The start of gay marriage and the end of gay culture?

Commenter Lomlate makes the interesting suggestion that, contrary to what Bill Muehlenberg suggests, gay marriage poses a bigger threat to the current nature of gay life than it does to the nature of straight sexual relationships.

Though some commenters argued that gay sexual culture is what you get when there is no need to persuade sex-shy and relationship-oriented women, and that straight men would behave the same way if they had the chance, Lomlate suggests that gay sexual culture is what you get when gay people are excluded from the relationships that straight people aspire to and mostly attain. The more accepted gays become, and the more gays can imagine themselves having ‘normal’ relationships, the less need there will be for a separate gay culture or community.

Lomlate cites Andrew Sullivan on the ‘end of gay culture’, and this passage sums up what Sullivan thinks is going on:

A gay child born today will grow up knowing that, in many parts of the world and in parts of the United States, gay couples can get married just as their parents did. From the very beginning of their gay lives, in other words, they will have internalized a sense of normality, of human potential, of self-worth–something that my generation never had and that previous generations would have found unimaginable. That shift in consciousness is as profound as it is irreversible.

That was written in 2005. The Australian Not So Private Lives survey from last year showed just how strongly the gay generations differ in how they see their relationship possibilities. The youngest respondents are twice as likely to personally aspire to marriage as the oldest respondents.

Personal preference for relationship recognition

As other gay marriage opponents have done, Muehlenberg notes the slow take-up of gay marriage when it has been made available. But the figure above suggests that this will change over time. One of the great ironies of this debate is that family values conservatives are standing with the radical queer activists against culturally-accepted and legally-endorsed monogamous relationships.

20 thoughts on “The start of gay marriage and the end of gay culture?

  1. It really is hard to resist empathizing with Goering when you hear the word ‘culture’ used like this: Gay culture!? WTF?


  2. “Though… The more accepted gays become, and the more gays can imagine themselves having ‘normal’ relationships, the less need there will be for a separate gay culture or community.”

    Why should this necessitate the disappearance of the gay culture? I strongly suggest that it might be useful to examine the exent to which males are monogamous (e.g. as is often suggested, lesbian couples appear to be more monogamous than male couples),


  3. Sacha – Sullivan isn’t saying that gay culture will disappear completely, but that its nature will change. I’d think of it as like some first generation migrant groups that live in ‘ghettos’ at first but the second and third generations spread out geographically and substantially assimilate. I just added a question mark to the post’s title to qualify the claim.


  4. I think a lot of the causation is in the opposite direction as Lomlate is saying (i.e., that marriage is a threat to gay culture), although the actual words Lomlate is using and the reference suggest what I think — i.e., The reason gay people want to get married now is because they are considered much more normal than 30 years ago, and this came before wanting marriage, and not after. Thus wanting marriage is an outcome of the current situation, not something that is likely to change it a lot. This is why I think the push for marriage is strongest in places where people don’t worry about gays as much.


  5. Conrad – The changes feed on each other; clearly we would not be having a debate about gay marriage if a whole lot of other things had not changed first. But I think the actual institution of gay marriage will make a difference, in the minds of gay people and their familes and friends, and in the broader culture as the profile of ‘normal’ gay relationships increases. When I was in the UK in 2006 I was surprised to see in an otherwise staid department store a large display in its menswear section of a suited gay couple at their civil union, as the store tried to cash in on this new institution by selling appropriate clothes. When a routine shopping trip to buy socks (in my case) gives you this kind of imagery things are changing again.


  6. conrad: I think it is a symbiotic relationship. Every right accrued encourages more acceptance, which then encourages more rights to be given. Was homosexuality legalised because the public considered it normal, or did the public consider it normal because it was legalised? Both are true.

    Many posters have pointed to the general promiscuity of males as evidence that the ‘gay community’ will never change. It’s true. I doubt we’re ever going to end up in a situation where your average “single” gay guy who goes out to nightclubs is going to be as successful as the average gay guy. MSM is definitely easier to organise than MSF. So for single gay guys: young people, divorcees etc there is going to be more sex.

    But that presupposes a desire for infidelity. Once people get older they start to value things other than sex, they desire the other benefits of a long term relationship. I don’t think the only thing stopping men from cheating is the availability of woman to cheat with. In my experience extra-marital affairs result out of problems with the existing relationship more than anything.

    Could the knowledge that extra-marital sex is easy to obtain result in a greater prevalence of ‘cheating’ in gay marriages? Perhaps, but I somehow doubt that threat is significant. My guess is that relationships that aren’t strong enough to withstand temptation will likely break up long before they would have in a heterosexual relationship and therefore marriage will never be an issue.

    These social norms developed out of a rebellious sub-culture and the ‘inherent’ nature of men both explain the increased sex amongst gay men. I’m not in any doubt though that men value long term committed relationships. It is gay culture, not any inherent aspect of homosexuality that stops these relationships occurring.

    (apologies to the lesbians in the room, please provide a female perspective!)


  7. Andrew (and Everybody Really)

    If you have not already read it, do yourself a favor and buy Andrew Sullivan’s Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality.

    I read it when it was first published in 1995, while I was living in the US. It is the most intelligent, erudite, beautifully-written, politically-nuanced, and dignified cri de coeur on gay marriage I have read.

    It is only about 200 pages. I could not put it down; largely because it made me realize that Australia simply does not have an intellectual class, but also to see Catholicism, homsexuality, marriage, liberalism, and a man’s self-exposure so beautifully and compassionately renedered consistent, with a backing-track of the best that has been thought said, and written in western political philosophy.

