David Hyde Pierce (Frasier’s brother Niles) is one of my favourite actors. I like him even more when I see interviews with him in which it’s clear how radically different he is from the effete, rarified character for whom he’s most known; he sells it so completely that it’s actually weird to hear him use contractions and wear jeans.
David Hyde Pierce is gay, has been with the same partner for slightly less time than I’ve been alive, and had a same sex marriage in the interval in California when they were permitted there. He’s now speaking out against Proposition 8, its supporters and the movement they represent:
I’ve been going because I had the experience of having this private thing suddenly dragged out into the public, and have people I don’t know take a vote,” he said. “It was a very angry-making feeling both in November when it was taken away from me and also this past Tuesday when I was sitting in front of my television wondering, ‘Gee, I hope it’s OK the Supreme Court thinks I’m married.’ Excuse me, it’s none of your business.””
The major fallacy here is the blurring of private and public. What a person does for sexual gratification, in his own home, is none of the public’s business (within the usual boundaries: consensual, adult, and so on.) Whether society chooses to confer special status upon a particular sort of sexual relationship is very much the public’s business. Andrea and I will shortly be unveiling an estimate of the financial cost to taxpayers of family breakdown; when more families collapse, they are more dependent upon government programs, and your tax bill goes up. That’s your business. But radically changing and eroding the family has many less crass and obvious consequences. Fatherlessness creates a climate that harms even children with active, present fathers. Rising illegitimacy rates mean that children are even less likely to have relationships with their fathers than if their parents had married and divorced. The lessening of the taboo against divorce, embodied most clearly in removing the need to show cause when petitioning for divorce, makes it far easier for one party to nullify a marriage than it was in the past. Children are most immediately influenced by the marriage and relationship of their parents but they are not insulated from the influence of the divorce of the people next door, the friend at school who effectively never had a father, the cousin who lives with a mother and a series of boyfriends. All of these influences make marriage writ large a shakier thing, and as with choices about drugs, education, gangs and almost everything else, the home environment is the single biggest influence but far from the only influence. So yes, what relationships we privilege are very much something the public should be voting on.
And because this always comes up in discussion of gay marriage and why some of us are opposed: it has nothing to do with liking or disliking gay people, individually or collectively. Just as being pro-life does not mean you dislike women, or fear women’s sexuality, or are repressed yourself, or any of the other ad hominems that come up with such tiring frequency. I haven’t discussed it with every other PWPL blogger, but I would bet every one of us knows someone who has had an abortion, and I doubt we love or like them less for it. On the contrary, while I oppose abortion in the abstract, when I am faced with a concrete instance of it when I learn that a friend had one, I feel not just sadness and revulsion at the act itself but also grief for my friend, who was hurting, made a choice she felt was the only one open to her, and continues to hurt to this day.
These aren’t perfect parallels, although it is very much in the Judeo-Christian tradition to separate our (and by implication God’s) condemnation of an act from our forgiveness and love for the actor. But pretending abortion empowers women to make women who’ve had abortions feel better about it is not fundamentally loving; it is dishonest and destructive. And so is describing the relationship between two men as “marriage,” no matter how much they might want it, no matter how much they love each other and are committed to each other, no matter how much their feelings are hurt by the lack of this social sanction.by