Following on from my spiked article on the gay marriage debate, I recommend an essay I found by Susan M. Shell, "The liberal case against gay marriage". Published in The Public Interest in the summer of 2004, it remains highly relevant.
Shell makes the important point that "the most stubborn and intransigent opponents in the conflict are both in their way sectarian". On one side are traditional Christians for whom gay marriage "represents a direct assault on the grounding authority by which life at its most serious and intimate is lived". On the other side are "liberationists" or "postmodernists", for whom "all universal norms are suspect, with the sole exception of something like a duty to 'accept difference'," and for whom gay marriage "is either a celebration of the individual's heroic struggle to find love and validation in a hostile world, or at the very least, it is no one else's business."
Against both of these particularist views, Shell adopts an universalist and classical liberal approach, informed by thinkers such as Locke and Kant. She calls for a civil partnerships that bolster rights for gays and lesbians (including adoption rights), and to limit marriage to heterosexual couples. Her liberal approach "takes moral condemnation of homosexuality out of the public sphere"; Christians for example may privately abhor gay relations, but they cannot impose that view on others. By the same token, "American citizens should not have the sectarian beliefs of gay-marriage advocates imposed on them unwillingly":
"The requirement that homosexual attachments be publicly recognized as no different from, and equally necessary to society as, hetereosexual attachments is a fundamentally illiberal demand. Gays cannot be guaranteed all of the experiences open to hetereosexuals any more than tall people can be guaranteed all of the experiences open to short people. Least of all can gays be guaranteed all of the experiences that stem from the facts of human sexual reproduction and its accompanying penumbra of pleasures and cares. To insist otherwise is not only psychologically and culturally implausible; it imposes a sectarian model view on fellow citizens who disagree and who may hold moral beliefs that are diametrically opposed to it."
Of course, if you are the New York Times or another leading establishment voice, any suggestion of a solution that falls short of instituting gay marriage is outright bigotry (including the President's view of two weeks ago). But for those with more of an open mind, I recommend Shell's essay. As I mentioned in my article, you don't have to be a conservative to question the call for gay marriage.