Why Gay Marriage Is Good for Everyone

This weekend in the Washington Post, there's an article about a couple who first met while serving in various capacities during WWII, who just celebrated their marriage in DC this weekend after a "62 year engagement." This would be a romantic story in any context - but it isn't a story of parted lovers who finally found each other again after decades apart. Instead, it is of two men who have lived a life almost wholly together, sharing work, family and community, but who lacked legal and social recognition.

What's interesting about this story to me is not simply that it is a charming love story, although that too. What I found striking about this is that in order to marry, the two had to rescind a legal adoption undertaken as recently as 1990. That is, before the legalization of gay marriage, in order to have meaningful legal protections, the two had had to create the legal falsehood that they were parent and child.

"I think the reason it was so moving is that there were many in that audience who realized a relationship like ours could exist," Bob says. "There was still hope that they could accumulate enough love between two people to make it last."

And it really has lasted, Henry says. "We're not only friends, we're lovers, we're brothers and, incidentally, along the way, in 1990, I legally adopted Bob."

True story. When Henry was 69, he legally adopted Bob, who was 70. It gave them legal protections, offered an advantageous inheritance tax rate and made the pair into a family.

I think it is safe to say that outside of extreme exigency, this is not, for a host of really obvious reasons, a subterfuge anyone would voluntarily undertake. Our cultural taboos against even the shadow of incest mean that most people really dislike the idea of standing in even artificial parental relationships to one's romantic partner. And yet is a measure of how difficult it can be to achieve the basic protections that normal, married couples have for one another.

Growing up in a household led by two lesbians, I got to see those basic difficulties upfront. My youngest sister, Vicky, is 7 years younger than I am, and because my parents divorced when she was an infant, she remembers no time in her life when Sue, my step-mother didn't stand in a parental relationship to her. Within a day or two of my turning 18, my mother sat me down to tell me that she was changing legal documents to leave her share of Vicky's guardianship to me if my mother died.

I was, to say the least, startled by this - not only had I no thought of my mother dying (and she's healthy now two decades later, so this was merely advance planning), I had never thought of being my younger sister's guardian. But my mother observed that if anything happened to her, Sue would have absolutely no legal rights in my sister's life, and that my father could take her entirely away from Sue, or the courts could dispose of her relationship as so much dross. To my father's credit, he would never have thought of such a thing - but my mother simply didn't feel it was possible to leave something so basic as a relationship with her other mother up to the hope of a sympathetic court, or in the control of someone else. Now that I was a legal adult, even though I was no more capable of standing in parental relationship to my sister than any other teenage big sister, I could at least provide a pretence to keep my sister with her parent. The idea that the courts would find me, a typical feckless teenager, a guardian to my sister in preference to my step-mother was insane. But then, the world was crazy on the subject of our family, and I'd known that for years.

There is no question that I am personally biased in favor of gay marriage. My own argument is that even if all the societal detriments claimed by religious conservatives are actually true, that's still insufficient justification to make gay people suffer the kind of fears that underly a life without full legal protection. It is still insufficient to justify the pain and suffering of the children of gay parents whose families are not treated as fully real, and who are forced to know how vulnerable they are far too early. I don't think the claims of religious oppression and cost to the institution of marriage made by gay marriage opponents are largely correct, but even if they were, I would argue that second-class status for an entire segment of the population is too great a price to pay to preserve benefits to heterosexual society.

Ultimately, the arguments against gay marriage are weak - the idea that it in any way undermines heterosexual marriage is wholly unproven, but more importantly, it relies on an underlying assumption that it is acceptable to do harm to some social group in order to strengthen an institution. But that requires we give attention to the institution itself - an institution that began its "decline" long before anyone ever said the word "gay" out loud. Any case that the institution of marriage deserves to be strengthened at the cost ot gay people and their families must begin by asking how well marriage is doing as an institution. And the answer is "not so hot."

Moreover, most honest opponents of gay marriage fully admit that institutional harm didn't start with gay marriage - it would be impossible to credibly argue otherwise, honestly. Looking around at all the divorced folks, it seems hard to imagine that unless gay people have an astonishing radius effect (every gay person kills marriages for 15 miles around them, say), most of the harm has been done by the participants of these marriages, almost all heterosexual.

Indeed, the critical moment for divorce and marital instability actually begins around the time that Bob and Henry in the article met - at World War II. World War II was responsible for an astonishing number of divorces - two, three, four years apart off fighting war is not conducive to stable families. Some people married in the heat of the moment as a loved one was going off to war and then found they'd made a mistake, many men came back traumatized, women who went into the workforce to meet needs never were satisfied coming back. We make a material mistake in history when we begin to analyze the history of marriage from the 1950s forward (or of women's working outside the home) - in fact, the rise in marriage failures begins with WWII and while it declines for a while in the 1950s, that's a smaller bump and irregularity than you'd think.

My own family mirrors those trends in many ways. My paternal grandmother married shortly after World War II, and lived happily ever after - for about 10 minutes. My grandfather who was shot down over France and was a genuine war hero was also deeply traumatized by his experience, and came home a right bastard, frankly. I can't honestly tell from my knowledge of him whether the war changed him or not, although I think it likely and he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for his whole life afterwards, but he came home and beat the crap out of my grandmother. My grandmother had had polio in her youth, and was small - my grandfather was better than 6 feet and huge, and when she was unable to protect her sons or herself, she left him and moved in with her sister and sister's husband.

My mother's mother married a man old enough to be her father, and was widowed in the 1950s, then married again in a marriage that did not last, and divorced. My parents married and divorced because my mother was a lesbian - like many, many gay people raised in the supposed good old days, they longed to grow up and get married and have a family, just like everyone else. But unlike today, when one can marry a partner of the same sex and not have to harm some innocent man or woman by discovering or acknowledging their sexual preference in medias res, my mother didn't have that choice. I'm grateful, of course, to be here and to have my sisters, but no one can claim that the world benefits by the destructive implosion of marriages due to fundamental incompatibilities.

