Another thought on marriage

Martin Cothran jokes:

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.

i-7ce321497c60adee7c44fbe243816c4e-Cantamendfamily.jpgThe 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.

i-9483379b5466598d670c3422a332b682-mikeanddave.jpgUpdated 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.

i-60a1c1ff21f6c9732dab9f997b6ef8a2-sharonandamber.jpgSimilarly, 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.

Comments

  1. #1 abb3w
    November 17, 2008

    “post-menopausal women should not be allowed”? I think you tied an extra “not” in there. =)

  2. #2 Josh Rosenau
    November 17, 2008

    Thanks, abb3w.

  3. #3 Moopheus
    November 17, 2008

    My wife and I don’t have kids. We weren’t married in a church (well, I don’t think the Graceland Chapel in Las Vegas quite counts, even if the guy in the Elvis suit did have a “reverend” in his title). We have encountered people who don’t consider us properly “married.” To which our response is basically “fuck you.” We believe that whatever is “sacred” in marriage has to be created by the people involved, not just by some guy in a funny hat waving his magic wand over it.

  4. #4 Mike Silverman
    November 17, 2008

    Beautiful post Josh!

    Just wanted to make a correction for the record, Dave and I have, in our collection, a domestic partnership in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Lawrence, Kansas, and a Civil Union in Vermont. We got married under Jewish law in Omaha, but our (sole) legal marriage is in California.

    It has been a very long road. We expect … and hope… the California Supreme Court does the right thing and throws out Prop 8 as being improperly enacted. And we expect our marriage license to be recognized (for now) in Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut (should we ever travel to the Nutmeg state!). And eventually, right here, in Lawrence Kansas.

  5. #5 ringo
    November 17, 2008

    0f course, *orthodox* Jewish law wouldn’t have covered gay marriage (there’s even a discussion in Talmud on if hermaphrodites can marry, and the answer is no, since that would prevent their partner from fulfilling the “be fruitful and multiply” mitzvah)

    That said, Orthodox rabbis routinely refuse to marry couples unless both are Jews (negating the Mormon claim that churches would be “forced” to marry gay couples), and Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis have no problem marrying gay couples (negating the Mormon argument that this is a church(s) versus state issue).

    California politics is very interesting right now.

  6. #6 llewelly
    November 18, 2008

    Beyond that, the idea that gays are necessarily childless is nonsense. Anyone who wants children is willing to do unpleasant things to get them. Lesbians give birth with almost the same frequency straight women do. Gay men sometimes sire children. And there are more children in need of adoptive parents than there are parents seeking to adopt.

  7. #7 Andrew
    November 18, 2008

    “Ancient Scottish law may disagree, but ancient Scottish law can go back to sheep-buggery for all I care.”

    I am shocked, no, appalled, by this flagrant display of bigotry!

    I’m guessing that was one of those stupid comments you were referring to. ;)

  8. #8 Jeff
    November 18, 2008

    If marriage was created and supported because every child must have a mother and a father, let’s leave it there. Every child will at some point be interested in his/her mother and father. Let’s honor that. On the other hand, nobody should deny that gays/lesbians should have their unions and rights. But no child will be happy to know that his gay father provided sperm to inseminate his lesbian mother, and they had little in common after that.

  9. #9 City_Bluz
    November 18, 2008

    “…no child will be happy to know that his gay father provided sperm to inseminate his lesbian mother, and they had little in common after that.”

    I call b.s. on you, Jeff dear.

  10. #10 Clarissa
    November 18, 2008

    Indeed, Jeff, few children are happy to know that their fathers provided sperm to their mothers, period.

    Anyway, if people such as my pro-prop-8 cousin feel that gay parents are less than ideal–an assumption I feel the research contradicts, but let’s pretend he’s right–who cares? Are we in the business of legislating ideal families? Really? What is an ideal family and who will decide that?

    There are many different couples and parents that some people think are fine and some people think are less than ideal (interracial couples, May-December couples, mixed-religion couples, atheist couples, “childfree” couples committed to not having kids, couples who married because the woman accidentally got pregnant after a one-night stand, rebound couples, single mothers, single fathers, long-distance marriages, grad student couples, absentee parents, couples who divorce and remarry each other, couples who hate each other, mail-order brides, arranged marriages, parents who didn’t really want kids, couples who married earlier than planned so one could get citizenship or health insurance, couples who get married after dating for one week, parents who keep having kids when they can’t support them, couples who use a surrogate mother, parents who have their first child after age 45, couples who cheat on each other, couples who break up each other’s marriages and then remarry, couples who marry at age 75, couples who met when one was a teacher and the other was a student, widows who remarry a month after their husbands’ deaths, widowers who marry their secretaries, first cousins [legal in many states], couples who marry at age 16, couples who have been married for years but have never had sex, couples who marry and start having kids when they’re broke, on and on). AND YET. Even if you disapprove and roll your eyes and gossip and perhaps even stop talking to your uncle who remarried too soon, and even if your church or temple or whatever refuses to recognize the marriage … we do all of these couples and parents and families the favor of not LEGALLY interfering in their marriages. Yep, their kids may need therapy later (or, you know, not), but it’s not any of your business to make it illegal for a consenting adult couple to get married just because it makes you wrinkle your nose.

