Bill Keller Hints Arguments Against Gay Marriage Are Just Arguments Against Gays in General

Former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller wrote on how four Republican state senators put gay marriage over the top in New York State for the Times Sunday Magazine, "When Is a Flip Not a Flop? -- The Fate of the Republicans Who Supported Gay Marriage." Keller stated righteously that "It is difficult to construct an argument against marriage rights for gay people that doesn’t sound like an argument against gay people." He included his version of a conversation he had with New York Conservative Party chairman Mike Long in which he comes off cool and Long comes off snappish.

At the end of January, New York’s Conservative Party, the most influential of the minor parties that complicate the state’s politics, celebrated its 50th anniversary at a Holiday Inn near the Albany airport, a vast and dingy venue that reminded me of athlete housing left over from the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Politicians like former Gov. George Pataki, who owed his election to the Conservatives, came to pay homage to the party for its record of steering the state’s politics to the right.

But one calamity darkened the mood of nostalgia and self-congratulation: the passage last summer of a law legalizing same-sex marriage. For many New Yorkers, the June 24 marriage vote was a rare moment of goosebump drama from a capital better known for tedious dysfunction. For the Conservatives, and in particular for Mike Long, the ex-marine who has been the party’s chairman for nearly half of its history, the vote was a triple humiliation.

Four Republican state senators voted for the bill and allowed it to pass had been elected with vital Conservative Party endorsement.

It is difficult to construct an argument against marriage rights for gay people that doesn’t sound like an argument against gay people. Mike Long and his fellow partisans, like many conservatives nationwide, build their case on what they call “the defense of traditional marriage.” No society in history, they told me repeatedly, has extended marriage rights to homosexuals, and so we shouldn’t risk the unraveling of civilization by starting now. (Apparently they don’t count the 10 countries, from Canada to South Africa, where gays may legally marry and civilization endures.) I’ve had a few conversations with Long, trying to understand what harm they think they are defending marriage from. In one conversation I recounted my own classic wedding at the Holy Name of Jesus church, and wondered how somebody else’s less conventional marriage could diminish the joy of it.

“Well, I don’t think it hurts anybody,” Long replied, “but I think a society has to have certain standards, and since the beginning of time, marriage has been between a man and a woman.” Marriage, he elaborated, is about children. “You’re not going to procreate children with same-sex couples.”

I told him that would be news to my daughters’ school classmates, the ones with two moms or two dads. And by the way, we don’t prohibit elderly, infertile or just plain procreation-averse couples from marrying.

“I know plenty of gay couples, O.K.?” he snapped back. “Some of them, if not all of them, are very good people, O.K.? I just don’t believe that society needs to change what the definition of marriage is to accommodate their lifestyle. That’s all. You know, that may be old-school. But I think Western civilization has done pretty good old-school.”

Keller wrote a celebratory column, in the wake of last summer's vote that made gay marriage legal in New York State:

Even before New York passed its law last week, the move toward legalization of same-sex marriage in America had become inexorable. It may feel excruciatingly slow for those who are waiting their turn, but it's just a matter of time until the country lives up to what it believes.