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In November the citizens of Maine go to the polls to vote on
whether their gay neighbors can marry.
The usual suspects – the religious right and Catholic church – have
pulled out all stops to deprive them of this right. But they are fighting a losing battle, however many
skirmishes they might win. Here’s
It is no distortion to say the American revolution laid the
foundation for gay marriage. When the Declaration of Independence proclaimed
our inalienable rights “to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” it
proclaimed that each person ws rightfully free to seek his or her happiness so
long as they did not injure others’ equal rights and liberties. This had never happened before on such
These abstract statements gradually percolated throughout
our society, laying the ground work for 8 states abolishing slavery, many
northern states allowing women and Blacks to vote (they later lost it until the Twentieth Century), and the primacy of love in marriage.
Before the American Revolution marriage were nakedly
economic, political, or rooted in the dynamics of families across
generations. In all these latter
cases, not only was love unnecessary, children were pawns in larger secular
purposes played out with nary a thought for their welfare. Among poorer people, children were
valued as future farm hands and the later equivalent of Social Security and
For example, according to Stephanie Coontz,
in the 1690s, passionate love between husband
and wife was considered unseemly.
Protestant ministers warn spouses against loving one another too much,
or using endearing nicknames that will undermine husbandly authority. This
was “traditional” marriage – an institution where love was never
necessary. After the American
Revolution love increasingly became the primary element in marriage.
Heterosexuals were the upstarts who
turned marriage into a voluntary love relationship rather than a mandatory
economic and political institution. Heterosexuals were the ones who made procreation
voluntary, so that some couples could choose childlessness, and who adopted
assisted reproduction so that even couples who could not conceive could become
parents. And heterosexuals subverted the long-standing rule that every marriage
had to have a husband who played one role in the family and a wife who played a
completely different one. Gays and lesbians simply looked at the revolution
heterosexuals had wrought and noticed that with its new norms, marriage could
work for them, too.
Once love entered the picture as a major, perhaps the major,
reason for marriage, the institution was transformed. The wishes of the
marrying couple became primary. I
suspect it laid the foundation for recognizing women as equal to men – first
among some couples, and later a slow spread outwards.
When mutual love becomes the major reason for marrying,
childlessness is not always a catastrophe. Sometimes couples choose that path. And when love trumps having children,
the way stood open for gay and lesbians to desire the same social recognition
of their love that heterosexual couples were able to get. Even in the early Nineteenth Century leading thinkers such as Condorcet and Bentham raised this possibility.
What stood in the way was cultural inertia and religious
bigotry. (For those who say they
are not bigoted, but simply follow their God, I reply, they subordinate
themselves to a bigoted God who has little love in Himself and desires only
submission from His followers.)
Bit by little bit once people in the first category, such as
myself, begin thinking about the issue, they shift from thinking the idea of
gay marriage is absurd to supporting it.
I that is why the numbers of Americans who support gay marriage is
slowly creeping upwards.
Unfortunately the worshippers of a Sauronic deity will never change
without growing in their understanding of the Sacred. But they are a minority.
The long term future of gay marriage is bright. That is why its opponents have pulled
out all stops to try and get its denial into constitution, where usually a
minority can obstruct change.
As I grow older and hopefully wiser, increasingly I think of
the American revolution as an important event in the spiritual history of