There are two generations of divorce in our family to model on - two generations of failed marriages and steps and sundered relationships. And yet my sisters and I are all stably and happily married after some early romantic errors. Eric and I have been married for almost 12 years, my sisters for six and five years respectively, and they look good to last. The single best and most lasting partnership in our immediate family is my mother and step-mother's, 31 years and counting. It is on this all three of us base our (heterosexual) partnerships, and the model is sturdy and set to last a lifetime (technically Eric and I have the deal that after 75 years of marriage, we can discuss dating other people - he'll be 103 and I'll be 101 and we figured by then we might need a change ;-)). In our case, at least, these three traditional, heterosexual, nuclear family models rest firmly on a foundation created by gay marriage. It is a sturdy place to rest.

I often tell people that my wedding day wasn't one of the happiest in my life. Don't get me wrong, I liked it just fine. But it doesn't rate up there with the very best moments of my life, which include the days that my children and nieces were born, and also the day that my parents were married. It was the first legal day of weddings in the state of Massachusetts, and the day before, as the news was filled of stories of weddings, my phone rang off the hook. Friends, neighbors, exes - everyone who knew me or had known me wanted to know one thing "were they going to do it?" Everyone I knew was delighted in absentia that my mothers would get to marry. Even people I knew who were ambivalent about gay marriage, or even personally opposed to it in general called me to congratulate me and ask me to extend my congratulations to them.

To my sorrow, I didn't get to attend their wedding - my husband's grandparents were ill and we couldn't leave them. But my best friend from college was in Cambridge MA at midnight when the first brides and grooms walked down the stairs, and told me of the celebration, the sheer joy that he and everyone there, gay and straight, had felt as they celebrated something truly historic. My mother and step-mother were married more quietly in the town they live in. And I told my sons, the ones newly old enough to begin a tiny piece of understanding that that day in May was an important one.

And it was - it was more important to me than my own wedding, because it was the day that a thousand old fears, all the worries about legitimacy, about death and illness were simply laid to rest, and more, that it felt like the whole the world, all the people who had known me or my family all these years, was united in joy. Weddings are supposed to make that happen - and mine did, in a way. But instead of my inviting all of these old friends and allies into my life, instead, they called on their own, every one of them wanting my parents to know that wherever they were, they were suffused with happiness for them. Instead of a room full of people celebrating one marriage, I lived in a whole world full of people who were celebrating.

This, of course, is purely personal and anecdotal, and we all know that personal stories are not sufficient to make societal judgement calls. In the title to this piece, I promised to tell you all why Gay Marriage is good for everyone, rather than just for me, but I allow myself to indulge in the personal here because I think it is important. I think if you could think of no other justification for gay marriage than this - that on the day that my state, New York, legalizes gay marriage (finally!), there will be thousands of such moments of joy spread out across the state, that would be quite a good argument (I hope it is self-evident that in valorizing weddings, I do not mean to valorize the kind of wedding excesss that is customary in the US - I've danced at some dandy potlucks!) The Torah teaches that dancing at someone's wedding is such a great mitzvah (good deed) that in a woman who had no other good deeds in her life, this was sufficient to redeem her. A thousand or ten thousand blessings and moments of perfect joy alone would be worth a great deal - weddings are joyous because we can enter into a moment of happiness and share in it. Imagine half a million of those weddings, all on the day that the United States as a whole legalizes gay marriage (and it will) - half a million moments of joy and delight, deferral revoked - how else could you get that?

And yet, it is fair to argue that the state has a more compelling interest in marriage than just ensuring tears of happiness and a lot of really terrific parties (And perhaps we could argue that society has a vested interest in reducing the number of times we all have to hear the same songs by Bob Seeger and Kool and the Gang. I have yet to hear gay marriage opponents argue that reducing the sheer number of marriages would prevent the chicken dance, but I begin to see the emergence of a compelling case against gay...and straight marriage ;-)) I dwell on the joy of gay marriage because I think it is more important culturally than it gets credit for - but it isn't all. And this is why I think gay marriage isn't just good for gay people, and the children of gay people - although I think it would be sufficient to justify gay marriage if it merely protected those compelling interests.

The case of Bob and Henry illustrates something truly important - the degree to which marriage is about a host of things that we don't like to talk about - many of them economic. We are uncomfortable bringing up marriage as an economic institution. To prove this, consider your own reaction to a child telling you that she's decided to marry "because she's a good provider and we're economically compatible" or because you share views on financial stability." Discussions of marriage in our society focus heavily and exclusively on love, and where there are religious and cultural belief, on those. It almost never involves money or economic issues in modern American culture (this is not true in the cultures of many recent immigrants). Indeed, any kind of preoccupation with the financial and legal impllications of marriage is seen as either gold digging or as being overly preoccupied with wealth (consider the gleeful discussion of prenupts and the underlying assumptions about them).

Even thought money and finances are a major cause of marital failure, even though differing views on these are a major source of stress, even though nearly half of all US marriages involve at least one previously married party and thus issues of custody, inheritance, etc.... that must be dealt with, these are seen as shadow issues, outside public discussion, to be dealt with if necessary discretely, and ideally, not at all. The focus in marriage is on how much you love each other - as though that feeling is itself the centerpiece of the marriage. But as many people who have been married for a good while can attest, feelings are transient in some ways, and the change. The high passion of early love sometimes emerges as something else - and yet as long as we are fixated on that passion, and as long as we hold a powerful emotion rather than its complex expressions at the center of a marriage, its temporary dispersal in times of stress, or its re-emergence as something calmer, more comfortable but less dramatic can look like the loss of the marriage itself.

Moreover, because of our reluctance to talk explicitly about establishing a household economy, most of us have little preparation for dealing with the economic realities of marriage - particularly in a time of declining wealth and resources. Given that even the most optimistic economists predict a long and bumpy recovery with a real likelihood of long term unemployment and a lost decade (and I don't share the opinion of any of the most optimistic economists), the fact that we don't look at our marriages as fully economic institutions, nor are we prepared to openly deal with the economic realities of marriage seems to contribute to the divorce rate considerably more than gay marriage ever will.

