Are the issues of same-sex marriage and interracial marriage the same kind of issue? Well, we could be smart alecky and point out that one has issue and the other doesn’t, but we won’t settle for that.
This is an example of a joke that isn’t a joke; joking-but-for-real, if you will. He’s waving off a stupid comment as a joke, but the bad joke reveals something mildly significant, and it’s worth digging into.
The idea that gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry because they can’t have children is a hoary argument, and many people seem to find it compelling. Indeed, if we’re obsessing over definitions of marriage, we can note that a Scottish law in 1754 provided that “A marriage, though of the longest continuance, gives no right to the courtesy, if there was no issue of it.” So the “traditional” definition of marriage requires people to have offspring.
I find that interesting. My grandfather died before I was born, and my grandmother remarried. While she and her new husband both had children from previous marriages, they were in their 70s when they wed, and thus that union produced no issue.
I think that they should be considered to have been married, even though that seems to require a redefinition of marriage. I think that post-menopausal women should be allowed to marry, as should infertile men and women, not to mention people who choose not to have children for their own personal reasons. Ancient Scottish law may disagree, but ancient Scottish law can go back to sheep-buggery for all I care.
Whenever I hear someone say that marriage is about procreation, I think of my grandmother. Not just because she is a counterexample, but because her example of calm, quiet, and loving outreach to others is a good guide. I know that she would stand up for her right to marry the man she loved, the man who loved her children and grandchildren like they were his own, and whose children and grandchildren she loved like her own.
I also know that she would have stood up for her rights firmly, but with elegance and quiet grace. I may not always live up to that standard, but I certainly will keep trying. Then again, no one ever put her marriage on the ballot.
Updated to add: I also think of the people I meet at rallies who have been together for 30 years, through thick and thin, but who cannot marry now (or may be forcibly divorced), and I compare them to the blithe ease with which Britney Spears got married, or the ease with which my own parents were wed. I know people who got married on a lark in Vegas, or who needed to get married while skydiving just to make the enterprise at all exciting.
I compare that simplicity to what my friend Mike Silverman and his husband have gone through. They have been married at least three times, in Canada, in Massachusetts, and in California, where he unfurled the flag of his native Kansas on the steps of San Francisco’s city hall [see comment from Mike for a correction]. Even so, his marriage is not recognized in Kansas, and the status even of the domestic partnership they have under a city law in Lawrence is tenuous and overly limited.
Similarly, I think of friends I recently met through my girlfriend. Sharon and Amber got married in San Francisco this year, and had been married several other times in several other states before their own home state was prepared to grant them their basic civil rights.
You cannot question the commitment of these people. The hoops that Sharon and Amber, Dave and Mike had to go through to enjoy a right we all take for granted is stunning.
When my grandmother went on her first date with my grandfather, they went across state lines, too. They were both widowers, and neither was sure about dating again. Plus, they didn’t want to be seen by people they knew.
But when they got married, it was in LaPorte, IN, their hometown. While being seen on that first date could have been cause for malicious gossip, their marriage was something to celebrate in their home town, with their family and friends. Everyone deserves that same freedom.