On the Big Hollywood blog, Charles Winecoff has an extensive post on the question of gay marriage and why gay activists push for it. The post is well worth reading, and contains much more background and explanation of his point of view than usual in this debate.
Winecoff is gay but ultimately is repulsed by the nature of the activism in the gay community on this issue:
I must be immune to gay marriage fever. Because I can’t help sympathizing with the citizens whose majority vote to defend their long-valued concept of marriage has been stigmatized as bigotry. The pro-8 voters I’ve talked to are resigned to the likelihood that the screaming minority will ultimately get its way, that gay marriage will come to California. So the psychological game, at least, is over.
The score: gays, one - black and Latino Obama voters, zero.
Still, why the sudden urgency, the live or die hysteria for gay marriage now - or else!? Last time I checked, gays and lesbians in California enjoyed more rights than their brothers and sisters in any other state. And I can’t recall any of my West Hollywood friends ever being dragged out of their homes in the middle of the night by police and never heard from again - or told by their employers they couldn’t get health benefits for their domestic partners.
What exactly is it that the affluent gay community here feels it doesn’t have?
There's much more to his post and I'm being unfair to just call this part out, so please do read the whole thing. To address the particular question of just why someone would want gay marriage today given what we already have, I replied with this:
As a gay mugged-by-9/11 ex-liberal I agree with a lot in this post and appreciate the fact that much more history and context has been provided than is usual when discussing this issue. The support of gay institutions for the most illiberal anti-gay anti-woman regimes on the planet is despicable, and the complete alignment of almost all gay institutions with a single party is ridiculous.
However, I take issue with the idea that gays who were getting married were putting on tears for the cameras, or that those of us who want marriage don't really want marriage, or want to destroy marriage in some fashion.
I know from direct experience that the "destroy marriage" people are out there (though perhaps in fewer numbers than before?) When I was one of those leading the charge for domestic partner benefits at Oracle, back when almost no one had heard of domestic partner benefits, I got reactions from some asking why I was pro-marriage and having gays from the military speak when I should be working to destroy the military and marriage.
But even though I was still a liberal back then, I had no interest in destroying either institution. And as someone who has a 22 year monogamous relationship but must live in fear of relatives swooping in to take our assets after my death, or to make life decisions for me if I become incapacitated, I have a very strong interest in the inviolable protections of marriage. Civil unions are nice, but they are not federal and if something happens to me in the wrong state, we are screwed. You can call it marriage or you can call it a civil union, but unless our relationship status is recognized and protected when it matters -- when some health or other personal disaster has occurred -- and recognized regardless of where we happen to be at that moment, then the problem has not been solved. And it's not a minor problem.
Personally I would be delighted to have the spiritual aspect of marriage left to churches and private consideration, while the state just hands out civil unions to gays or straights alike. However, as the situation is today, without marriage we are in a separate and unequal situation that very frequently penalizes gays severely. Ask any attorney who has to deal with gay issues after death or incapacitation -- it's a very ugly situation that no one in a loving long-term relationship deserves to be subjected to because of their gender or orientation.
I have no problem with people questioning the value and purpose of gay marriage, but please don't fall into the trap of portraying those who want marriage as being disingenuous or selfish. Argue the merits, not the motives, or you offend and deny those of us who are well-meaning participants in this debate and you risk appearing to use the same tactics as those liberals we all decry.
I will say that while some of the commentary to his post is inevitably head-slapping, it is mostly a good civil discussion of the issue, and the comments are worth reading as well.
UPDATE: Bookworm has also discussed the Big Hollywood post and I've gotten a good opportunity to explain my side of things in the comments and answer questions about why domestic partnership/civil unions don't measure up to actual marriage.