Contrast this modern preoccupation with love to the exclusion of the practicalities of marriage with the attitude of the past. Historian John Boswell puts it succinctly and accurately:

In premodern Europe, marriage usually began as a property arrangement, was in its middle mostly about raising children, and ended about love. Few couples in fact married 'for love,' but many grew to love each other in time as they jointly managed their household, reared their offspring, and shared life's experiences. Nearly all surviving epitaphs to spouses evince profound affection. By contrast, in most of the modern West, marriage begins about love, in its middle is still mostly about raising children (if there are children), and ends - often - about property, by which point love is absent or a distant memory. (Boswell, _Same Sex Unions in PreModern Europe_ xxi-xxii)

No one, I suspect longs to go back to the days of marriage as primarily a property and family arrangement, or to arranged marriages. Indeed, the shift away from parent-chosen economic alliances towards love marriage has been one of the most central narratives of our human history for centuries, and it is an important shift culturally. But it is also worth noting that there are real costs to erasing the legal, familial and economic implications of marriage from all discussions of the institution.

As long, for example, 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, apart from parents and extended family - and that 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 - but 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.

And this is why there is something fundamentally empty about the rhetoric of most gay marriage opponents. They too speak mostly about love and blessings and holiness and religious institutions - they too leave out the secular elements, or at best, speak disparagingly of them, suggesting that a preoccupation with those elements is trivial in comparison to the holiness of holy matrimony, and that if marriage is "only" about rights and legal issues that it doesn't really matter whether gay people get a separate-but- equal civil unions setup.

And yet they ignore that the holy institution of marriage (for them that care) is in its origins about those contractual rights. The Ketubah, the marriage contract of ancient Israel, primarily set forth the legal obligations of husband to wife - rights of survivorship, of maintenence in the case of widowhood or divorce, the right to things like sexual satisfaction within marriage (yup, Ketubots include the requirement that the man satisfy the woman sexually - the reciprocal obligation is not mentioned).

Early Christianity was deeply ambivalent about this preoccupation with legal arrangements - mostly because it was seen that marriage was a sub-ideal state, secondary to celibacy. It wasn't until a thousand years after Christ died that marriage was stabilized as a "holy ideal" with fixed rituals in the Catholic Church - before that, rituals were many and varied, and mostly involved adding blessing to extant legal practices by various states. Boswell and many other historians have traced the emergence of holy matrimony from a variety of sources, many of them decidedly non-theological. The Roman, Germanic and British rites and their roles created a hybrid that became holy - but began as much in money, property and family ties as it did in any faith.

The sacredness of marriage for religious institutions descends in large part not just because of its recognition that love is sacred, but also that families and households and the society as a whole are best served by offering protections carefully and wisely. There are many things to criticize about ancient religious models of marriage - the idea, for example, that women were primarily an object of exchange or for the cementing of alliances, the idea that the victim of rape was the husband or father whose woman was devalued, the fundamental priority of male interests and the mistreatment of women.

But underlying both the Ketubah and the Christian marriage ceremony, and indeed, most marriage rituals, religious and secular - is the sometimes effective, sometimes failed recognition that we do not profit from a society in which unsupported widows and orphan proliferate, where families do not have formal ties and legal rights that have been fully established. It is not that that marriage is sacred and economic, property and legal rights are the dirty necessities - marriage is sacred in part *because* it provided those protections to those who were rendered by their society unequal, vulnerable and weak, rather than only to the powerful, *because* within the rites of holy marriage, it is possible to do better by people than if they were cast upon the world without those protections. The claiming of people, their inclusion and the giving of a structured, meaningful and protected place in society is part of what makes the ritual of marriage holy - and this is precisely what gay marriage advocates seek to do.

I should be clear - I do not think that this case is fundamentally necessary. Regardless of our past, we are no longer a homogenous religious society. and we are fundamentally a secular state. The religious origins of our marriage cannot be allowed to define the role of marriage now, if only because we live in a pluralistic society where not everyone shares those assumptions, nor should they. But it is important to note that the origins of marriage, indeed most of the history of religious marriage, provide ample justification for a deep concern with the proper application of economic and legal protections to those who need and deserve them. Marriage was and is an economic institution in its roots - just as it is, in its roots, a theological institution, and just as it is in its oldest accounts, about love. Roots are not all - for many people religion has no place it all in marriage. But there is nothing in the roots of the institution that precludes us making alterations for the protection of those who deserve such care.

What has all this to do with peak oil, climate change and our financial predicament? Well, a great deal. First and foremost, there is an enormous amount of economic pressure facing most marriages - a pressure most of us are wholly unequipped to handle. As long as our marriages have been primarily about the way we feel towards each other, and less about the economic entity our households become when we marry, we are underequipped to adapt to new financial realities. We have been taught to expect a hazy bliss of passion and delight, but live in social realities that simply won't support that future.

One option is to eschew marriage entirely, and this is happening in large segments of the US population - it has been happening among low income households of all kinds, and also in segments of the middle class, and the trend is becoming more pronounced as the economic crisis has exaggerated disparities between men and women. I read a study not long ago (which I can't at the moment find, I'm out of town) that suggested that because they'd seen their parents divorce, and didn't want to subject their children to divorce, more and more young women were choosing simply never to marry the fathers of their children.

It is interesting to me that among the low income population discussed in the study, regardless of race, apparently the message that marriage requires a long commitment and a solid foundation has gotten through - but since they don't think they can provide that, they simply don't marry. This comes, of course, at a heavy price economically and socially, for all the parents and for the kids. But their sense that marriage is unrealistic, something attainable only by other people, seems to be fed by the fact that marriage as we conceive it is perhaps unrealistic.

Here, I think, the salutary example of gay marriage may actually be helpful - by forcing the conversation to focus on the rights and legal protections of marriage, on the ways that marriage is fundamentally an economic and family institution - not to the exclusion of love, as we sometimes postulate it, but as part of love - as the expression in mutual support and dependence of the material realities of what love actually is when lived - they begin to present marriage as an attainable and achievable accomplishment. If love is not just a feeling, but a state in which you preserve and protect one another, merging strengths and assets for the benefit of partners and any children, and for the support of one another and extended family, this is something that might be achievable, rather than a diffuse idea of unending bliss and constant happiness.

