Is gay marriage immoral? Merely asking the question infuriates many Yale students. In response, they walk away in a huff, angry and indignant — they don’t engage the questioner at all. Those who do engage skirt the content of the question, responding with a theme of their own: “How can you question the personal choices of others?” or “Don’t impose your opinions on me!” Of course, the question does nothing of the sort; it simply gives voice to a subject that is on everybody’s mind.
At least, the subject should be on everybody’s mind. Some say that gay marriage is the civil rights issue of this generation, while others think the idea’s prominence in the public sphere constitutes the height of depravity. The subject is at the front of national and local debate in all branches of government, and the country is radically divided. Millions of young people are thinking about their own romantic futures, looking to society for advice. It is clear that this question is very important; why do so many resent it?
The question is illegitimate only under the condition that a moral standard does not exist. But Yale students are quite committed to the existence of a moral standard. Consider the extensive moralizing on campus: It is wrong to eat a banana that is not fair trade, the administration is wrong with regard to financial aid, a student is in error when he does not recycle, others err in committing theft while riding bicycles, Perrotti is bad if he reports on skin color, the University is bad if it invests in Darfur, the Iranian president is wicked, Larry Summers is misogynistic and so on.
“Yes, yes,” one may say. “But I must protest.
These positions are not analogous.
It’s really not fair and quite the insult:
Intrusion into consenting adults.”
Intrusion — this is why students resent questioning the morality of sexual relationships. Potential immorality means potential intrusion means potential inability in action. But if a moral standard exists, questioning the morality of gay marriage must follow. It is not possible that a moral standard applies to situations outside of sexual relationships without also extending to sexual relationships. Fear of consequences should not divert one from the search for truth.
The search for truth is a scary proposition because it flies in the face of a central assumption: the subordination of ideas. Ideas can be classified solely as bits of information. But information is just a tool — one masters information and uses it for his own ends. In contrast, if ideas are understood to have a truth-value, they can have vastly different consequences. While it is proper to master information, it is proper to submit to truth. Information can be ignored, but truth demands a response.
The truth of a moral standard demands that students consider the morality of gay marriage. The presumptive opinion against intrusion into the lives of consenting adults does not prove the morality of gay marriage.
Is gay marriage immoral? Students would do well to answer.
Peter Johnston is a freshman in Saybrook College.