(Part VIII was a restatement of a point made earlier.)
"Connecting sex, love, babies, money, mothers and fathers is hard."
Up at Radcliffe last week, feminist and queer-theorist Prof. Janet Halley, who generously invited me to attend this conference, described this view of mine about the public purpose of marriage as "dark." I don't see it that way at all. Everything worth doing is hard — effortful. What's dark is the alternative: where eros, desire, sex, love, marriage, and babies are intrinsically unrelated or practically separated.
A marriage culture means married men who fall passionately in love with their secretaries or their junior law partners saying, "My marriage comes before my happiness; my family comes first." It means women watching Oprah and feeling underappreciated, like they are "settling" for less than they deserve, stepping back to say, "It's not humiliating to accept less than I 'deserve;' it's grown-up. It's motherly. It's what women have done for all of human history and it is good."
These decisions are being made every day: Sacrifice or immediate gratification? The audacity of hope or the audacity of fidelity? Grownups have to choose. A marriage culture consists of offering a provisional answer to grownups about how they should choose. Marriage as an individual right offers no cultural basis for helping people answer the questions that matter most.
In truth, my own view of divorce (or non-marriage) in most instances is so dark that it seems to me literally insane how often I find people choosing — "me, my rights, my desires" — over marriage.
But I'm old enough (close to 50) also to understand the temptation, if not first hand then through the lens of close friends and family: Because I understand: Choosing your marriage means choosing finiteness over infinite possibility. It means, for many many people, saying: "I'm never going to get what I really desire — but I can be live and be satisfied with what I have."
In the end, I'm pretty sure that most people who choose faithfulness over infinite possibility are in fact personally happier than those who choose to pursue infinite possibility no matter who gets hurt (especially their own kids).
But, damn, it doesn't always feel like that on any given day, does it?
Another reason why privatizing marriage (as I understand it) is such a disastrous option — whether we accomplish it by endorsing gay marriage, or by separating marriage and state does not much matter.