The coming changes in our society will require a host of shifts of us - and one of the ones that it may require is that social mobility and its costs become harder to achieve. It hink most people haven't fully thought this through - it makes intuitive sense that we'd be less physically mobile in a world with fewer available energy resources. But again, when we track back the increase in divorces and the instability of marriage, we find that in many measures it mimics the history of our physical mobility - the suburbanization of the US began at the end of WWII, when Bob and Henry were first together - and that physical mobility made possible a world in which we merged and parted more freely than we do now. Think about the simple realities of custody arrangements - Mom in one town, Dad in another, visitation on weekends is only possible with an endless flow of cheap energy. Sell one house, get two apartments or houses is only possible in a society where the economy grows and the value of your assets tends to increase - and even then it has high economic costs.

I don't claim to know what the future of marriage is - but what I do know is that we are headed into conditions where the economics of marriage are impossible to ignore. It is possible that reduced physical and social mobility will come together. It is inevitable, however, that we are going to have to deal with marriage as an economic institution - as fundamentally about something besides the love of the participants, and gay marriage as public issue serves both straight and gay couples by drawing our attention to the reality that love is not just an expression of emotion, but the creation of a home economy together. Given our collective predicament, I would argue that the benefits of gay marriage - even beyond the strengthening of gay marriage and the million or so parties that could lighten our collective emotional loads - are so great as to extend to the whole of all of us. And I hope to get to spend many of my future days dancing at weddings, gay and straight.



More like this

Marriage should be simply put as the consensual union between two adult human beings, with no qualifiers, exclusions or exceptions.

Thanks Sharon!

As a justice of the peace, I perform non-religious and civil marriage ceremonies for opposite-sex and same-sex couples all the time in CT, where marriage equality went into effect in November of 2008.

Last June, I officiated for two men who had been together for 45 years, in August one of them died....

Onward to full civil and marriage rights,
Joe Mustich, Justice of the Peace,
Washington, Connecticut, USA.

Thankfully, the handwriting's on the wall on this one. Anti-gay bigotry sits more lightly on each coming generation, and most young people don't really get what the big deal is. Though we still need to speed the process up, there's no doubt in my mind that the country is coming to its senses.

I read the whole thing! Thank you for that - as a young, unmarried woman in a stable relationship I suffered with the same marriage "fears" as the young people in the study you mentioned.

My parents were divorced, and I didn't think it was possible for 2 people to love each other for an entire lifetime. It wasn't until I began to change my view of marriage to being about commitment, partnership, family (immediate and extended) and household economics that I realized that compatibility, not love was the more critical factor in sustaining a healthy relationship long-term.

I love my current partner, in fact, I adore him - but I feel secure in our relationship not because of our love, but because we agree on how to spend and save money, how to raise children, how to resolve differences, and how to care for and include our extended families. I hope that more young people will come to this realization so we can finally start to see a decline in divorce!

Also, I live in Vancouver, British Columbia where anyone can get married!

Okay, fellow Americans, can you not see how quickly this fine nation of ours is slipping behind many others? And not just financially and regarding immigration matters. But regarding how slow it is for our so-called "contemporary" leaders to recognize same-sex love and marriage. What more is going to have to be done by we tax-payers to see that "Uncle Sam" (if you will) gets renamed "Uncle Same"? My partner and I hope to still be alive when we can go on record as legally joined. If love goes in all directions (including racially) why isn't it recognized as occuring between men & men, as well as women & women? If you're gay (or have offspring or friends who are), start marching, writing to governmental officials, donating to proven gay causes--and setting examples that even straights can follow.

By George Earl (not verified) on 29 Jun 2010 #permalink


I pretty much refuse to listen to opponents of gay marriage - until they end scoffing at laws on the books against sex outside marriage, against adultery - how long since you saw criminal charges brought for adultery? I cannot comprehend a middle school, formal program in a town of 25,000, for unwed mothers - and never a charge, let alone conviction, for statutory rape or incest, one - the laws are still pretty clear about minors having sex.

I refuse to enable hypocrisy about "one man, one woman" while the entire institution, from the immutable and eternal oath of binding most religions associate with marriage, to the (property based) choice to end a union.

A family should be one or more adults, forming a secure and nurturing home.

Blessed be.

This is such a good post! For a long time, I shared the perspective of the low income families you mentioned near the end of your post --- my parents had divorced, and I watched my siblings show a similar inability to stick with a spouse. So when I found the love of my life, we settled into non-marital bliss. :-) We moved to a farm together, shared our lives and our finances, and didn't even consider getting married.

As we became more and more enmeshed in each other, I started to think about legalities. I began making a list of all the legal hoops we should be jumping through, so that we would each have the power to make medical decisions for the other, so that he would have a right to the farm (in my name) if I happened to die. I also did the math and realized we'd save a lot in taxes if we legalized the marriage we were already living. In the end, we got married to simplify the legal process. The marriage wasn't about love --- our life before and after the marriage was and is.

I completely agree with you that everyone should be allowed to get married. Why should a gay or lesbian couple have to jump through all of those hoops to get to the same place they could reach with a quick trip to the county courthouse?!

I've said this for years: opponents of gay marriage could care LESS about "gay marriage" but they can MORE about gay sex. Opponents just don't want to say it's okay for two people of the same sex to have sex. They don't care about religion, rights, children, insurance etc. It's all about the taboo. All about the honeymoon after. No one argues that marriage doesn't have its pitfalls and that why not let everyone experience the hard stuff. Somehow they think by making it illegal they are making the sex illegal, however jacked up that logic is...It's why all the "laws" that Brad K referenced are hardly prosecuted, because they happen between the opposite sex. Maybe the increase of bi-sexual experience will help in the future? It's all really base and emotional.
At one point the hardships we all experience will become so taxing that no one will care anymore if you're gay or married.

