30 July 2008

On Marriage

I’ve been thinking about marriage recently.

The other day, I had lunch with my friend the priest – who happens to be the gay Episcopal priest who performed our wedding ceremony using vows that W. and I had written. We adapted the old Book of Common Prayer service, because the basic language is beautiful, but we struck out every reference to God, Jesus, Holy, Church and the like, thereby rendering it completely and absolutely civil. At lunch, my priest told me that he and his partner of 26 years had scampered off to Canada as soon as David Paterson had directed all New York State agencies to recognize same-sex unions from elsewhere.

Jess wrote a post last month about marriage – and about her (and her husband’s) discomfort at marrying when others couldn’t: “Some of our friends do not possess the basic right to marry who they love.”

I had a hard time agreeing to get married. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with him. In fact, by the time we got around to getting married, we’d been living together for eight and a half years (and that was thirteen years ago). We’d started talking about having a child, and W. felt very strongly that a child needed married parents. I didn’t agree, but after a bunch of arm-twisting and discussion (much of which happened at our favorite local bar, to the bemusement of the bartender), I did agree to marry him (and I’m not sorry that I did).

In many ways, marriage qua marriage is unfair to those who can’t be married, or don’t want those legal ties. Marriage provides a construct for many valuable spousal rights – including social security benefits, exemptions on estate taxes, access to health insurance policies, visiting privileges in jail, etc. (For an exhaustive list contained in a 75 page document written by the General Counsel of the General Accounting Office, in 1997 while Clinton was still President, go here.)

The tide seems to be turning, what with Massachusetts about to reverse “a 1913 law that prevented Massachusetts from marrying out-of-state couples if their marriages would not be legal in their home states”, and California having legalized same-sex marriages last month, and New York having agreed to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. All well and good.

But, "if you are in a same-sex marriage in Massachusetts or a domestic partnership or civil union in any of the states that offer those relationship options, many of the benefits of marriage won't apply to you, because the federal government does not recognize these same-sex relationships".

In 1967, then Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote (in a ruling ending race-based prohibitions against marriage):

The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.
Black people can marry white people. How do we get the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages?

The Original Perfect Post Awards 07.08


Jennifer said...

I wish I knew. This is something that, for me, is difficult to wrap my brain around...why people have any problem with same sex marriage, or even same sex relationships.

Julie Pippert said...

I want to take this post, wrap it up with a big bow and send it to every politician in the US who opposes equal access to marriage.

Barring that...can I repost on MOMocrats as part of my gay rights series? Guest poster status and all. Of course.

I mean, I haven't updated that series in a while (too busy with the Being Brown in America series and all the accompanying hoopla coming from the Obama campaign and DNC right now---hoopla = good BTW) and I love this look at the issue.

nonlineargirl said...

I am with you, all except for the bit about being unfair to those who don't want legal ties. I think it is reasonable to have a standard for granting benefits - in this case, a legal agreement by the partners that they'll be there for one another (financially, in medical need, etc). There is no doubt in my mind that same-sex partners should have this option, but why worry about couples (of whatever pairing) who don't want the legal ties? Siblings/children/etc can be named guardians for health care of a sick loved one, given power of attorney, etc.

I was with Chris for 8 years before I decided to ask him to marry me, so I am not opposed to people being together without legal ties. I just think the legal benefits are appropriately bound up with legal responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

It's all about fear. The fear that the fringe elements we know as religious fundamentalists inject into even the simplest of discussions. The fact that many people can't be happy unless they're RIGHT about something and others are WRONG about that same thing. The self-named RIGHT people think they get to decide how everyone else lives.

Julia said...

How do people logic it to themselves that someone else's right to the benefits of marriage impacts (adversely) their own marriage is entirely beyond me. Though, I have to say, that even if I tried very very hard, I couldn't come up with the pretzel logic of the crazy woman who was testifying the other day at the congressional hearing on Don't Ask Don't Tell. So no, I don't know how. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

I find it odd that there are people opposing marriage in the name of family values.

Unknown said...

