THE TERM "civil marriage" or "civil union" has become a euphemism for the legal and social legitimation of homosexuality. In current public conversation, the phrase no longer means the wedding of a man and woman conducted by a civil authority--a town clerk, justice of the peace, or judge. In that old sense of the term, of course, every legal marriage is a civil one, because the ministers, priests, and rabbis who conduct weddings according to the established rites of their respective religions are at the same time acting with full civil authority to do so. The fact that so many of the fully sanctioned marriages in recent years have turned out to be too casual and thin-blooded to hold out for very long against the trials of real life is nothing to the point. For while the number of easy-come, easy-go marriages in our midst speaks to the failure of spiritual education in this great, rich, lucky, but somewhat spiritually impoverished land of ours, there has not, until now, been any kind of real assault on what marriage is supposed to mean: one man, one woman, formally and officially joined in the hope of becoming a real family.
Today, what is being called "civil marriage" is a kind of trick of language, a term used as a political euphemism for surrendering to the most recent demand of the homosexual rights movement. What it now is intended to mean is that the mating of two men or two women must be regarded by society as equally hallowed. The surrender to this idea has taken place very quickly, and I think we cannot understand it without going over the history of how we got here.
Homosexual rights is an idea that began to assume the force and energy of a movement hard on the heels of the women's movement (which itself, of course, gained energy and force from the civil rights movement that preceded it). It began with the demand that homosexuals no longer be considered pariahs, bedeviled by the authorities and viewed with unconcealed discomfort by many of their fellow citizens. In the abstract, this demand seemed very reasonable, particularly among people still stung by the shame of the country's long history of attitude and behavior toward blacks. The movement was what you might call a smash success--perhaps because it was the third in a row and thus was presenting its case to an already softened public, or perhaps because to assent quickly to the movement's claims made it a lot easier to avert one's eyes from homosexuality itself. In any case, rapid is the word.
In the years since the homosexual movement began, the country had been confronted with the phenomenon of AIDS, a mortal disease that, at the beginning of the epidemic, was contracted in one of two ways: either a common form of homosexual mating or the use of dirty needles for injecting heroin. AIDS, it will be remembered, for a time virtually was threatening to decimate the male homosexual community. Though at first there was a good deal of lying about the problem "We are all at risk," said the sympathizers and those raising funds for medical research to find a cure--the lie could not be sustained for long. Heroin addicts, prostitutes, and recipients of tainted blood aside, among homosexuals it was, and is, spread through a kind of blind and rampant promiscuity that had been growing ever more so in certain institutions, primarily the bars and bathhouses.
In any case, what the misguided enablers were revving up to embrace, Mother Nature obdurately was rejecting. The impulse of compassion for the discriminated against had become so habitual that, rather than expressions of horror, what the discovery of AIDS elicited from the community of the sensitive was a great outpouring of sympathy. Though AIDS was a disease contracted by a species of sexual behavior that might have straightened the curls of many a fashionable lady to hear about, the issue was spoken of in polite circles as a kind of mysterious tragedy that struck out of the blue. …