Oh and Sharon the couple you linked-so AWESOME! I was practically in tears.


Thank-you for putting into words something that I have long believed to be true.

The first time that my husband asked me out I almost turned him down because I didn't feel an initial "chemistry" with him and he was not my physical ideal. I said yes because I thought he had an interesting mind. As a high IQ female living in a smallish town, it was hard to find someone to date who was on my level intellectually. It was the best decision I ever made. As we got to know each other, we found that we were compatible in all the other ways that really mattered. We agree about money and how to spend it and, most importantly, about how to raise our children. In short, we share the same values and outlook on life. I fell in like with him first; love came later. We just celebrated our 13th anniversary and of all of our friends, I think our marriage is the most solid. So many of my girlfriends got married on the basis of physical attraction and are now paying the price with very stressful marriages. Some have divorced, some are in counseling; it seems like none of them are very happy.

I like to believe that I chose what was best for my heart by using my head.

My favorite 23 year engagement is Linda and Karen:


I dreamed they were my neighbors once.


I spend an inordinate amount of time "getting around" disparities and denials created by legal prohibitions on same sex marriages.

Insurance companies are the worst, followed by inheritance taxes on what should be spousal exemptions.

Imagine paying a huge percentage and watching a business tank that you and your paramour spent a quarter of a century building.

That is stupid and sick.

By Prometheus (not verified) on 30 Jun 2010 #permalink

I'm another in the "disillusioned with marriage" camp - it seems just to be an excuse for a big public display, without any real social or economic value (unless you're in the higher tax bracket!). Romantic love gets couples together; they cohabit for a while, then marry when they decide they need a show to provide the sparkle that time has taken out of their relationship. (Yes, I've danced at many weddings, and the any-excuse-for-a-party aspect can be nice, but it seems to me that none of the couples are happier than they were before marriage.) You may have me reconsidering...

By stripey_cat (not verified) on 30 Jun 2010 #permalink

This seems to be a gay marriage lovefest..so I'll offer another view. California had an initiative that effectively barred gay "marriage." I put marriage in parentheses for a reason..because I think a "domestic partner" initiative for gay couples would easily win in this State.

Like it or not there is another side..a religious side ....that doesn't accept marriage between same sexed people. I'm NOT religious, but there are social sensitivities of non-gay people to take into account. In California gay marriage is a "political" cause, not just a personal one. It's most vociferous proponents are shove it in your face types that put off straight people...who MAY smile and say "I see your point" publicly..but in private their sentiments were pretty clear at the ballot box.

IIF domestic partnership allows for the same civil rights as marriage then demanding marriage is really just a need for some sort of social approval and concession that goes beyond simply wanting a life together.

I thoroughly support the right to gay marriage as a legal institution on the same footing as secular heterosexual marriage. I'd separate that from religious marriage, since I think that religious organisations should have the right to choose which sorts of rituals they perform - and equally that people who don't agree with those choices can work to change their religion or find another one. I don't believe that religious marriage should of itself confer the status of a legal marriage, though there's no reason why the two can't be put together. But marriage is, as you point out, an economic and societal bind and for that reason any adult who wants that legal and societal protection should be able to enter into it. The idea that gay marriage somehow undermines heterosexual marriage is ludicrous - as my 75-year-old socially conservative Catholic father puts it, he doesn't understand why it has any impact on his (45 year) marriage whatsoever.

But I think we need to go further in looking at the legal recognition of and protection for relationships. The state of Tasmania in Australia, in conducting a radical overhaul of its outdated anti-homoseuality laws, looked at the legal protection for both companionate and caring relationships, and these kinds of relationships can now be registered, providing a measure of protection.

As a single person, I have considered entering a companionate relationship with one or other of my friends for economic and social reasons - to enable us to buy property (which is almost impossible for a single person to do in my country at the moment) and to have someone to share my home with. If I were to do that in any other state except Tasmania, that relationship would have no legal status, and I would not be able to leave my half of co-owned property to my friend without my family being able to contest that, and if I did leave my superannuation to him/her so that he/she would be able to keep his/her home, again that could be contested by my family, and in any case he/she would have to pay a higher rate of tax because the law would not see him/her as my dependent. And all that raises the question of why our legal system recognises blood as thicker than water, when in so many cases it clearly isn't, and why we privilege sexual bonds above all other kinds of bonds, when we know that they are frequently less stable and lasting.

I think that our laws need to recognise the kinds of lives that we live, not attempt to force us into a kind of life that some people think is better.

A thoughtful post: the "Everyone" in the title refers to a general sense rather than as a personal choice.

By Robin Datta (not verified) on 30 Jun 2010 #permalink

Yes, Robin, I didn't mean everyone should have to have a gay marriage ;-).

Greg, I'm very familiar with the religious argument, and I actually respect it in some measure - I believe strongly that religious groups should be free to marry whomever they want - and not to marry them. I belong to a synagogue, for example, where my Rabbi would happily perform many gay marriages, but would refuse to marry a straight (or gay) couple where one partner was not Jewish.

I don't think domestic partnership is an adequate substitute - although I think a situation held by many nations, where legal marriage is a civil status and religious marriage is separate would work. But one of the reasons I wrote this post is because I think that there's an important reason why most religious opponents don't like that answer - because their version of marriage rests just as heavily on legal status issues as everything else.

I think religious opposition to gay marriage will continue until it doesn't anymore - until just like strong opposition, religious and otherwise against other major institutional changes - civil rights, women voting, women working. But the good thing about those basic assumptions is that after a short while of having them, it becomes unthinkable to imagine taking them way - imagine asking the most ardent conservative reactionary (I mean this not as a derogatory term but literally) whether we should take the vote away from women.

I don't think the call for marriage, rather than domestic partnership is trivial - and I don't think that would really satisfy religious conservatives. There was a time in the 1980s and up well into the 1990s when gay people would have fallen down with joy and kissed the feet of anyone who proposed national domestic partnership as a solution to the gay marriage problem. Where were the religious folks who were just concerned about their institutions but wanted full civil rights for gay people then? Nowhere to be found. The only reason domestic partnership would work now is because it is the best opponents can hope for, and advocates may be jerks about it sometimes, but they've already won - in a decade or two, the discussion will be over and there's no reason for gay people to settle for separate but equal.

