Machlokes / Controversy

Jewish World Review April 11, 2000 / 6 Nissan, 5760

Gay Marriage: Fin de ligne

By Sam Schulman

THE CHILDLESS. That's the term which James Merrill, the great American poet of the last century, used to describe his own identity as a homosexual. He used the term without rancor or self-criticism --- merely as a way of describing a condition that set him and his friends apart from others. And this separateness was not, to his mind, a bad thing. For him childlessness was more than a "sexual preference," more significant than a taste for one kind of sexual intercourse over another. For him it was a defining state of soul, something that set him apart from the rest of the human world. In his case it was something that defined his identity as an artist. His childlessness did not make him feel un-natural --- but he did acknowledge that it put him outside the chain of generation that links us through our parents to the beginning of time, and through our children to the future --- one hopes, a future which endures forever.

The maelstrom of concern around homosexual "marriage" is odd, because those on both sides who are most exercised by the issue find it hard to justify or explain their passion about the issue. I know, because I count myself among those who are passionately opposed. But when it comes to explaining why homosexual marriage should be instituted, or not, people on both sides revert to the language of rights or of religious teaching. I have done so myself. But in a curious way, these languages have a way of missing the point.

Econophone This was brought home to me by reading about the way that the Reform movement's decision to permit its Rabbis to "bless" single-sex "dedication ceremonies" has riven the Jewish community. Rabbi Avi Shafran has written eloquently here about how the notion of marriage between two males simply cannot be reconciled with the Torah. In an interview, Rabbi Shafran remarked that the Reform resolution should "convince all Jews that anything goes in Reform leadership. Even the prohibition against incest could go."

One could argue that nothing could more dramatically mark a break with everything in human culture than homosexual marriage, except, of course, allowing threesomes to marry. (Which, if one goes by numbers, would be a much more sensible and democratic first step, because there are so many more adulterers among us than homosexuals!) But the opposition to homosexual marriage extends to those who would regard the Torah's teaching as passe and "judgmental." I think that the reason for this opposition is best described simply: homosexuality doesn't matter.

In a world where every culture exerts its greatest ingenuity and imagination to marking the occasion where a woman and a man commit their sexuality to one another, in theory, for ever, homosexuality counts for nothing --- nothing at all. Because every male homosexual marks the end of the line for a struggle to exist and survive that has gone on since the beginning of life. He is, as the French say, fin de ligne --- a washout. And it is this, rather than visceral or ethical horror at the nature of single-sex sexuality, that marks the tragedy within families --- the drama which is endlessly played out in gay literature of "telling the parents."Trakdata It is not because parents are hung-up, bourgeois, square, or that they are worried about their son's health, that they find the prospect of a homosexual child to be distressing --- but because it means that their genetic line, which has survived, in one form or another from the beginning of life itself, has come up against a small tragedy upon a biological, epochal stage. The end of the road.

A friend said to me, "good, they've banned single-sex marriage in California. That's only a first step --- now let's complete the job and ban opposite-sex marriage." But the fact of homosexual union is that it is profoundly and pathetically imitative of the difficult act of forging a family that men and women, and their children, and their parents, and their children's children do, when they marry.

Of course --- men and women can marry and not have children. Of course gay men and gay women have always raised children. And attachment between homosexuals can be lifelong, tender, and profound. But such attachments are private --- to the world, to the future, they are profoundly inconsequential. Straights are asked, by such intelligent gay writers as Bruce Bawer, to consider whether the institution of marriage would not make life more stable and 'bourgeois' for gays. Perhaps it would, or again, perhaps not. The point Mr. Bawer never considers is this: it is a matter of consummate indifference to the human community, as it preserves itself and weathers the various storms it must undergo, whether private relationships -- relationships that are not part of a biological continuity -- are stable or whether they are not.

Marriage between the two sexes, in pairs, exists not because of custom or a patriarchal or matriarchal conspiracy (though isn't it pretty to think so) -- but because through marriage -- and the generation it permits, the continuity of life that, imperfect as it is, only some form of marriage engenders-the world exists. Marriage is how we are connected backwards in time to our Creator (or, if you like, the primal soup), and how we are linked to our future. For men who love men-for women who love women-for men who can't decide between a wife and "oh you kid" --- marriage is merely imitative.

To these folks we can certainly say "have fun and don't get hurt," but our religious institutions and our legal system have no obligation to help grown-ups play "dress up."

JWR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top Drawer, appearing in New York Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University. You may contact him by clicking here.

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