Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Father Knows Best

Michael Gross suggests that before we ban gay marriage, we should look at the sad state of affairs of straight couples.

Affixed to our refrigerator door is a photo of my wife and several of her friends: five attractive, intelligent suburban women, some professionals, some housewives, many of them friends for more than 20 years. Among the many things that they have in common is that they all experienced marriages put to the torch by husbands who publicly avowed to stand by their spouses until death did them part.

One husbands decided that his family interfered with his time at the gym. Another went searching for a ”new and improved” woman, while another had already found one. One nurtured his personality disorder like a hothouse flower, and — my personal favorite — one walked out on his toddler and pregnant wife during Christmas week. Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.

Unfortunately, such stories are all too common, even in good, solid, conservative communities such as my own. But in our zeal to defend the institution of marriage, I can’t help wondering whether a constitutional ban on gay marriage may just be shifting the blame.

I admit that blame-shifting does have its rewards. Nothing could be more satisfying than to think that gay men and lesbians — not we — are responsible for the shameful rate of failed marriages in the United States. If, as the Rev. Jerry Falwell claimed, they were indirectly responsible for the attacks of 9/11, they might be capable of anything. How gratifying to conclude that my adversary is the embodiment of evil, while I am the embodiment of good.

But the first casualty of shifting the blame often is common sense: the rapist blaming his crime on the immodest dress of his victim; or a Talib concluding that his obsession with a woman’s bare ankle is best addressed by blowing up a pair of 1,500-year-old Buddhas.

If the conservatives are right, and we’ve become a society of whining victims, then let’s stop rebuking homosexuals for the sad state of conjugal bliss and pass some laws that really make a difference. How about a constitutional amendment to deny marriage to any couple that did not take a mandatory, government-sponsored prenuptial class? Sterilization for any heterosexual man who abandons his children? A tax deduction for joining Promise Keepers?

I understand the moral outrage of those who invoke the biblical injunctions against homosexuality. But if we’re not going to observe its equally no-nonsense penalties for adultery (i.e., stoning to death), maybe the fairest thing to do would be to leave the homosexuals to themselves while we put our own houses in order. I can’t imagine they would botch the job any more than some of us have.

Michael Gross played the father in the TV series Family Ties.