    So what is so specially awful about same-sex people that we must legislate against them? Many of the above couples wouldn’t have existed in earlier times, either, so that makes no sense. If we can live with whichever of the above make us uncomfortable, realizing that people are adults and can make their own decisions even if we don’t like them, then I don’t see why people can’t get over the idea of same-sex marriage. Your church can shun it. You can refuse to send a gift to your gay cousin. Go ahead! But don’t argue that it should be outlawed simply because it doesn’t match your image of an ideal family.

  11. #11 KC Sponge
    November 18, 2008

    Hopefully, I will one day live in a country that realizes the mistakes of its past, just as today we see the mistakes of our constitution that upheld slavery, our fears that led to the imprisonment of Asian Americans, and the ignorance that made us hold to ‘all men are created equal’ to literally mean ‘men’ – and most definitely not mean ‘all’. I don’t understand how people can stand behind their beliefs of an equal society, but not support mature love between two consenting adults because it’s ‘different’ than the one they know. Especially when the one they know is most likely full of infidelity, divorce, animosity, insecurity, and mistrust that I witness in a lot of married couples I know. Some friends of mine don’t understand why this is such a big issue with me, seeing how they themselves, as gay men or women, don’t care as much to be indoctrined into this marriagable society, but I think it should be an option to us all. I am not asking to allow immorality – it’s not 8 year old children I’m marrying into these commitments against their will or under sedation and manipulation, or legally-challenging situations like polygamy – just that two people that love each other be shown the same respect as they profess their love to each other and commit to a lifetime of support – in front of families, friends, congregations, and/or Elvis.
    Deal with it, people. We all have old relatives that talk about colored people, or how sad it is to see these little Mulatto babies and how hard their lives are going to be, or ask if that Jew that you know always wears that silly hat. As our younger generation, steeped in tolerance and the further melting and breaking down of our traditional ‘pot’, grows up in a society where families continue to look less and less the same, we are going to grow into the old ninnies who are stuck in the past. Same sex marriage will see its day, sadly it looks like that day is further and further in the future, but one day the barriers will be broken – the ‘immorality’ of love between two men or two women will mean less to us as they move in next door, head the PTA’s of our schools, and mentor our children through tough times.
    Even in our greatest of days, as we await the inauguration of our first black President, we are still shrouded in a ridiculous amount of shrouded heterosexuality and prejudiced misunderstanding. I look forward to seeing my country rise from this . . . as we have risen from many of our transgressions.
    I just hope it doesn’t take too long – I’ve always thought Carmen Electra would make a lovely wife.

  12. #12 Josh Rosenau
    November 18, 2008

    Jeff: What makes you think that the sperm donor or the egg donor won’t remain a part of the child’s life?

    Then again, what makes you think that this is a problem faced only by gay couples? Lots of straight people use sperm donors, too.

  13. #13 Josh Rosenau
    November 18, 2008

    Andrew: I freely admit to a bias against absurd ancient laws. My apologies to Scottish sheep if I offended their sensibilities.

  14. #14 felgi
    November 18, 2008

    I also think that they should be considered to have been married. Thanks for your article.

  15. #15 Cappy
    November 18, 2008

    Whenever I have to deal with family members who say that marriage is about procreation I point out that in fact for most of human history marriage has been about property distribution. What is the main difference between a “legitimate” child and an “illegitimate” child? Their legal standing to inherit title and property. And the whole wedding ceremony is a transfer of property from the father to the groom what with the hand off of the bride and her taking the groom’s name to show proof of ownership. When I pointed these out to my stepmon, she was stunned for a bit then agreed and has since come a full 180 on the issue.

  16. #16 Glendon Mellow
    November 19, 2008

    Josh, I’ve said this on a few other blogs about Prop8 and I will likely keep repeating it.

    Here in Canada, we’ve had legal gay marriage for a few years now. And you know, society hasn’t crumbled. Here in Toronto, we have arguably one of the most diverse cities in the world, with immigrants from all over our fair Earth, with their own traditions and cultural baggage. And gay marriage is legal. It’s just not that big a deal.

    Unless it’s denied. Then it’s a huge deal. I hope for the sake of equality, it continues to be talked about, and fought for.

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