Published Summer 1996
University of Southern Mississippi
Hattiesburg, MS USA
The gay marriage debate has produced some of the wackiest doomsday scenarios since nuclear winter. An idea fixation runs through it all: Allowing people of the same sex to marry will open floodgates on every form of human perversion.
Consider William Bennett’s recent screed in The Washington Post. “On what principled grounds could the advocates of same-sex marriage oppose the marriage of two consenting brothers?” he wonders. “How could they explain why we ought to deny a marriage license to a bisexual who wants to marry two people?” In a sane world, it would be considered bigoted to presume that homosexuals don’t share the general attitude toward polygamy – or, for that matter, the incest taboo.
But the New York Post takes the wedding cake. A recent editorial urged that gays be denied the right to marry because their sexual practices differ from those of straights. Never mind Madonna’s popular forays into sadomasochism or the rise of Leather-and-Chain Versace wear. To the Post, S&M; is something only queers do. And even those who aren’t oriented toward sadomasochistic encounters with strangers are plotting to engage in another apparently prominent – and distressing – feature of homosexual life: child molestation.
It’s said that opposition to gay marriage reflects anxiety about the changing state of the American family. But there’s another possibility. the issue has given straights an occasion to project their fears and fantasies onto gays. For liberals, that’s entertainment, bur for the right, it’s politics. Now on a more serious note. Activists anticipate that it will take more than a year for the Hawaii Supreme Court to decide whether marriage licenses should be granted to same-sex couples. In that time, the concept of a Hawaiian wedding may enter the American language, much as the term “Boston marriage” did in the 19th century as a winking way to describe lesbian couples. Thousands of gays are gearing up to honeymoon in Hawaii, and when they return to their respective states, the courts will be clogged with litigation as they demand their spousal rights.
The states have always honored each other’s marital contracts, even when they did not agree with them. Once the California courts threw out laws banning miscegenation in 1948; interracial couples who married there were legit even in states where such unions were still forbidden. Indeed, the case that finally inspired the Supreme Court to void all miscegenation laws in 1967 involved an interracial couple who had married in Washington, D.C., only to find themselves regarded as criminals when they returned home to Virginia. Such echoes will be hard for the Supreme Court to ignore when it considers the rights of gay couples, unless, of course, they justices find such discrimination rational.
But even if the courts fail to offer gay couples relief, state legislatures may. Though 16 state houses have already passed laws defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, such bills have failed in 19 other states so far – including redoubts of the right like Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. One reason why is the attachment of such states to their own eccentric marriage laws. For example, common law marriages are legal in Louisiana but not in new York; however, the courts here recognize such unions. California has one law defining marriage along strictly heterosexual lines and another stipulating that the state must recognize license issued elsewhere. The Hawaii courts are likely to put this contradiction to the test.