Changed attitudes toward sexual morality provide the clearest example. The one almost universal belief about sexual morality is that it must be “safe” and “responsible.” This means two things: respecting the autonomy and well-being of one’s partner and preventing pregnancy. Nothing men do with men, or women with women, stands in the way of satisfying the first principle, and their interactions positively satisfy the second. The imperative of fairness immediately presents itself. If traditional condemnations no longer apply to guys and gals hooking up, then why should they apply to guys and guys, or gals and gals? If John and Jane can live as they please, perhaps sleeping together in college, then living together for a few years, and then marrying, then why not Joe and James? It is indeed an awkward cultural moment.
Moreover, because of the widespread acceptance of contraception (backed up by abortion), the male–female difference has precious little biological significance either. Nearly all contemporary men and women want to have children in the usual way. Nonetheless, most of us—the vast majority—tacitly presume that most sexual unions, whether casual or permanent, are appropriately sterile: the assumption behind the notion of “responsible sex.” Children are products of our wills (“planned parenthood”). They are private choices within an encompassing culture of choice, a way of thinking that, once again, makes it difficult to identify a real difference between same-sex couples and heterosexual couples.
Thus, along with a fear that sexual repression is harmful, we have cultural assumptions about gender and reproduction that make it very difficult to articulate persuasive public reasons to resist same-sex marriage. If the woman can wear the pants in the family, then why can’t a man wear skirts, as it were? If women are to be encouraged to be active, independent agents in the public sphere and in family life—strong grooms of our older imaginations—then why can’t a man be the bride? If we are elevating choice and asserting the primacy of the affective over procreative aspects of the sexual unions of men and women, then why can’t gays and lesbians marry? Don’t they make choices and have affections just like the rest of us?
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