    But what a difference a decade makes. Sullivan wrote Virtually Normal before the discovery of the life-saving HIV anti-viral cocktail drugs. Thus, the book’s tone was somewhat sombre, perhaps fitting for a man who thought he was not long for this world.

    And so the almost Scholastic Sullivan’s 1995 case for gay marriage makes fascinating read in light of his post-1996 conversion. Once the new wonder drugs were proved to be real, with gay abandon, Sullivan fell head over heals with the demi-monde of privileged gay America: White Parties, drugs, and sex – lots and lots and lots and heaps of lots of sex.

    With steroids in one hand, party-drugs in t’other, Sullivan increasingly eschewed Aquinas for those online fora where S&M/leather/bears bare-backing aficionados from Manhattan to Boston to the Beltway ‘network.’

    Not long after I returned to Australia, one of the local newspapers printed an interview with a member of our bunyip demi-intellectual class [the cream of which was anointed by the SMH, and she was one of them] who had turned her night at a raunchy ‘sex club’ with her husband, into many a power point slide for the edification of her Gender/Media/Cultural Studies students.

    Having read Sullivan, her opining on the faultlines of marriage gender, sexuality, organized religion, and eros, was worse than hearing finger nails dragged down a chalkboard.


  8. Yes, Virtually Normal is an excellent book. And Sullivan’s original New Republic piece on gay marriage 20 or so years ago was what first got me interested in this issue. You leave out the latest chapter in Sullivan’s life, which seems to be happy coupledom – consistent with his overall argument I think.

    Though I have to admit I fail to see the connection between a good book by a British-American and the presence or otherwise of an intellectual class in Australia. Though its work may not please you, and is obviously on a much smaller scale than in the US, it exists.


  9. I haven’t been following AS for a couple of years, so I can’t comment intelligently on that. Except there is another HUGE change that happened in addition to his coupledom; His 47th birthday. 😉

    And in the context of my broader point, even with hormonal pick-me-ups, 30 goes into 47 a hell of a lot more than 47 goes into 30!


  10. Commenter Lomlate makes the interesting suggestion that, contrary to what Bill Muehlenberg suggests, gay marriage poses a bigger threat to the current nature of gay life than it does to the nature of straight sexual relationships.

    If that is true then one must believe that male desire for sex will change, as a result of a marriage contract.

    There’s zero chance of that.


  11. I agree with JC.

    That young gay men or women want the ability to marry is more about a sudden sense of entitlement, not just to financial benefits that other couples get, but to the very name of a social phenomena millennia old. I have made the point elsewhere: how is it that, even in non-Christian societies where gay sex was unremarkable, and it was a matter of no great shame for a male to fall in love with another man, why did it never occur to people that such relationships would be “marriage”? Doesn’t it have something to do with the procreative possibility inherent in “marriage”?

    The fact that heterosexual couples don’t have to pass a fertility test to marry is, by and large, a practical matter. (And go back a couple of centuries and I guess there were hardly any post-menopausal women alive to marry in any case!) However, artificial means of getting babies notwithstanding (which the State should have no particular interest in encouraging, given the plentiful potential supply from 98% of the population), the procreative feature is simply not there in gay relationships.

    As such, what benefit to the State or society is there in granting gay marriage in the hope that it will encourage longer, more stable relationships for gay people?

    Older conservative gay males have more common sense when it comes to this: they know their relationships can exhibit love; they also know that there is no need to redefine marriage to encompass them just because some people now think “love” always deserves State or society endorsement.


  12. Steve – Because in those non-Christian societies marriage and love did not have the connection they do now and here; you would not expect to marry the person you love most, male or female. But it is ultimately beside the point – gay marriage is on the agenda here as part of a long evolution in the institution, starting with the rise of love marriages, which made gay men marrying women and lesbians marrying men (as they have for most of history) cruel to both gay and straight partners, and eventually gave gays and lesbians the idea of gay marriage instead. The decline of traditional religion and the sexual revolution all played a big role in changing attitudes.

    The reality is that with people living to 75-85 couples will have dependent children for perhaps half their relationship time, but the state does have an interest in all such relationships: aside from the emotional benefits to the parties (a reasonable public policy consideration), they save the state on welfare support, as many gay couples have found out to their cost when the government removed non-marriage discrimination a year or two ago (the couple rate is lower than two singles). Plus people in couples are less likely to fall back on state services when they hit trouble.


  13. ‘ … they save the state on welfare support, as many gay couples have found out to their cost when the government removed non-marriage discrimination a year or two ago (the couple rate is lower than two singles).’

    Be careful what you wish for, eh? 🙂


  14. Steve,
    this idea that we shouldn’t have something now because we didn’t have it then (slightly incorrect incidentally, see e.g., here for some examples) is just silly. Most places didn’t have functioning sewage for most of human history, and most places did have many diseases that are curable now. Are we to turn back the clock now? Also, I doubt too many infertile couples (which you can test for in some cases), or, as you note, women over 40, are going to subscribe to your view.


  15. Steve, I should point out too that most children of gay parents started out as children who had a parent change later in life (not via IVF etc. as most people seem to think). So if you want to deny these people from getting married, then you’re basically saying that single parent families (as they inevitably end up) should remain that way forever, so the idea of breeding vs. families becomes important.


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