"What are these people so afraid of? How does same-sex marriage destroy marriage? How on earth could my marriage in any way affect anybody else's?"
Or, when spoken by heterosexual supporters of same-sex marriage: "How on earth could somebody else's marriage in any way affect mine?"
Of course I see what they're getting at. And I certainly appreciate the sentiment and support behind the statement. But I actually think it's somewhat simplistic, maybe even a bit naive. I think same-sex marriage does, and will, have an effect on opposite-sex marriage.
Not in an immediate cause-and-effect way, of course. When Adam and Stephen get married in Massachusetts, it doesn't send out magical death-rays across the country to destroy the marriage of Alan and Evelyn in Kansas.
But I think it has an effect. Not a trivial one, either. And I think the movement to legalize same-sex marriage does itself a disservice by acting like it doesn't.
In order for our society to accept or even tolerate same-sex marriage, a lot of fairly basic, deep-rooted ideas have to change. The way we define family. The way we think of what it means to be a man, and what it means to be a woman. The importance of sex and sexual fulfillment. What we consider natural and normal. Etc., etc., etc.
All of these things shape our practice of marriage, our understanding of what it is and what it's for. And in order for us to accept or even tolerate same-sex marriage, all of them will need to change.
Thus changing the shape of marriage.
Including the opposite-sex ones.
If for no other reason, the standard default answers to these questions will quit being standard and default. If these changes happen, people will still be free to define family, maleness, femaleness, etc., in the old traditional ways. But they'll be forced to think about it, to see the traditional way as just one choice among many, to live that way because it works for them... instead of unthinkingly falling into it as the one right choice that works for everybody. What's more, they'll be forced to see all these different questions and choices as, well, different questions and choices, instead of a package deal.
And that's a big-ass change.
Of course, while the fight for same-sex marriage is a catalyst for some of these changes, it's hardly the only one. Lots of these changes were already happening, even before same-sex marriage got put on the table. In fact, same-sex marriage couldn't have gotten on the table in the first place if these changes hadn't already been happening. But it is a catalyst for change, and I don't want to ignore that or pretend it isn't true.
What I don't understand is why that's a bad thing.
Opponents of same-sex marriage talk about marriage as if it's been an unchanging institution for thousands of years, one that can't be altered even a little without risking its destruction. But this is clearly absurd. Marriage has been many different things in human history -- radically different things. A property transfer from father to husband. A political and military alliance between nations. A means of producing and caring for children. A means of preserving a religion or race (think of the intense resistance throughout history to both interracial and interfaith marriage). A practical arrangement for keeping a family farm or business. A romantic love match that's meant to last until death. A spiritual bond that's meant to last for eternity. And more. And any combination of any of these.
And marriage has taken many forms in its checkered history. From the hundreds of wives of Solomon and others, to the passing down of a wife from brother to brother (also described in the Bible), to a permanent inescapable contract with mistresses and lovers on the side, to the serial monogamy-in-theory that seems to be the contemporary model... the literal, practical shape of marriage has taken wildly different forms over the centuries, and will no doubt continue to take more.
So the fact that the institution of marriage is changing… that's hardly devastating news. People resisted the legalization of interracial marriage with every bit as much fervor as they resist same-sex marriage now, and for many of the same reasons... and yet the institution of marriage has absorbed that change quite handily, and has soldiered on. The institution is changing, it has always been changing, and it will almost certainly continue to change.
And again I ask: Why is this a bad thing?
And why are these particular changes, the ones that same-sex marriage is both the cause and result of... why are they so much to be feared?
Our definition of family should be broadened. The way we think of maleness and femaleness should be more flexible. Sex should be acknowledged as a central part of human life, and as a basic human right. What we consider to be natural should be more in keeping with the actual reality of nature. And we should be questioning, not only what is and isn't normal, but whether normality is even a quality we should be prizing.
Not just so we can get to a place where we can accept same-sex marriage... but so we can help make opposite-sex marriage, and all relationships, and life in general for everybody, happier and more fulfilling.