (coming to a small coastal state near you) in a Providence Journal column today. Interspersed with a description of exactly the sort of ceremony that one would expect from New England radicals, Fausto-Sterling offers points of rhetoric that adeptly slip right past any arguable point so as to return to emotionalist tugs that are ultimately irrelevant:
Many argue that marriage is about family, parents, children, and generational continuity. I agree. And here, too, I cannot fathom how hetero- and homosexual unions differ.
It might be enough for many (maybe most) of those with a conservative bent that Fausto-Sterling “cannot fathom how hetero- and homosexual unions differ.” But simply shrugging such statements off without rebuttal allows the mantra to do its work among citizens who, especially in this region, want to be tolerant, but who wish this uncomfortable issue would just go away. The biology and gender studies professor goes on:
Not all marriages of either sort have children — sometimes by choice, sometimes because the bodies are unwilling.
I cannot fathom how a highly educated woman so casually equates “marriages of either sort” under such an inapt euphemism as “unwilling bodies.” On one side of the orientational divide are couples biologically constructed so as to have children, often without even trying, with the vast majority of the married among them procreating at some point in their lives. On the other side are couples biologically incapable of doing the same and aware of that inability from the moment their eyes first meet.
Moving on from that dubious elision, Fausto-Sterling opens her rhetorical umbrella so wide as to argue for same-sex marriage on the basis of benefits that marriage of any sort is not needed to provide:
But married couples, with or without children of their own, serve important roles for children — as aunts and uncles, as godparents, as teachers and confidants.
As should be immediately obvious even to those outside the ivied walls, couples can serve such roles with or without being married — with or without being couples! Indeed, when Fausto-Sterling poses her closing rhetorical questions, readers might wonder why it is she believes we need institutional recognition of marriage at all:
How could it be that these ceremonies that stabilize us, that strengthen communities, that support children, that offer social and economic supports, especially in old age and in times of illness, benefit couple and society when two-sex couples engage in them, but not when same-sex couples do?
It isn’t the ceremony that makes the marriage; marriages can be had with a minimum of frills, after all. Furthermore, nobody, to my knowledge, is arguing that ceremonies of any sort oughtn’t be allowed. The question that Fausto-Sterling is apparently ideologically disinclined to address beyond a dismissive “no” is whether the nature of same-sex couples calls for differences in the way in which our public institutions handle them. Perhaps it would be beneficial for our society to find some way to encourage commitment and stability among homosexuals, but that does not mean that it can or should be the same as our encouragement of men and women to marry each other.
How can the good things that marriage brings to same-sex couples subtract from the worth of marriage between couples of different sexes?
By allocating benefits and extending definitions meant to create a social expectation to a relationship that is fundamentally a matter of choice (because it cannot create vulnerable dependents), and by blurring a necessarily simple and concrete social construct, both inherently and through the threat of further change.
I ask those opposed to marriage for lesbians and gay men: Which of the pledges we made during our marriage harm you?
To this final question I give the implied answer, but without the implied conclusion: Absolutely none, and that is why such pledges oughtn’t be stripped of whatever meaning their takers invest in them. Fausto-Sterling’s view of society, however — in which direct harm to another is the only barrier to defining culture for one’s self — is antithetical to the purpose of marriage.
Marriage is meant to unite couples even when they aren’t inclined to make pledges. It is meant to define a culture in which two people who have the ability to be responsible for the creation of new life will handle that new life responsibly, binding themselves to each other on that basis, even if not entirely for that reason.
In other words, appeals to the emotions and tolerance of good-hearted people aside, marriage isn’t about the pledges and ceremonies of autumn-aged elite white women after fifteen years as a couple.