Jen, I don't think that's true. Don't get me wrong, I think sometimes it is, and I think that for a particular generation the "ewwww" factor is pretty high. But that's less true for younger folks, and I also think it is an unfair thing to presuppose that one's opponents aren't honest. I dislike rhetoric that presumes that all opponents of gay marriage are homophobes - there has to be a way we can credit our opponents with honest and legitimate opposition, based on principles that matter to them. I know some people who don't think gay sex is icky - they truly believe there's a fundamental moral issue at stake, and I respect that. In fact, we share that opinion - I think there's a fundamental moral issue at stake too.



-"This seems to be a gay marriage lovefest..so I'll offer another view. California had an initiative that effectively barred gay "marriage."-

You can blame the mormons for the debacle in California as far as I recall. A particularly underhanded and suspiciously well financed campaign.

Civil partnerships are the same as marriage, except where they are not. In America there have been a number of rather distasteful cases of (for example) hospitals denying access to civil partners even after paperwork is shown.

In England you have the wedding which can be pretty much anything your budget will allow, then you do the legal paperwork seperately. A damn good idea. Of course then we had that embarrassment of the church (which control a lot of the adoption agencies in England) stamp its feet and cry about having to deal with child adoption to gays. They were threatening to close the adoption agencies (screwing over the children of course) if they didn't get their way. Morality indeed.

You cannot have a religous monopoly on marriage, what currently stands in the U.S. is really in violation of the constitution. If not legally, then certainly in spirit.

I wonder whether the promotion of homosexuality would have a noticeable effect on population control...

By Richard Eis (not verified) on 01 Jul 2010 #permalink

Thank you so much for this well thought out argument. I have long made much the same argument myself (to myself and in personal conversation. I've never taken the time to articulate it well in print as you have done so well here.)

It goes so much further than "people should be allowed to marry whomever they want". While there is some simple truth there, it doesn't get to why a state or a society should solemnize and recognize a marriage. My short version (when asked) is that I'm pro gay marriage because I'm pro-marriage. Thanks again!

By Naturalmom (not verified) on 02 Jul 2010 #permalink

The most discriminated against group in America: people with same-sex attraction who overcome it and find happiness, attraction and love with an opposite-sex partner.

It's a shame your mother broke up your family. I'm glad she found happiness, but I'm sure your father has a different perspective.

Having same sex attraction may not be a choice, but choosing to live a gay lifestyle IS a choice.

Just Me, I don't think bisexual people are any more discriminated against than gay people - less because they can "pass" - I'm one, and I think I'd know. I haven't "overcome" anything, however. I'm monogamous - and happily married, but like any monogamous person, attractions to other people are present but irrelevant.

But that's very different than being *gay* and being forced into heterosexuality. Gay people aren't attracted to people of the opposite sex and can't overcome that, any more than a straight person can become gay by simply choosing. And my father I think was very grateful not to have to live the rest of his life in a marriage where he was always failing in something - I don't really talk to my parents about their love lives much, but from what I know of my Dad, being married to a lesbian was no treat - two people trying their best and failing through no fault of their own is not a happy situation either.

If having same sex attraction isn't a choice, the only viable choice is to do something that goes fundamentally against your desires and interests. A crappy choice, that.


A masterpiece! The best article I've ever read on marriage, let alone heterosexual vs. gay marriage. There is so much truth here that people should pay attention to.

Marriage licences should be replaced with 'family' licenses. Any 2 people may adopt at least 1 dependent or have children. Automatically expires in x years unless renewed. Holy marriages may coincide.
Quid pro quo arrangement between licensees and grantor.

Done. Next question?

By Auntiegrav (not verified) on 04 Jul 2010 #permalink

I've thought a lot about the question of gay marriage over the past few years. Initially I wasn't sure what to make of it, which position to take, and so I began to think about every ingredient that goes into the debate. Both my undergraduate and graduate degrees are cultural studies programs, so naturally I gravitate towards culture when considering the issues. I realized some time ago that I came to a fairly solid conclusion only after I began to ask: why are we as a society in this bind to begin with? In other words, what had to happen in our society, our culture, our country, before we could even contemplate something that was such a radical departure from 5000 years of human history? Proponents of gay marriage correctly point out that gay marriage cannot possibly be responsible for the overall precipitous decline in marriage that we have witnessed since the 1960s. What they never contemplate--although Sharon comes closer to doing it than most--is that the push for gay marriage is a CONSEQUENCE of that decline. Namely, it is only when enough people have effectively abandoned the institution of marriage that gay marriage becomes politically viable. This is the socio-cultural context in which gay marriage is gaining ground, and moreover, it is prerequisite for gay marriage's popular support. Gay marriage is not happening because we as a society still value marriage: it is happening precisely because we don't.

Sharon, although I disagree with you on this issue, I do appreciate your honesty. You admit to a personal bias, but what is more important, you admit that there may, in fact, be adverse effects in store for society in the long run. Very few proponents appear to be mentally capable of making this leap, even hypothetically. We both agree that marriage is "not [doing] so hot" these days. I'm sure you'd also agree that gay marriage is not a cure-all (nor is it meant to be), so the question is, what happens next? As marriage continues its downward spiral (a trend which has slowed since the 70s but shows no signs of reversing), there will be even less reason to protect it than before. Things we still take for granted as moral givens, like the immorality of both polygamy and "man-boy" love, cannot be assumed sacrosanct. This is not reactionary sensationalism: in at least one country, the Netherlands, polygamous civil unions were legalized only a few years after gay marriage was (this was a media circus over there when it first happened, although the Dutch gov't stressed that the law calls it a "cohabitation contract," not polygamy or marriage). The changes that the 60s set in motion have led us here, but they are not stopping here. Once gay marriage is legal everywhere--and there's no reason to think it won't be--its position in our society can only degenerate further. Remember, in 1960, no one could have contemplated a notion like "gay marriage," let alone its mass acceptance. To assume that that which we hold sacrosanct in 2010 must necessarily be so in 2060 is either dishonest or naive, given the scope and pace of social change nowadays. There is so much more that could be said on this subject--the West's demographic decline coupled with its need for third world labor, the third world's continued reproductive vigor--especially in conservative Islamic nations--and the rise of the non-Western superpowers China and India, who do not see eye to eye with us on gay rights, among many, many other things. What this means for American soft power (that is, cultural power) on a global scale is uncertain, but one thing is assured: our continued dominance in setting the agenda for human rights is not going to last forever.

