Ed Brayton has a post showing a series of polls that indicate that a majority of Americans now approve a gay marriage.This is good news for a whole host of reasons, among them that gay marriage is good for straight folk too – particularly in a society struggling with economic and environmental issues. I’ve written about this before, and about why I think gay marriage may be a gift to all marriages:
As long as we view the establishment of a marital household as the creation of something discrete and apart from the families from which they emerged, in both economic and social senses, we find ourselves in the predicament that each family is set afloat to establish itself more or less without help, and apart from parents and extended family. Thus, the established families exist mostly as a model of an economic standard to achieve. How often do older people lament that their children want it all now, that they aren’t prepared to save and struggle for years to get what their parents have? The way we conceive marriage pushes families down this path of debt and crisis and failure, because we have not prepared our kids to see themselves a part of a larger economic and social project.
I think all of us can think of people unprepared for the most basic economic realities of establishing a family and household, of marriages torn apart by economic strain that the participants were unprepared for. The erasing of marriage as a system of family ties that bind two families to one another means that every family is left to reinvent the wheel, to reform a family connection and reestablish what their relationship will mean in a larger family context from the beginning.
Enter gay marriage. Gay people may choose each other from love, from the same emotions that motivate heterosexual couples, may live together from love, may care deeply about the religious institution of their marriage (and any discussion of religion and gay marriage cannot ignore the fact that many gay people were married, as my parents were, in their churches and synagogues and covens before they could marry in their states) but they have not had the luxury of pretending that the economic, family and legal ties of marriage are not central to the institution. No gay person can ever rest content that they will be permitted at a hospital bedside for their spouse without a big shiny pile of paperwork. No gay person can ever be a parent without worrying about who counts, and how the schools will treat them and their partner. No gay person can write their will or establish guardianship for their children without a worry. No child of gay parents gets to grow up without hearing some idiot say “she’s not your real mother” or “he’s not your real Dad.” No gay family can count on getting social security if a partner dies or health care from every employer, or coverage for the kids from the non-biological parent.
Gay people, once in love, have done society a signal service by simply placing a renewed emphasis on the legal, social and financial benefits of marriage – they have forced us to stop talking *only* about love, and start talking about money and benefits and rights and legal protections – and what those things are for, about the compelling interest society has (if, indeed, it has one – I think it does) in creating stable families and households.
The institution of heterosexual marriage hasn’t been doing so hot – in part because as a society we’re so unwilling to talk about the legal and economic relationship that comes with marriage. The invisibility of the household economy has been overwhelmingly destructive in a whole host of ways that impact all of us. Gay marriage makes us face that marriage is about love – and money and property and family ties – and that being honest about that is to our benefit, all of our benefit. Nice to know the American people are getting one thing right, anyway!