GAY MARRIAGE: Why it is good for Gays, good for straights, and good for America by Jonathan Rauch (Henry Holt), 224 pages, $32.95 cloth. Rating: NNN
SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: THE PERSONAL AND THE POLITICAL by Kathleen A. Lahey and Kevin Alderson (Insomniac), 380 pages, $21.95 paper. Rating: NN
Gays have been stampeding to the altar for over a year in Canada and for months in the U.S., but same-sex marriage is not last year's news quite yet. In fact, with George Dubya threatening to push for a Constitutional amendment to ban gay unions and politicians getting pressed on the hustings as voters get set to go to the polls, same-sex marriage shows serious resilience as a hot-button issue.
Two recent books highlight the differences between the ways Canadians and Americans have put forward their concerns in the courts and in public discourse in general.
The Canadian entry, Same-Sex Marriage: The Personal And The Political, is divided into two parts. The first, prepared by law prof Kathleen Lahey, tracks all the main legal events that have shaped the debate in this country, including parliamentary and court initiatives, providing a useful survey of the legal history.
The second half of the book, put together by psychologist Kevin Alderson, is made up of interviews with 15 Canadian couples who have taken the marriage leap. It's not as successful.
For starters, Alderson does little to convince us that these people are interesting enough to read about. With the exception of Robert Berry and Leslie Sheare, who've been a couple for almost 50 years, the pairs' stories come across as oddly ordinary. We hear about how they met, who had a crush on whom, their parents' attitudes - but there's little to distinguish them. And Alderson's Q&A approach gives the interviews an undigested feel.
Contrast the Canucks' anecdotal, feel-good style with policy wonk Jonathan Rauch's closely argued thesis in Gay Marriage. Rauch's subtitle makes the point that gay marriage is a win-win-win situation. But he says it can only be so if gays fight hard for gay marriage and don't settle for civil unions and what he calls "marriage lite."
Take note of the chapter entitled Men Behaving Badly, in which Rauch rips into the bogus data trotted out by fundamentalists about gay promiscuity.
Right-wingers are always citing studies that say gay men average thousands of sex partners in their lifetime, and Rauch makes short work of that bullshit.
Embedded in his perspective are some fundamentally conservative values. He calls for gay marriage precisely because it has a tradition and because marriage has special status in the mainstream. This point of view will do nothing to engage radical queers and feminists, who have problems with marriage's patriarchal baggage, and will aggravate anyone who wants to challenge the two-person paradigm.
And his strategy of working for same-sex unions on a state-by-state basis instead of insisting on a national policy that states would have to stick to comes across as lame slow-change-is-good-change theory.
But Rauch does give us something you don't see very often - a sharply written argument, the kind that answers questions just as they pop into your head.
This is a guy who has definitely thought the issue through.
And even though it's an American book, it does give a ton of fuel to the pro-same-sex-marriage side of the Canadian debate.
A good book to have if you need help making your point.
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