My post speculating about the relationship between honor and gay marriage was an attempt to articulate general social views, as I saw them, about what makes marriage honorable. But I’ve been thinking about Richard’s point about generations: the younger you are, it seems, the more likely you are to accept the idea of gay marriage. I wonder how many other people my age and younger share a certain gut feeling I have — that accepting the changes in marital norms actually comes from the conservative instinct to honor your parents.
Let me explain. All the non-religious arguments I’ve seen against gay marriage — and indeed many of the religious ones — aren’t about homosexuality so much as the importance of raising children with mothers and fathers. Usually this is supported with statistical evidence to the effect that children raised in two-parent homes turn out better, in the senses of education, emotional health, criminal records, etc., than those raised by single parents and other unconventional arrangements.
But of course, a large number of us born during what Francis Fukuyama called the Great Disruption — the boom of divorce and illegitimate births from the early ’60s onward — grew up in households like that, usually because our parents were divorced. And for all the press that teen rebellion gets, sociological data generally shows that most people stay pretty close to their parents. And so, even though some people angrily denounce their parents’ failures and vow to make things different, my own feelings are more ambivalent. Yeah, it sucked that my parents divorced, but I don’t want to try to say what they should have done differently. They’re both with other people now who seem to suit them better. And there is an inherent egotism in saying, “Yeah, you did all that for me, but you should have organized your life even MORE around me.”
In a past post — also inspired by a Richard Beck item, I see — I floated the idea that modern parents have to be more altruistic than their predecessors, because they can’t expect the same material rewards for their hard work. There does come a point when you have to ask how much sacrifice is worth it: not just sacrifice to keep from totally effing your kids up, but sacrifice in pursuit of an ideal when things could otherwise just turn out OK. And I think the older you get, the more you learn the value of OK-ness.
So even though a lot of people my age want to avoid putting their own kids through the same things they went through, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re shying away from the implied parental critique that says, “What my parents did is such a DISASTER that we must resist any signs and symptoms of it, even tangentially related things like gay marriage.” Which is also, of course, partly a defense of our own honor, since that seems to imply that we ourselves turned out awfully defective. The desire to make peace with your life is a strong and healthy instinct, I think, but it does tend to foil utopian dreams. And at this point, pushing back against a 200-year cultural drift that has brought us to the point of gay marriage does seem pretty utopian.
I also wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the experience of growing up in the Great Disruption amplified the honor code I described in my earlier post. Certainly, those of us who saw our parents divorce saw that marriage was hard. That no doubt drove some people away from it, perhaps including myself. But anything that’s difficult to do also acquires a certain cachet, which may be one reason why gay people are fighting for marriage so hard even as conservatives are declaring its imminent doom.