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Real Love?

May 20th, 2004 · 1 Comment

When last we saw Jenny Roback Morse, she was holding forth on the link between marriage and human nature, undeterred by her complete scientific illiteracy.

Now she’s produced another farrago of a piece on the subject—one of those that’s so confused in so many different ways, you barely know where to begin. The central argument (or “argument,” to mirror the conservative penchant for refering to “gay ‘marriage'”) is that:

[T]he legal definition of gay couples as married actually enshrines into law two presumptions about marriage. These first is that marriage is best understood as a contract between people who love each other; the second is that love is best understood as mutual affection. These are not neutral ideas; in fact, these presumptions aren’t even true.

The first supposed premise is a little bizarre. Sure, marriage isn’t just a business arrangement, it’s a special commitment and a generous sharing of the self and a part of the great ineffable mucus that bonds society together and a dozen other things I’ll inscribe on Hallmark cards to friends about to wed. But civil marriage considered as a legal relationship is more or less a contract, for the simple and good reason that the state can’t and shouldn’t inquire into any given couple’s ineffable social mucus quotient. Whether or not any particular marriage ends up being “a generous sharing of the self” isn’t something the state has much hand in and, more to the point, there’s no reason to suppose that the denial of this premise has any special relation to gay marriage. In short, Roback Morse seems to imply that only heterosexual couplings can result in the kind of “generous sharing” she describes, and so a businesslike, contractual view of marriage is some kind of necessary presumption of recognizing gay marriages. She provides no argument for this because, of course, it’s preposterously false.

Then we get Jenny’s musings on the true nature of love. There’s not much to say about that, except that, first, precisely the same symmetry applies here: We get no good reason to think her ideal of love is less possible or prevalent among gay couples than straights. More to the point, do we really believe that state recognition of couplings should turn on some contentious notion of what “real” love looks like? Does anyone want the clerk at the marriage license poking into whether their affective bond involves mere “mutual affection” or some kind of deeper “decision…to will and to do the good of the other”?

Even the repulsive Stan Kurtz at least makes a show of opposing gay marriage on the basis of claims that it will somehow undermine the child-rearing function of marriage. This piece is based on the infinitely more offensive, condescending premise that homosexuals are somehow incapable of any bond more meaningful than the equivalent of puppy love, or a schoolboy crush. (I initially puzzled at how the article was supposed to constitute an argument against gay marriage at all until I reached the end and spotted this assumption.) Employing her heretofore-unknown powers of telepathy, Morse tells us that “Most gay activists do not share this view of marriage. This is not what they are arguing for, nor what they seem to want.” You see, it’s really all about getting insurance benefits before another night out looking for anonymous sex partners at Kurfew. Of course, plenty of the rhetoric in the debate has focused on the unequal legal benefits afforded gay and straight couples, but then, that’s what you’d expect from a legal argument. If the state suddenly decided to dissolve Morse’s marriage—which would be rather poetic, actually—would she complain that she was no longer able to truly love her husband, or rather that she was being denied access to a set of legal relationships that are extremely useful when you’re trying to share a life with someone? One hopes it would be the latter, though you never know. Gay marriage proponents seem to realize far better than Morse that those crucial intangible aspects of marriage, unlike the legal benefits it affords, aren’t a gift from the state.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Emmanuel // Feb 18, 2005 at 10:33 am

    i love u guys