Bottom line: we need to see the BIG PICTURE. We need to ask where we are really going, not just in 50 years but in a 100 or 500. Our way of life is profligate and unsustainable, not just from an environmental perspective but from a moral one as well. Sharon you extrapolated a lot on notions of personal and economic responsibility, but we simply don't have that on a societal level like we used to. Other countries are catching up to us: their children study like their lives depended on it because they often do, their divorce rates are a fraction of ours, but most importantly: they have a COMMUNITARIAN rather than INDIVIDUALISTIC cultural ethos. They readily sacrifice for the greater good of the group. We can't compete; we are practically indoctrinated to place our own desires above societal good. Gay marriage didn't cause any of that; it's just the latest symptom of a deeper problem.

Marie, I thought your response was very thoughtful and interesting. I think I agree that the destabilization of the social institution of marriage is what makes the push for gay marriage possible. What I don't agree with is that the move to gay marriage is wholly a symptom thereof - I agree that in a society where traditional marriage is a given, it is impossible to speak of gay marriage - and that such a society routinely conceals the human costs of gay people being excluded from marriage, thus minimizing them.

But I would argue that gay marriage is genuinely and legimately an attempt at reversal - an attempt at a return to marriage, created more humanely than the other. Unfortunately, as you point out, we are still individualists and we still come to this with the narrative of fulfilling personal desires - but it is still and fundamentally marriage - and one that focuses on civil and social obligations.


We Are Married.... Let No One Put Asunder

My spouse and I were married on September 13, 2004 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. We have been together for more than thirty years. When we arrived back home in Kansas, the sky did not fall; dairy cows did not stop producing milk, and gravity was still intact -- although common sense and common decency seemed to have left our segment of the planet under the seemingly endless Kansas prairie sky. Yes, we got the expected "Welcome Back Home to the Good ol' USA!" reception alright to which we've sadly grown accustomed as Gay and Lesbian Americans.

For months, the vile malevolent specter of our very own local home-grown Kansas State Anti-Equality "Heterosexuals Only" so-called Marriage Amendment hung over our heads like the shadowy silhouette of a cowardly mugger ready to strike in ambush from a dark alley. Finally, in early April 2005, a Kansas lynch-mob, drunk with power and prejudice, at last had their little necktie party and strung up our Bill of Rights in the public square of totalitarianism. Apparently, American neo-fascists aren't satisfied with just being the insufferable bully on the international block, they must also have their pound of flesh at home too.

So what is so surprising about this scenario? Obviously there is not enough conflict in the world, so malicious malcontents in Kansas, as well as throughout most of the US, feel the need to stir up the flames of division even more. All of this brings to mind my saddest and most sustained observation concerning the United States in general. It is in regard to her citizenry's constantly evolving contempt for other Americans. Overall, it is Mankind's greatest single flaw too. But in the USA it is the perversion of Christian fellowship and tolerance that is being twisted into a pseudo-religious/right-wing political dogma of dissimulation and group-hate which will be the next great stain on America.

Political gay-bashing and religion-based bigotry has quickly become this new century's equivalent of racism, gender inequality and ethnic strife. Fanatical homophobia has been effortlessly revived and poisonously retooled from the last century's panoply of prejudices so eagerly embraced in these perpetually un-United States. Once again, the drama is much the same -- only the characters on the stage are played by different actors.

As this tragedy unfolds, those whose duty it is to uphold America's promise of equality once again turn a blind eye to this country's absolute assurances of equal justice. How did this nation's immutable guarantees of liberty degenerate into such an arrogant and heartless popularity contest in America? If you don't like your neighbor, just simply write them out of the Constitution. Is that it? Is that all it takes to make them disappear? Just fashion a paper noose out of group-specific malicious laws and then lynch your neighbor on a gallows once called the Bill of Rights. Is that the level of barbarity to which we have regressed in America?

No, I did not expect homophobes to throw rice at our wedding, but occasionally, albeit foolishly, I expect a modicum of class from people I do not know -- such as the simple civility of minding one's own business. I certainly do not appreciate strangers meddling in my personal affairs; especially when it concerns my marriage. That is not only bad manners, but it is truly beneath contempt.

So, unless Canada's Marriage Laws or the few Marriage Equality U.S. "free" States fair laws are changed to reflect the rest of America's narrow-minded contempt for her own most vulnerable citizens, then my marriage will stand in at least a few zones of freedom in the U.S. as well as elsewhere abroad where equality actually means something. And there is nothing any thug in the guise of religion or government can do about it. No amount of hatred for my spouse and me will ever un-marry us. I am confident that those miscreants who envy and despise our joyful union, as well as those unethical politicians who seek political power by inciting a mob mentality in the general public, will not be looked upon favorably by history nor by future generations.

The truth is that decent people elevate themselves by their own achievements and talents; not by standing on the backs of others who are least able to defend themselves. It's a very sad commentary on modern society, as well as on this really not-so-Christian country after all, that people will still do to others what they would not tolerate having done to them. That is the classic definition of a fascist. And that is certainly not what either The Founding Fathers or Christ would have envisioned for this not-yet-great nation.

