The news that the California Supreme Court had ruled in favor of gay marriage came on my 32nd wedding anniversary last month. As over-excitable conservatives rushed through the streets shouting, "The gays are coming! The gays are coming!" I kept calm.
I did not react with a superior attitude of "there goes the neighborhood." My personal marital neighborhood does not depend on what other people do, thank you very much.
I did not shrink from the fearfully imagined prospect of same-sex couples showing up heterosexuals like my wife and me with superior interior decoration skills. I reject all such stereotypes. Besides, there’s nothing a few strategically placed Steelers posters in the living room couldn’t fix.
In the face of claims that the court has ended civilization as we know it, I have persisted in the live-and-let-live attitude expressed in song so well by Mr. Sly (he of the Family Stone): "Different strokes for different folks, and so on and so on, and scooby dooby doo-bee."
But some agitated critics of the court cited a higher authority, the Almighty. I can’t speak for him, of course, and being a member of the media it is possible that I am damned by definition.
But this side of a theocracy, I would suggest that it is not the state’s role to exactly duplicate the proscriptions of the ancient texts. If it did, there would be no divorce and no credit cards, the last involving the much condemned sin of usury.
This wouldn’t be any fun for the majority, whose last remaining pleasure, at least as some see it, is to limit the rights of the minority gay population. Apparently, the desire of gays and lesbians for stable, loving relationships threatens the sanctity of marriage as heterosexual infidelity and divorce do not. Well, as they say in the old country, pull my other leg, it’s got a bell on it.
If gay marriage becomes the norm, the free exercise of religion won’t change. Churches won’t suddenly have to marry gays if they don’t want to. Marriage has long existed on two parallel planes that sometimes, but not always, overlap. One is the religious plane, where the faithful may keep whatever commandments they like and cultivate their own idea of sanctity.
The other is the secular plane, which has nothing to do with sanctity because its authority derives not from the Almighty but from politicians, who are probably more damned by definition than journalists.
The state’s interest isn’t in preserving sanctity — how could it be when the government building that issues marriage licenses also issues dog licenses? The state interest is in evenhandedly preserving the rights of individuals in the pursuit of their happiness.
I have heard conservative critics of gay marriage express a visceral disgust at the very idea of gay sex. Never mind the they-doth-complain-too-much aspect of such complaints, although when it is men saying such things I can’t help thinking there is probably a riot of frou-frou female underwear under their stern and proper exteriors.
In fact, any sort of sexual relations — gay or straight — are inherently disgusting when one thinks of other people doing them.
Take, for example, your work colleagues. No more grotesque image comes to mind than imagining the gross people you work with in flagrante delicto, which, as you know, is a Latin phrase meaning advanced cuddling. There is nothing delicto about it. In fact, I am very sorry that I even mentioned this horrible thought.
But for those conservatives who are truly repelled and are not just cross-dressers, then I would invite them to think the thing through. The institution of marriage has always worked as a prolonged cold shower on the libido for those participating in it, and I see no reason to think that it would be any different for gay people.
(Of course, my marriage is the exception that proves the rule. Over 32 years, the Henry household has always been a castle of romance. Whenever I come in from mowing the lawn, my wife only has to smell the grass clippings on my manly frame and her heart skips a beat. We would fall on the sofa in the middle of the day if the dog wasn’t always lying on it.)
I reckon the duty of religious people is to judge not and be not judged. The duty of government is not to discriminate. The duty of people in general is to mind their own business because other people’s marriages don’t affect them one whit. My happy duty now is to wish all those eyebrow-raising newlyweds in California all the best (but don’t expect as much from the lawn mowing).
(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)post-gazette.com.)