Marriage Wars: The Real Fight is Over Moral Superiority

Have you seen the "Gathering Storm" ad? It is the latest from the anti-gay marriage machine. Set against a gray, lightening-pocked, ominous background, it begins with the words: "There's a storm gathering. The clouds are dark and the winds are strong and I am afraid." It continues with one person after another (actors, all) declaring that same-sex marriage advocates are a threat. "Those advocates want to change the way I live," says one.

The ad touched off a televised maelstrom, with pairs of pundits yelling at and over each other with arguments that go round and round and never seem to come to any sensible resolution. The key question that befuddles gays who want to marry, and straights who have no problem with that, is this: How can one person's marriage threaten another person's? How is that even possible or plausible?

As Mike Barnicle asked when he was guest hosting Hardball, "I still don't get it. How, you know, if the couple upstairs, Ray and Tommy - what do they have to do with my life downstairs?"

The predictable arguments are trotted out: God doesn't want it. Marriage is for procreation. It is the foundation of civilization. By now, all of these are high hanging curve balls for the batters on the other team who have been swinging away at these pitches for so long. (See, for example, this parody of the "Gathering Storm" ad, and this blog.)

Even if granted, though, none of the anti arguments answer that puzzling question - what does one person's marriage have to do with another person's? Just how, exactly, are gay marriage advocates going to "change the way [opponents] live?"

They aren't. But they are a threat nonetheless. If advocates were to succeed in achieving complete cultural and legal acceptance - maybe even celebration - of same-sex marriage, something truly significant would be lost by the other side. It is not something that those opponents can see or feel or hold in their hands, but they cling to it nonetheless. It is their view of the world.

Both sides have a worldview and wish fervently for theirs to prevail. Among some of those who oppose same-sex marriage, marriage really does have a sacred place. In their minds, it truly is the bedrock of civilization (anthropologists be damned!). Getting married is, to them personally, a transformative experience. It doesn't just make them more mature or more adult or just different from those who are not married - it makes them better.

That, I think, is the real reason why some (though not all) of the opponents of same-sex marriage are so vehement. It is why they feel so threatened. To open the door of marriage to gays is to let them in on the one resource that opponents are most reluctant to share (especially with gays) - their own sense of moral superiority.

The dark and scary motif of the gathering-storm ad aptly expresses a genuine sense of foreboding. Even though the arguments in the ad may be bogus, the fear is real. [Continue reading here, at the "Living Single" blog at Psychology Today]