Sullivan does an extraordinary job of examinining the core American views re: gay marriage. Though they are, likely for organization, slotted into butSullivan does an extraordinary job of examinining the core American views re: gay marriage. Though they are, likely for organization, slotted into but four categories, they adequately represent the philosophical and political spectrum from far right to far left. These four "takes" are explained with the requisite depth, precision, and thoughtfulness one would expect from the most qualified historian, political scientist, and/or philosopher -- an accurate, well-supported picture of each approach and, whether from right or left, powerfully countered in each instance.
The substantial downside of this book is Sullivan's own take on gay marriage, crafted as a departure from "established" views. Sullivan's title -- "Virtually Normal" -- is, in this regard, telling. His approach, at its core, treats gay marriage as a legal entitlement through which gay couples can, via partaking in the equivalent of opposite-sex marriage, become "normalized" members of society. Sullivan's approach is transparently borne of a desire to appeal to moderate Republicans, paired as it is with a contention that gay marriage may (and should) be achieved so as to ruffle no one's moral feathers.
"Virtually Normal" is not a novel; it's nonfiction. And, ultimately, Sullivan's views are to be examined, critically, as one man's logical bases for the propriety of gay marriage -- a garden-variety textbook thesis. Judging Sullivan on this score, I disagree in spades.
While I am not taken aback by Sullivan's views re: the prevailing takes on gay marriage, it is shocking that a gay author and, for present purposes, scholar could hold a view so dismissive of the intellectual and amorous diversity of his own community. And, frankly, of the straight community. While marriage may be a state-endowed entitlement, even under a "straight-only" rubric it does, and should, encompass a broad range of views and realities.
Reproductive extravaganzas. Childless marriages. Open marriages. Ill-thought marriages destined to failure.
Were Sullivan to observe his own community, it's difficult to imagine he'd not see and understand a range of views even broader. In the early stages of gay unions, American citizens' motivations are extraordinarily free-ranging. One set of motivations concerns an issue Sullivan is expressly, and notably, quick to dismiss -- queer counterculture. The views of the queer counterculture re: gay marriage, and marriage generally, are highly pertinent to the private freedoms of American citizens. Gay marriage is a privilege of a people, new to a right, to craft that right pursuant to a cornucopia of ideas they deem relevant, whether legally new or taken for granted. Queer counterculture (or, really, the embodiment of diverse forms of queer expression) is not anathema to the idea of marriage. But it should be free to define it pursuant to its own terms, if it partakes of the right in the first instance. There is no harm to marriage in a notion of it that is broader than or different from marriage inaptly deemed "traditional".
Viewing gay marriage with an eye toward transparent contrasts within the gay community, the freedoms of those already free to marry are unchanged. But the freedoms of those newly free or, whether straight or gay, of a "non-traditional" mindset are only expanded. In Sullivan's stifled peddling of his views re: gay marriage, he appears ignorant of the traditions of American thought that underly the views -- right and left -- that he describes in "Virtually Normal". Quite simply, a broad definition of freedom, to be defined in particulars as it evolves, relevant whether right or left, is shrunken by Sullivan. In the end, Sullivan is far far too willing to toss aside the experience and insights of his own community -- often shared with straight counterparts -- to argue for a view of gay marriage that is infinitely more restrictive than it is free. And, in the end, infinitely more restrictive than it is American. ...more