I recently got back in touch with David Benkof, an old colleague from the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Education. He used to write a gay history column that was syndicated in many publications, and I used to be on his editorial board, proof-reading and commenting on articles prior to publication. In recent years, he has committed himself to Orthodox Judaism, and while still identifying himself as bisexual, he is guided by Jewish law, and is writing columns advocating much more traditionalist positions. I've agreed to be on his informal editorial review cycle once again, which should be interesting. Even though I'll likely disagree with his positions more often, he's a bright guy with a unique perspective, and I hope we'll both learn from each other. I'll probably take the opportunity to respond to some of his pieces (post publication, of course) on my blog. Here's the first.
David likes to seek unexpected common ground between divergent viewpoints, and over at marriagedebate.com, he comes up with a challenge for same-sex marriage advocates. If we're serious about respecting and preserving the traditional values underlying marriage, David asks, can we all agree not to legitimize "Daddy-boy" relationships by including them in any future revision of the definition of marriage? He's referring not to any actual incestuous relationships, but to relationships between consenting adult males where there is a large age difference, where the partners may refer to each other as "Daddy" and "my boy", and where a little whiff of taboo might give them a kinky erotic charge. By playing up the resemblance to incest, David hopes that it will be a slam-dunk for all of us decent folks to agree to exclude those kinky Daddy-boy couples from the definition of marriage.
Alas, it is David who is unwittingly proposing a significant and dangerous alteration to the definition of marriage. Historically, the official (i.e., legal) definition of marriage has always been a matter of a few clearly adjudicable requirements: opposite gender, minimum age, no common grandparents, and not already married to someone else. Any consenting couple who met those qualifications could get a marriage license. Whether the groom was a known wife-beater, whether the bride was on her tenth marriage, whether the couple were separated by several decades and a vast income disparity, the state did not inquire. Traditionally, the state has humbly held that the marrying parties themselves were in a better position than the state to judge the appropriateness of the union. But now David proposes to change that, suggesting that perhaps the state does know better after all. In order to preserve the dignity of the hallowed institution, so that no inappropriate role models would gain the imprimatur of state-sanctioned marriage, it now seems necessary for the state to poke its nose under the connubial covers.
I don't know how exactly David imagines implementing his proposal. Would there be a state marriage quality board comprised of moral authorities who would interview marriage license applicants (along with their references, neighbors and co-workers) to pass judgment on each marriage? If so, would there be periodic reviews of existing marriages to make sure that the moral quality hadn't declined? Will this be narrowly tailored to only exclude those who actually get kicks out of pretending to violate a taboo, or would merely using the term "Daddy" be a prima facie violation? Should we impose a maximum age difference on all marriages just to be safe? Instead of a review board, perhaps there would simply be an affidavit as part of the marriage license application, asking the spouses to disavow any kinky business. If so, how would that be enforced? Could any citizen bring charges against a neighbor whose marriage was creating a moral hazard? Would they be criminal or civil?
Remind me again - how is this proposal conservative or traditional?