Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Today I remembered Richard Goldstein's article in the Village Voice, where he had mentioned conservative columnists David Brooks and William Safire's volte face on the issue of gay marriage. Since the op-ed pieces in the New York Times cannot be accessed after 7 days (that is, unless you want to shell out an absolutely incredible sum of money for an article - what do they base their prices on anyway?), I did some appropriate googling (God, what would we do without Google and the net?).

David Brooks article can be found here.. Safire, however is a slippery nut and it is hard to figure out exactly where he stands on the issue.

Brooks opens his piece with the line.
"Anybody who has several sexual partners in a year is committing spiritual suicide. He or she is ripping the veil from all that is private and delicate in oneself, and pulverizing it in an assembly line of selfish sensations."
The equation of monogamy and marriage with morality is very common even today, despite the sexual revolution. And I don't find it strange that Brooks, staunch conservative that he is, is almost dogmatic on this point. However rather than monogamy being the moral thing to do, I prefer to think that most people opt for a monogamous life, not because it saves their soul, but because, it satisfies, in some way or the other, their human desires. Brooks is essentially condemning people, who would prefer living an alternative life-style, of say, promiscuity. I don't know whether I should be pleased that Brooks is supporting gay marriage or angry about his reasons. ("sanctifying love with marriage and fidelity", "sacred relations"). There are points when the writer does hit home though. Like Francis Fukayama in his The End of History, Brooks is clear that it is the idea that marriage is a contract - a social contract, maybe, but a contract nevertheless - is the reason why so many marriages end in divorce these days.

The idea of morality must not be confused with a person's sexual ethics. There is something ridiculous in the idea that a man in a monogamous relationship is moral simply because he has sex with only one person. Even more ridiculous is the idea of classifying acts as moral or immoral. This is at best, an oversimplification, at worst, clear distortion.

I read Tony Hendra's wonderful book Father Joe - The man who saved my soul recently. When young Tony commits the "sin" of adultery with an older married woman, Father Joe tells him that his sin was not one of fornication but of selfishness, of subjecting an unhappy woman to his own needs. Hendra writes simply but the book moved me absurdly. It illustrates perfectly how, by judging human beings based on their sexual habits, one ignores the context behind those laws completely. It takes Father Joe, a monk whom Hendra unabashedly calls a saint, to show us that.

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