Debating Marriage

11.1.2004

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In Out's September issue, E.J. Graff, author of What is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution (Beacon Press), looked at several new books on same-sex marriage. Jonathan Rauch, whose book Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gay, Good for Straights, and Good for America (Times Books/Henry Holt and Co.) was one of the five works under discussion, e-mailed Graff and opened a conversation on several points in her piece. The authors provided a copy of their correspondence, which we present below:

From: Jonathan Rauch
Sent: Thursday, September 23, 2004 11:12 PM
To: EJ Graff
Subject: Your 'Out' article

Dear E.J.,

I enjoyed meeting you and enjoyed your book even more. Given my high esteem for your book and how scrupulously (and, I think, admiringly) I quoted it, I'm disappointed to read that you think I quoted you 'sometimes misleadingly.' I'd like to know where exactly that happened. If I got something wrong, I'll certainly try to correct it.

I'm even more disappointed to read you characterize my book as 'an attempt to persuade the conservative commentariat that same-sex marriage can roll us all back to the 1950s''a cheap caricature which certainly is misleading. There's nothing like that in the book. As you know if you read it (?), it argues that marriage brings all sorts of personal and social benefits, and that gay marriage can both extend and preserve those benefits.

I'm always happy (eager!) to discuss the pros and cons of alternatives to marriage, and whether it is marriage or jobs or children or all or none that help bring domesticity and stability, and so on. All important subjects. All deserve to be approached with some seriousness of purpose and fairness of mind. I wish you had done so. I know you were capable of it.

On a substantive note, can you really believe that 'mere symbolism'weddings, receptions, bouquets'can no longer enforce marriage as an essential life passage'? In the face of the many, many testimonials from couples in San Francisco and Massachusetts and for that matter Vermont about the profound difference the 'mere symbolism' of marriage has made in their lives and relationships? Typical quote, from an article that crossed my desk just today (Newsday, 4/5/04): ' 'I was surprised and shocked at my own personal emotional response to it,' ' agrees Adam Rolston, 41, a Manhattan architect who had a civil union in Vermont with his partner...They'd gone to Vermont primarily as a political statement'to show how many gays want the option to marry. 'What it felt like to hear the words you've heard seven billion times in the course of your lifetime: 'Do you take this man?' '...'

Well'onward.

Best, -j.

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