The M Word

Now that Proposition 2 has passed, the point is moot—but there’s a conservative case to be made for gay marriage.

IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE A MORE overwhelming vote on a controversial issue than the one that occurred on November 8, when Texans spoke loud and clear in their opposition to same-sex marriages. The mandate from the voters to place Proposition 2 in the state constitution (even though such a prohibition already exists in statutory law) was more than three to one. One hundred and four counties supported the measure by more than 90 percent. A friend from East Texas told me that his home county, Anderson, had voted 91 percent for Prop 2. “Does that mean that nine percent of Anderson County is gay?” I asked him. “It means that nine percent can’t read,” he answered. Of the state’s 254 counties, 253 supported it. All I can say is, How can so many be so wrong?

Of course, I live in Travis County, the only county to vote down Prop 2. It wasn’t even close. While the rest of the state was for it by more than 78 percent, Travis voted just a tick short of 60 percent against it. Well, what can you expect from the only county north of Interstate 10 to vote for John Kerry (no, I didn’t do that) and from the city of Austin, the last bastion of Texas liberalism?

I voted with the majority—in Travis County, that is—and I’m proud of my vote. But liberalism had nothing to do with it. I believe that a vote for same-sex marriage is a conservative vote—not the evangelical conservatism of today, to be sure, but a more classical conservatism that upholds the freedom of the individual and the importance of order and stability in society. I believe in the values of marriage, commitment, and family. My wife, Sarah, and I have been married for 28 years and two weeks at this writing, and we have raised three children to what some would call adulthood. Never once in that time has it occurred to either of us that allowing same-sex marriages would threaten the institution of marriage, as opponents have averred. There are threats aplenty to the institution of marriage—divorce, infidelity, abuse, ennui, thoughtlessness, and, my particular demon, the irresistible urge to make the right rejoinder at the wrong time—and my challenge, as I have seen it, is to keep me from being a threat to the institution of marriage.

Allowing gay marriages would have positive benefits for society. Is it better to perpetuate a lifestyle that must be very difficult—struggling with coming out of the closet, trying to find a partner, cruising bars and other meeting places, and forming and dissolving relationships—or is it better to give couples the chance to form more-lasting bonds? From society’s viewpoint, the answer is clear. Same-sex marriage reduces promiscuity, stems the spread of AIDS, and provides homes for children who have no families. It solves legal problems, such as whether a partner can make medical decisions, inherit property, or qualify for insurance benefits. It allows for orderly dissolutions of marital ties and divisions of property. For heterosexual people who don’t want their children exposed to the gay lifestyle—that is, same-sex public displays of affection—marriage provides a path to privacy. Finally, I think marriage to the right person is a true blessing, and I don’t believe that anybody should be deprived of happiness by law. Didn’t the Declaration of Independence have something to say about that?

Opponents of gay marriage might suggest that gay couples should just live together without getting married, especially since more and more employers allow their workers to include domestic partners in their health insurance programs. Oh, swell. Talk about a threat to the institution of marriage: You can get the benefits without the commitment. I think that’s bad public policy. If it were up to me, my Prop 2 would prohibit such benefits for unmarried couples, gay and heterosexual alike. If you want the goodies, you should have to get married. Is that discrimination against singles? You bet it is. Society has every right to institutionalize a preference for marriage.

But does it have every right to institutionalize a preference for heterosexuality? Well, it is institutionalized, in our instinct to propagate the species. No parent wants his or her offspring to grow up to be gay. Children are all we know of immortality. We want our children to have children, so we can live on through our genes.

I saw the preference for heterosexuality emerge as my children grew up—not so much through their own attractions, for these secrets they kept to themselves, but through their vocabulary. They knew better than to use racial epithets, but around the time Joel, my older son, hit the third or fourth grade, he brought home new taunts for his younger brother. “That’s so gay,” he would say, or “You’re such a fag.” In the collision between political correctness and the endless young-male search for put-downs, “gay” and “fag” apparently had become the only acceptable discriminatory remarks. I asked him what “gay” meant, and he said, “You know. Stupid.” Too bad Arnold Schwarzenegger hadn’t yet come up with “girlie man.”

I didn’t even know that such a thing as homosexuality existed when I was growing up. All I cared about at age fourteen was sports. I was in middle school, and somehow I landed the job of phoning in the results of the Lovenberg Seagulls football and basketball games to the Galveston Daily News. A reporter was my contact, and one night, after I had finished dictating my story, he asked me if I would like to come over to his house some evening and talk about sportswriting. I was very excited at the prospect. My mother was not. My father was no longer living, so she called in the marines—a stern cousin who told me about men who liked to touch young boys—and may have made another call as well. All I know is that I continued to phone in sports results, but a different voice was on the other end of the line,

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