Hell if I know. What I do know, is that when my kids get old enough to ask me how come the two mommies or two daddies they know aren't married, I'll have no clue how to explain it.

Janet said...

I watched an interesting documentary last night called God Only Knows: Same Sex Marriage. Essentially, a gay pastor from a community church in Vancouver and a deeply religious right winger from Calgary spend time immersed in each other's lives, living in each other's homes etc. In the end, the two found common ground, deciding that the government should stay out of marriage and let each church decide whether they want to marry same sex couples.

It was an interesting experiment, but I think the right-wing gentleman was uncharacteristically open to debate and new ideas. I fear their experience doesn't extrapolate to real life.

Anonymous said...

Legalized same-sex marriage is one of the things that makes me happy to call Massachusetts my home. It's an important issue for me.

When John and I had our "traditional" wedding a few years back (which followed our civil wedding by a few years), it was important to me to be married by someone who supported same sex marriage. We chose a minister from a Unitarian Universalist church to officiate. It makes my heart swell whenever we pass one of their churches with a big rainbow flag hanging out front.

Kyddryn said...

By keeping the Government out of marriage entirely. Marriage has nothing to do with the state - it has been a religious rite, a contract between families, a contract between men, and a contract between nations; it has been a business transaction, a transfer of property for goods, and occasionally even a means of freedom for one or another of the married...the State has no business giving special favours to people who marry and withholding them from those who do not or cannot wed, or defining who may or may not marry based on anything other than consent and age of consent. A marriage today should be a celebration of union between consenting adults - there shouldn't be a tax benefit for it, nor a tax burden on those who aren't or won't be so bound, and there certainly shouldn't be a restriction based on something as trifling (in this instance, it is a trifling thing) as sexuality.

If the State insists on butting into what is largely a religious, social, or spiritual activity, it must apply its benefits to all. The law is not for a special few - it is for everyone. If they must make laws on marrying, then they will have to suck it up and apply those laws unilaterally - not base them on color, gender, or who loves whom. Freedom for all or freedom for none - there is no middle ground.


Umm..sorry...I do get het up about this issue...I'll just go make some tea, now, before I go off the deep end entirely.

Shade and Sweetwater,
K (who has performed several same-sex marriages in several faiths and will continue to do so until she no longer draws breath)(and I didn't want to get married either, but I needed the insurance)(I'm only half kidding)

Queen Goob said...

My dad was the minister all the couples went to that no one else would marry. What a fabulous man he was.

Me? I just want to FIND the right person to marry. I mean I love my dog and everything but not THAT much!

MadMad said...

It will happen - and soon, don't you think? I am so happy about the Mass. decision, that it was really like "no biggee" here. No protesters, no nothing. If you think of how much things have changed in even just the last five years... it's coming.

S said...

i agree with madmad. we're close now, really close.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Guest poster on Momocrats? Go you leftie commie pinko you!

I wholeheartedly agree--my 18 year old son is happy he gets to vote for gay marriage and Obama in his first election.

Anonymous said...

Government has no right to interfere in telling you who you can marry. Why should the government care who you marry. Marriage is either/or a religious union or a civil union. If your religion tells you we cannot uphold your gay marriage then maybe that religion isn't for you. But the government has no right to say that and should be concerned with the welfare of families etc....it's all so crazy to me.

Melissa said...

I'm of two minds about this one.

The religious aspect? That's for churches and stuff. If a church doesn't want to do it, then that's their business. It's a ceremony that while significant, does not in and of itself convey legal status. I mean you have to have the license for it to be legal. And the ceremony can be preformed by a legal entity, not necessarily a church.

The civil side? The one that really matters? That's different. That's saying that some people aren't allowed to enter into a legally binding contract and that's wrong.

So I think that everyone has the right to get married. But don't expect every church to perform the ceremony. I mean, Catholics put restrictions on ceremonies if one of the parties is a non-Catholic. I had a restriction on my ceremony because I wasn't the right flavor of Lutheran for that particular church.

How's that for playing both sides of the issue? :) But all that said, I think it is just a matter of time before everyone has that legal right. And that's a good thing.

Anonymous said...

