Gay Marriage Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America

Jonathan Rauch

Holt Paperbacks



Trade Paperback

224 Pages



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Two people meet and fall in love. They get married, they become upstanding members of their community, they care for each other when one falls ill, they grow old together. What's wrong with this picture? Nothing, says Jonathan Rauch, and that's the point. If the two people are of the same sex, why should this chain of events be any less desirable? Marriage is more than a bond between individuals, because it also links them to the community at large. Excluding some people from the prospect of marriage is not only harmful to them, it is also corrosive of the institution itself.

In the wake of recent state, federal, and Canadian court decisions, the controversy over gay marriage has reached a critical point in American political life, as skittish politicians rush in to stem what they see as a threat to marriage. But, as Jonathan Rauch shows in this compelling and wise book, the politicians have the whole thing backward. Rauch is one of America's most original and incisive social commentators, and here he explains why gay marriage is important—even crucial—to the health of marriage as an institution, grounding his argument in mainstream values. He outlines why marriage is vital to a well-functioning society, why marriage gains strength from being available to and encouraged for all citizens, why gay people will benefit from gay marriage, and why the institution of marriage will benefit as well. He then proceeds to demolish the arguments so often put forward by conservatives who call themselves defenders of marriage, showing them to be nothing of the sort. Finally, he looks at how gay marriage would work in the real world, as it bumps up against the realities of religion, social acceptance, the law, children, and even divorce.

At a time when marriage is losing ground to cohabitation and is in danger of becoming just another lifestyle choice, Rauch reaffirms that marriage is the gold standard for committed, serious relationships. Love, sex, and marriage go together—not just sometimes but always, not just for some people but for everyone. Gay marriage, he shows, is a "win-win-win" for strengthening the bonds that tie us and for remaining true to our national heritage of fairness and humaneness toward all.


Praise for Gay Marriage

"[A] thoughtful and convincingly argued manifesto in favor of same-sex marriage."—David J. Garrow, The Washington Post Book World

"Into [today's] hot, angry debate comes Jonathan Rauch's cool, articulate, poignant plea . . . [Rauch argues that] the essence of marriage [is] a life-long commitment, one recognized and supported by society . . . The ban on gay marriage, he cries, is 'scaldingly inhumane' . . . This is a powerful book, clear, tolerant, and persuasive, never ranting or self-pitying . . . Rauch's book should become obligatory reading for all."—The Economist

"Talk about perfect timing—perfect for a country that can no longer avoid resolving the controversy this book addresses. The argument about whether legal recognition of same-sex marriages is sound social policy has come to a rolling boil. And now one of Washington's most respected writers offers an exquisitely measured argument for the affirmative. Jonathan Rauch, a gay man in a long-term relationship, understands the lives as well as the laws at issue."—George F. Will

"By the time Rauch finished writing this book, two fewer taboos were left standing. The first is the one against bringing reason to bear in the discussion of emotional political topics. And by violating taboo number one, he makes clear how little rational support there is for taboo number two—the case against allowing two people of the same sex to formalize their love through marriage. Rauch's articulation of the logical case for allowing same-sex couples to marry illustrates why so many of its opponents have decided to abandon logic in making their arguments."—Barney Frank

"Rauch's reasoned and passionate brief for gay marriage, his wholehearted embrace of the obligations and traditions of marriage itself, and his compelling cautions against civil union alternatives to marriage will stand as a defining argument in the upcoming struggle over same-sex marriage. Agree or disagree, you have to read this book."—Barbara Dafoe Whitehead

"Marriage is a uniquely powerful institution that would bring stability to gays, and this stability would benefit all of society. This is the central point in Rauch's provocative book in favor of gay marriage. A writer for the Atlantic Monthly and National Journal, Rauch believes that civil unions are unacceptable because they do not bring the community support of marriage, and the possibility of civil unions would weaken marriage by making it just one option among several. Rauch addresses several of the opposition's arguments, e.g., that marriage is for procreation and that gay marriage will lead to polygamous marriage and beyond . . . With the topic of gay marriage on so many minds lately, Rauch's book is recommended for all libraries."—Library Journal

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Read an Excerpt

Gay Marriage
1What Is Marriage For?When I was six years old, I went with my family from Phoenix, where I was born and raised, to visit New York. I remember only a little about that trip, apart from a visit to the Statue of Liberty, but seeing Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway remains vivid. It was my first play and a great play to boot, and Tevye's dream frightened me half to death, but another, more tender scene also stayed with me.Tevye is a poor milkman in a Jewish shtetl (village) in czarist Russia. Life there is hardscrabble and traditional, and he is at first scandalized and then grudgingly
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  • Jonathan Rauch

  • Jonathan Rauch is a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, a senior writer and columnist for National Journal, and a writer in residence at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of several previous books on public policy, culture, and economics, including, most recently, Government's End: Why Washington Stopped Working. His work has appeared in The New Republic, The Economist, Harper's, Reason, Fortune, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Slate, among other publications. He is vice president of the Independent Gay Forum and lives outside Washington, D.C.