Maggie Gallagher has been actively involved in the marriage debate for about four years, as she notes. So her reactions to the first legal California marriages at the National Review's site are worth a read.
She raises some stock objections like the prospect of polygamy. "Elite legal minds get to figure out what they think and break it to the rest of us once they’ve decided." I've already said my piece about using the word elite in these debates.
But she leads with a discussion of the New York times article that looks at same-sex marriages in Massachusetts four years after they became legal, which I discussed recently. She focuses on those couples mentioned in the piece who have open relationships.
Still, Mr. Erbelding said, in what to the old-fashioned ear is the most astonishing single sentence in the whole piece: most married gay couples he knows are “for the most part monogamous, but for maybe a casual three-way.”
For the most part . . . except for the casual three-way?
But hey, if the word “marriage” can be redefined as a civil-rights imperative, why balk at lesser ideas like “monogamy” or “fidelity”?
What Gallagher fails to point out is that marriage already has been defined as a civil rights imperative if you and your partner are of the opposite sex. In fact, it's often called a fundamental right and a human right. How we jump from a high moral and legal language of marriage to open relationships is beyond me. What is the causal link? If we looked at studies of opposite-sex marriages, wouldn't we find a mixture of fidelity, divorce, cheating, swinging, and so forth? How any of those realities that befall particular marriages bear upon marriage being a fundamental right is unclear in her argument.
The issue is that marriage is entangled in a number of languages simultaneously--religious, legal, cultural, psychological, economic, etc. Monogamy in marriage suffers from personal fulfillment gone awry, the mobility of our society, and the commodification (elitist word) of people, but that does not justify closing it to some couples because of sex. Gallagher's piece suffers because she fails to untangle these countervailing languages.
Perhaps she ignores the comparison to heterosexual relationships because she is so focused on gay sex, citing the anecdote of another opponent of same-sex marriage:
“I have never been at a soiree with multiple straight “committed” couples in which someone suggests we take off our clothes and see what happens, but I’m sad to say it’s happened with gay friends in long-term relationships. Of course, I know, many men cheat on their wives. But they almost never define their marriage as something that accommodates adultery.”
What is glaringly absent, though, is any discussion of lesbian relationships. If Gallagher viewed studies (maybe she has) that showed relationships between two women are the most stable and involve the least infidelity, would she argue for a marriage hierarchy? Extra marriage rights for lesbians, basic marriage rights for opposite-sex couples, and nothing for gay men?
Arguing from the ways in which people manage their relationships to their right to marry won't get Gallagher where she wants to go. And it has nothing to do with equal protection under the law.