As legalized same-sex marriage looks increasingly like the wave of the future, social conservatives scramble for reasons to oppose it, other than "because God says so," or "because marriage a union between a man and a woman" (a rather circular argument), or "because it just isn't right." If the November issue of Commentary is any indication, these attempts are not doing too well.
In a long article titled "Gay Marriage-And Marriage," Sam Schulman examines the secular arguments against gay marriage mounted by Stanley Kurtz (redefine marriage to include same-sex unions and you'll have to legalize polygamy next) and Maggie Gallagher (marriage exists to codify sexual activity that can result in the creation of new life), and finds them strong but ultimately wanting because, in his opinion, they don't go to the heart of the matter. Moreover, "the damage they describe is largely prospective and to that degree hypothetical." That's a situation Schulman intends to remedy.
Forget harm to children, says Schulman; our society's the acceptance of abortion and women in the workforce shows that no one cares about the tykes anyway. No, the real danger, according to him, is that gay marriage will harm women. Yes, women: "it is women … all women, who will be hurt."
Does Schulman believe that the vast majority of seemingly heterosexual men will find the lure of same-sex marriage impossible to resist, thus leaving heterosexual women in the lurch? No, not quite.
The whole point of marriage, according to Schulman, is to protect and empower women—to enable a woman "to feel safe and free in a sexual relationship" and "to regulate who has access to her person." Ahem … not to sound like a radical feminist here, but wasn't it, until recently, the opposite? (Before the end of the marital exemption to rape laws, the wife could not deny the husband access to her person.) But actually, it's Schulman who openly invokes the rhetoric of radical feminism in support of his argument, following in the footsteps of other conservative gender mavens from Carolyn Graglia to Wendy Shalit:
"Radical feminists were right, to an extent, in insisting that men?s and women?s sexuality is so different as to be inimical. Catharine MacKinnon has proclaimed that in a 'patriarchal' society, all sexual intercourse is rape. Repellent as her view is, it is formed around a kernel of truth. There is something inherently violative about sexual intercourse—and there is something dangerous about being a woman in a sexual relationship with a man to whom she is not yet married. Among the now-aging feminists of my generation, no less than among their mothers, such a woman is commonly thought to be a victim."
Say what? And I thought Stanley Kurtz's arguments about gender and marriage were too 1950s in their assumptions about gender roles!!! This is 1950s with a 1990s twist … or 1890s, perhaps? In Schulman's world, it is universally understood that women feel "essentially incomplete" and vulnerable in a non-marital sexual relationship. Women and only women, mind you: "a man desperate to marry is often considered to have something wrong with him—to be unusually controlling or needy."
Let's assume for a moment—a very brief moment—that Schulman actually has a point here and that marriage confers unique benefits and protections on women by granting official sanction to sexual intercourse. The logical conclusion would be to campaign against divorce, which makes this sanction temporary and fragile. Why would allowing two men (or two women) to tie the knot weaken those benefits and protections for heterosexual women? "The reason," according to Schulman, "is that gay marriage takes something that belongs essentially to women, is crucial to their very freedom, and empties it of meaning."
And he thinks Kurtz and Gallagher are too focused on the "hypothetical" alleged harms of gay marriage?
I recall reading a gay writer's account of how, years ago, feminist anti-porn nutcase Andrea Dworkin waged a war on overly erotic posters depicting male couples at the offices of some gay and lesbian organization with which she was affiliated at the time; she would assault these posters with a black marker and scrawl across them, "This oppresses women." Interesting to see this kind of mindset triumph at Commentary.