Jesus who had embraced the disenfranchised, and who had walked amongst the outcasts of society, would weep today for what is done in his name. Equally shameful is the disrespect shown to the drafters of our Bill of Rights who took great pains to protect the "inalienable rights" of the less politically powerful against the tyranny of the majority. Just try to keep in mind those words: "Liberty and Justice for All..." and "That which you do unto the least among you, you do unto me." And according to all belief systems which respect the dignity of Humankind, whether secular or religious in nature, that mandate is simply this: All people are created equal in all ways and they are endowed with the same inherent rights, in all things, as all others -- there are no exceptions. Too bad some people still refuse to see it that way.

Bigotry has always had a peculiar way of eviscerating virtue when truth becomes particularly inconvenient in advancing petty prejudices and an anti-social agenda. Whether one makes a religion out of politics (such as in Nazi Germany or in Communist regimes) or fabricates politics from religion (such as fundamentalist deity-based totalitarianism anywhere on Earth) the end result is the same. The end result is intolerance, and that is the nexus of most human strife and suffering on this planet since time immemorial.

America owes a birthright of equality in all things, great or small, under the legal umbrella of citizenship which she extends to all of her children. No one's personal religious, ethical, political or any other belief system can ever be allowed to dictate which Americans should have rights and which ones should not. If that is not anathema to the revolutionary spirit of this country and an affront to our Bill of Rights, then nothing is.

The courage to stand up for the most vulnerable citizens among us against institutional and popular prejudice is a rare act of both bravery and virtue. People of good will, working together, perhaps can someday make America a shining example of a Constitutional Republic that keeps its solemn promise of equality for all. Maybe we can remind others that this nation's guarantee of individual liberty would never allow one faction to ever vote away another citizen's civil rights in a thoughtless expression of group-hate. I still believe that there are good and fair people in this country. But considering the lessons of the past, I hope we don't have to wait for the next generation to grow up in order to find them.

Yes, contrary to the presuppositions of inculcated hate and politically manipulated hysteria, there really is room enough at the matrimonial table for every consenting, non-related, pair of adult human beings who wish to marry in this world -- regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, politics, gender identity or sexual orientation. It is obvious to any student of history that loving, mutually supportive same-sex romantic relationships are as old as Mankind. It has always been so and will continue to be so as long as there is a human race.

Let us also not forget that the civil rights of Gays and Lesbians are protected in most of the industrialized Western world. In those truly civilized nations, same-sex oriented individuals can be open and honest about their orientation. Even in this country, which has such a long and shameful history on the issue of human rights, homosexual intimate relationships are just as legally protected under the U.S. Constitution as heterosexual intimate relationships -- as wisely decided by the Supreme Court in the Lawrence -vs- Texas decision on June 26, 2003.

Currently, the personal lives of tens of millions of Gay and Lesbian Americans are the bloody battlegrounds where this never-ending war against civil rights is being fought. It is a war that perennially pits progress and egalitarianism against the forces of ignorance and maliciousness. We may lose many battles to those foes who divide this great house against itself -- which we call America -- but ultimately we will win the final war against the enemies of human dignity and freedom. Of that I have no doubt.

Those who fanatically and sanctimoniously wave the banner of "tradition" are in reality only selfishly trying to protect their own special status at the expense of others. Obviously, if tradition was always such a virtuous thing to uphold we'd still have slavery; women wouldn't have the right to vote, and America would have king.

The horrors of human bondage are most often conceived and perpetuated by using that contemptible excuse of upholding the self-serving status quo. Unquestionably, when tradition is used as justification to oppress others it becomes a thing of evil and an enemy of civilization. Old notions and elitists traditions must yield to inclusiveness and egalitarianism if peace is ever to be realized and a stable society maintained.

A hallmark of civilization is marriage, and marriage is both a binding oath of mutual loyalty and a personal contract which clearly details responsibilities and rights entered into between two romantically involved individuals who pledge to share their lives with one another. That very same institution belongs to all loving, non-related, adult couples. No apartheid-like system of separate tables (i.e. civil unions, domestic partnerships, etc.) will ever suffice. To deny same-sex couples who are also engaged in constitutionally protected, intimate, mutually supportive relationships the same protections and rights that many married heterosexual couples take so easily for granted is an affront to human dignity and an assault on American principles of fairness.

Too many brave and good citizens, Gay and Straight alike, have fought and died on too many bloody battlefields so that all people can partake of freedom. No one should belittle their ultimate sacrifice by parceling out equality as if it were their own special gift to give to a favored segment of society. I truly believe (just as I previously stated in an essay I wrote which appeared in the Kansas City Star) that there is more than enough room at the same table of marriage for each of us who wish to take on all the responsibility it demands, as well as reap its rewards. As tempestuous as marriage sometimes is, it most often provides for couples pledged to one another for life, be they heterosexual or same-sex couples, the only real promise of a safe harbor in which to lay anchor and to protect their most precious cargo -- each other.

We too have sworn an oath -- to have and to hold 'till death do us part. My spouse and I made that promise to each other officially on September 13, 2004 when we were finally, legally allowed to be married in a country to the north which respects human dignity and individual liberty. Although, I still can remember that one cold winter night on January 10th, 1975, when Bill and I first met -- we were just kids in our early twenties then. We also made that pledge, albeit unofficially, to one another. Now as then, in good times and in bad times; forsaking all others; 'till death do us part; let no one put asunder.

It means just as much to us today as then. And perhaps just a little bit more, because at least a few more compassionate people and a few more civilized nations are finally starting to respect our right to be recognized as a family at last. They know, as we do, that love is the most important ingredient that makes a family. Families can't exist without it. All kinds of families spring into existence because of it. That is the bedrock of marriage. Nothing else is required except devotion -- plus the courage to fight for the ones you love in the face of adversity. That is what actually makes a family. And, in case anyone forgets, that is what marriage is truly all about.

(C) Bud Evans 2006 & 2010

[originally published in 2006 and then revised in 2010 to reflect the growing number of Marriage Equality States which have joined the 21st Century by rejecting anti-GLBT bigotry as an official state policy]

(Bud Evans is a studio artist and writer who lives with his partner, Bill, for over thirty-five years who has also been his spouse since September 13, 2004 when they were legally married in Vancouver, B.C., Canada)