We’re continually asking and answering the wrong questions about same-sex “marriage.” Defenders ask, “what’s wrong with it?” Opponents answer by pointing out its various moral and social ill effects. Defenders deny that those effects happen or that they make any difference.Then they ask, “Since you can’t show it’s doing any harm, why not allow it?”
Why not instead ask, “what good does it do?” More than that, “What good does it do for anyone other than the participants?” (I do not thereby concede that it is good for the participants, but for the sake of argument I would propose setting that aside for at least a moment.)
“What good does it do for anyone other than the participants?” I ask again. And I would be willing to bet that at least some readers’ reflex answer is, “Why do you ask? Does that make any difference? Marriage is for the participants, after all.”
And here I have found myself tempted to follow the usual path of defending traditional marriage over against same-sex “marriage.” I actually wrote an entire paragraph before I realized I was answering the wrong question, even while I was warning us all against it.
The problem, friends, is not gay “marriage.” The problem is the attitude, “I’m going to do what I want unless you can prove to me it’s hurting someone else”—with the standard for such proof set impossibly high, by the way.
An approach like this is rights-oriented instead of responsibility-oriented; it is about wanting what one wants when one wants it, and getting upset if anyone else gets in the way; ultimately it is self-centered and self-excusing. One grants oneself full permission to take offense if anyone else takes offense. Everyone else’s offense is regarded as wrong and bigoted, while one’s own is fully condoned and sanctioned as the right kind of offense to take.
But it’s not just about gay rights. It’s about an attitude toward rights in general, one that regards individual liberty as the highest good. It could be (and has been, obviously) equally expressed in the form of corporate greed, racial bigotry, peddling drugs and smut, or any of the common forms of individual crime.
It can even be expressed within a traditional man-woman marriage relationship. In my own marriage I’ve often been guilty of focusing on my own needs and my own “rights.” The difference is that marriage was not originally designed nor intended just for the sake of expressing individual liberties. Its purpose is broader, richer, and more demanding than that by far.
Therein lies the real danger of gay-rights activism. It is its incessant focus on individual rights, and its utter lack of attention on what builds stronger societies and better people in this generation and the ones to come. “Better people? What’s that? Isn’t it awfully bigoted to consider one person better than another?” Maybe so, in many cases. How about this, though: what would build me to be better than I otherwise would be?
The question is not what’s wrong with gay “marriage.” The better question is one that I fear is bound to provoke some upset and anger. It must be asked nevertheless. The better question is, “why do you continually focus on such a self-oriented question?”