- The Long Arc of Justice: Lesbian and Gay Marriage, Equality, and Rights, and: Gay Marriage: For Better or for Worse? What We've Learned from the Evidence, and: Blessing Same-Sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage, and: Authorizing Marriage? Canon, Tradition and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions
The last five years have witnessed dizzying turns in the ongoing controversy over same-sex marriage in the United States. After judicial victories nullified by popular referenda in Hawaii and Alaska in the late 1990s, a more permanent partial victory via judicially mandated civil unions in Vermont gave way to a complete victory for marriage-rights forces in Massachusetts. These victories as well as the local activism in San Francisco and other cities were soured by the near-complete success of the anti-same-sex-marriage [End Page 371] referenda approved by voters across the United States in the November 2004 elections. Other turns were to come: court decisions and legislative and referendum votes in California, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont. The resolutions in these states, both pro– and anti–marriage rights, will no doubt send both sides into courtrooms, legislative halls, and referendum ballots in the next set of states.
The complexity of this debate is reflected in the four books reviewed here. To repeat a now-familiar pun, they examine gay rights and gay rites (as in marriage) through the prism of politics and culture, transnational comparisons, and, perhaps most interestingly, Christian and Jewish theology. The diversity of approaches through which marriage can be understood nearly guarantees that controversies over marriage rights will remain in some form as live issues in American life for the foreseeable future. The continued centrality of marriage to discussions of gay rights makes recent writing on the topic all the more important.
Richard Mohr's The Long Arc of Justice presents the most straightforward argumentation of these four books and the most general focus not simply on marriage but on gay rights more generally, including sexual rights, equality, civil rights, and military service. Mohr writes that he intends the book as "a handshake of greeting from gay experience to the hearts and minds of mainstream America" (8), thus revealing his hope to engage in a nonacademic discussion of the role of gays and lesbians in contemporary American society. Perhaps because of that goal and perhaps also because of its slim size (136 pages of text) and comprehensive sweep, The Long Arc of Justice argues at a superficial level. Large, important questions are treated with a quick breeziness that belies their complexity. For example, in a chapter entitled "Lesbian and Gay Basics" he addresses in two pages the argument that same-sex relationships are unnatural (27–29). This is a charge made by serious philosophers and theologians (as Mohr, a philosophy professor himself, no doubt knows), even though it has been convincingly answered. Thus, his seemingly off-the-cuff statement that "probably it is nothing but an emotional charge" (27) both surprises and disappoints. His substantive analysis of the issue, while certainly competent, again rests at a summary level.
Another example of sketchy or incomplete analysis is found with his discussion, at the end of his chapter on civil rights, of motives for discrimination (105–9). The theme of that discussion is that most—perhaps, Mohr suggests, all—justifications for denial of civil rights to gays and...