Gay Marriage — David Brooks and the Conservative Case

November 24, 2003 | no comments
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David Brooks recently laid out a conservative argument in favor of gay marriage. While Brooks echoes and expands on many arguments which have been floating through the blogosphere, his commentary is important for at least two reasons. First, Brooks is a well-known and identified conservative, with credentials including lengthy gigs at the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard. It would be difficult to accuse him of being a liberal in conservative’s clothing, which in turn means conservatives may be less prone to dismiss his argument by attacking the messenger. Second, Brooks lays out a rather well-reasoned argument that appeals to conservative values (though it arrives at a result which conservatives have opposed).

At its core, Brooks’ argument is that opposition to gay marriage runs counter to the conservative ideal of fidelity and monogamy. If a gay couple wishes to be faithful and monogamous, Brooks suggests that society should do everything in its power to facilitate that desire — including sanctioning gay marriage.

Perhaps most significantly, Brooks recognizes and agrees with the (generally conservative) perception that marriage is currently in crisis, as large numbers of marriage end in divorce. Many conservatives have suggested that allowing gay marriage will further weaken the institution of marriage (See, e.g., FRC here and the Weekly Standard here). Brooks begins with the same premise, that marriage is in crisis, but arrives at an opposite conclusion:

Still, even in this time of crisis, every human being in the United States has the chance to move from the path of contingency to the path of marital fidelity — except homosexuals. Gays and lesbians are banned from marriage and forbidden to enter into this powerful and ennobling institution. A gay or lesbian couple may love each other as deeply as any two people, but when you meet a member of such a couple at a party, he or she then introduces you to a “partner,” a word that reeks of contingency.

You would think that faced with this marriage crisis, we conservatives would do everything in our power to move as many people as possible from the path of contingency to the path of fidelity.

Brooks’ argument raises interesting questions which are not addressed that I am aware of in Mormon theology. Specifically, is gay fidelity less sinful than gay promiscuity? The church teaches that homosexual acts are sinful. Are all homosexual acts between consenting adults equally sinful? (After all, sins can vary by degree.) Is a gay person who has sex with 10 different partners equivalent, as far as the church is concerned, to a gay person in a committed relationship who has sex with his/her monogamous partner ten times? Given that the church equates gay sex with most other kinds of immoral activity, is a gay marriage the equivalent to a long-term adulterous affair? And, is a long-term adulterous affair better than a string of one-night stands? (After all, if it is the number of sex acts that the church wishes to limit, perhaps opposition to marriage is a good idea, since many studies suggest that married or committed couples have sex more often than singles).

I am not sure of the answers to these questions. I am continuing to think about this issue, and am curious as to what others think. From a purely societal point of view, I think a committed partner is better than a promiscuous single. If we are seeking the societal benefits which come from stability, then Brooks’ argument sounds appealing –

The conservative course is not to banish gay people from making such commitments. It is to expect that they make such commitments. We shouldn’t just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity.

I find Brooks’ argument rather persuasive, and remain unconvinced that Mormons should oppose gay marriage. I am certainly a skeptic of political opposition to gay marriage (I have previously written suggesting that Mitt Romney could sign a gay marriage bill into law without violating his religious beliefs), and Brooks’ argument makes me wonder to what extent we should be opposed to the practice at all.

UPDATE: See also an aside by David Horowitz that appears to concede the same point. (“Personally, I believe the family is an institution under attack and needs to be defended, but I also believe that all citizens are deserving basic respect and individual rights and that society has a vested interest in recognizing and supporting stable relationships between consenting adults who do no harm.”)

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