Ta-Nehisi Coates writes of the imperfect parallel between same-sex marriage and anti-miscegenation laws:
[T]he comparison with interracial marriage actually understates the evil of reserving marriage rights for certain classes of people. Banning interracial marriage meant that most black people could not marry outside of their race. This was morally indefensible, but very different than a total exclusion of gays from the institution of marriage. Throughout much of America, gays are effectively banned from marrying, not simply certain types of people, but.. another compatible partner period.
As usual, the rest is worth reading, but this stood out, because the word “compatible” is doing an awful lot of work. Conservatives and liberals are further from one another here than they may be willing to admit.
Perhaps a bit obviously, the conservative claim is that a man can never be a compatible partner for another man, or a woman for a woman. Men are the only compatible partners for women, and vice versa, and thus gay men and lesbians don’t really lack for compatible partners after all. They just need to admit where true compatibility lies. To conservatives, gays and lesbians are asking to leave behind all possible compatible partners. One might as well ask to marry The Critique of Pure Reason, or the Pont Neuf, or “Rhapsody in Blue.”
That’s why when I mentioned to a group of conservatives the circumstances of my partner and I adopting our daughter, they were, to my surprise, not at a loss for words.
We had not been assigned our daughter by some do-good liberal adoption court, as the usual conservative scare story about gay adoption runs. No, we knew the birth mother. She knew very well who we were. She picked us to raise her child while she was still pregnant. We were in the waiting room when our daughter was born, and we took her home as soon as the doctors allowed it. The law merely made sure that nothing coercive or exploitative was going on, which was obviously proper. Other than that, our story was one of three willing adults making a considered choice about the best interests of a child.
All of this sounded to me sounded like a real clincher — you couldn’t say that our family was merely stapled together by the state, or that we were just putting on some kind of an act to get welfare benefits. We were a fully real family, based just as much on deliberate, loving intention as the straightest of straight families. (A bit more than some, truth be told.)
The response I got from these conservatives was incredible: Why didn’t one of you marry the birth mother? She had two potential husbands in you guys, and both of you failed. If you wanted to raise her child, you had a responsibility to marry her, and you let her down. This was to say nothing of the birth father, of course, who was no longer in the picture at all. Why didn’t one of you “man up”?
Now, in Maryland this probably would have been bigamy, but let’s set that aside. A promise and a commitment of ten years’ time to another man counts for nothing. The presence of a vagina apparently counts for everything. (But if so, why don’t they go marry all the single mothers they happen to know?)
Anyway, I’m forced to conclude that even though our child’s birth mother has no desire to live with either of us, whether romantically, or as parents, or on any other terms, the magic vagina makes it all okay. Obligatory, even. That’s what social conservatives mean by “compatible.” It’s far removed from liberal notions of compatibility, but then… is it any wonder about those red-state divorce rates?
Update: Robert Stacy McCain has a word for two people getting married even though they don’t, and can’t, love one another. That word is transcendence. Apparently he recommends it. “Ideas,” he huffs, “have consequences.” (Remember when that phrase wasn’t just a pseudo-intellectual way of saying “I’m all out of words, folks”? I do. I miss those days.)
Anyway, I guess if you already know that your arguments make no sense whatsoever, you might as well reach for metaphysics. You’ve got nothing to lose at that point.