That's funny! I was just thinking about this and posted about it.

Damn, I didn't want to get married. Major reluctance. Boy, does that seem ridiculous now. I almost did a runner even.

I'm so happily married. I mean, I'm a pessimist so it's not like I expect it to last!

Unfortunately or fortunately, I think the state has an interest in marriage. But I'm too tired to explain this now. Above commenter makes good points. Good in theory, not in practice.

Full marriage equality is inevitable. But it will take longer than it should.

Debbie said...

i could've written this post.

well, not completely, and not nearly so well, but the issues were similar for me and my partner.


painted maypole said...

oh, I wish I knew how to get the federal government to recognize same sex marriages. maybe we can start with a president who isn't against them?

julochka said...

i once had an american colleague whose perfectly legal same-sex union to her danish partner was so rejected by the US that her partner was banned from ever entering the US. that was actually while clinton was still in office and i don't know if things have changed, but that seemed such a violation of human rights.

Anonymous said...

Equal Rights.....
Imagine living in a country where equal rights means that people who love each other and want to share their lives together are able to do so in the same way that other people who love each other and want to share their lives together are able to do so!
I want to live in that (my) country.

DOn't forget(?) to VOTE!

Robbin said...

I was reluctant, too - we lived together for three years before marrying. We have been together ten years now. We finally did it to make his Mom happy. I don't regret it.

And I am with Kyddryn. I don't believe that the government belongs in the marriage business. It should be a contract between two people and their religion (if they so choose). I don't see where the government should have ANY vested interest. It was different in a time where inequality meant that the property rights of a woman in a marriage needed to be protected against abandonment in a time when a woman with children was simply not employable, and could be financially devastated if her husband divorced her. But I think the time for that is passed.

Anonymous said...

It's sad. What are people afraid of?

cactus petunia said...

I think Kyddryn said it best:"Freedom for all or freedom for none - there is no middle ground."

May I also add: VOTE.
Vote for those who would ensure that freedom.
If I'm not mistaken, everyone over the age of 18 has the right to vote.
Exercise it!

Antropóloga said...

I truly believe it will happen eventually.

Can we hear more about BlogHer sometime?

Woman in a Window said...

I think start changing things in society and politics will follow. I am astounded that same sex marriages are legal in Canada. Growing up in the 80's and 90's things were hardly open. But I have to say how proud I am that it is now legal. Pop culture has really opened up a lot and I think that came first. When we turn on the tv up here or read a book or a magazine or even look at a politician, you see gay people. It's that simple. Seen 'em. Recognize 'em. Have a beer with 'em. Have 'em become normal. 'Cause they are, aren't they? It's even crazy to me that we have to still have this dialogue. I'm already training my kids to think big. I make it a choice for their future...like, when you fall in love with a man or a woman. It'll be interesting to see when these ideas grate some of their friends.

Defiantmuse said...

hmm....this has been weighing on my mind a lot recently....I won't marry my partner...not because I don't love him but b/c I'm not altogether sure I agree with the institution of marriage. Even when I got pregnant I refused....although I'm sure many of my family would have preferred it went differently....which maybe pushed me to hesitate even more.
And my dad and his partner of 12 years finally were married last month when CA passed the same-sex marriage law...I was there with my daughter when they exchanged their vows. They never thought they would see the day when they could be married legally. They have their marriage certificate framed on their living room wall now. But, as you say, there is still headway to be made in the federal department....I think it's just a matter of time. Look how far we've already come in just the past decade.

jodifur said...

I could not agree more. When we got married, we donated money to charity in lieu of favors and once of the charities was a gay rights organization b/c it really is one of the greatest injusiticies in the world.

The Library Lady said...

We will get same sex marriage (and a whole lot more) when we get those morons who piously talk about this "Christian nation" the hell out of politics and back into the churches where they can continue to mouth the Commandments every Sunday before going out to break them for the next 6 days!

Anonymous said...

Jenn @ Juggling Life,
Hey! That's Miss Lefty Commie Pinko Momocrat, if you please!


Wonderful post, can't wait to see it up on MOMocrats.