Gay marriage is better than traditional straight marriage. Which is why it’s being opposed so vehemently.
Hear me out.
First of all, as a good old red-blooded straight American male with an appropriately torqued up libido, and one who was raised strict Roman Catholic, I don’t really need to have a dog in this fight. I ignored this issue for many years, mainly because, as a straight man, I could afford to. If you’d asked me if gay folks — several of whom I’d been close to, all across the LGBT spectrum — should be allowed to get married and have that marriage legally recognized by the state, I would have said “Well, sure.” But I also would have wondered why any gay person would want to be part of an institution like marriage.
Most of the straight people I grew up around got married young, immediately started having babies, and secured some kind of career. Then, their obligations to society completed, they began to decay. It seemed rather boring, not the kind of thing for artists or freaks or gay folks to want. I never imagined that the outliers on the edge of society, of which I considered myself one, would want to buy into that program, at least not mindlessly, immediately, and irrevocably, the way the mundane folks did. I assumed love could survive perfectly well without marriage. Which it does.
It never occurred to me why I automatically separated marriage from love, until I recently realized society had been kind enough to do it for me.
In fact, it was only the cause of gay marriage that finally caused me to question the “traditional” kind. As you know, there’s been a constant drumbeat of outrage from the religious right about how gay marriage is, by its very existence, a threat to straights. Several of the people closest to me had echoed this sentiment, which was disturbing, because I could never process it logically. After all, it wasn’t as if there were some finite pool of marriage that could be used up if everyone dipped into it. The tax breaks gays would get from the government, even if every LGBT person leapt the broomstick tomorrow, would be a fraction of a drop in the bucket, especially compared to the ridiculous amounts of money we already spend on federal programs. (Some of which actually destroyed traditional families. Just not anyone we’d ever meet.) Citizens far enough into their straight relationships to want to make them permanent weren’t going to suddenly ditch everything and start over gay, just because the option was now legally viable. And even though the divorce rate for straights has plateaued, it still signaled that about half of the straight love in America was doing a pretty good job of destroying itself already.
Of course, none of this was about love at all. This was the source of my myopia.
Sometimes institutions are so perfectly woven into the fabric of our lives that we don’t even notice them working, and it became clear to me that marriage was one of those, a massive eugenics program that marked the place where church and state met. How else to explain the fact that hetero interracial marriages weren’t completely legal until 1967, and then only because of the same kind of sweeping federal legislation that’s now frightening Americans all the way to the Supreme Court? How else to explain society’s long history of ostracizing the divorced and the bastard child born out of wedlock? How else to explain the world’s legacy of arranged marriages and dowries? The pity we’re supposed to feel for spinsters and the equally strong determination to marry off the longtime bachelor? How many Shakespeare plays and Hollywood movies end with a wedding in order to suggest a resolution, indeed, a restoration of order?
Here’s part of the transcript from the recent Supreme Court hearings on California’s notorious Prop 8 anti-gay marriage law:
JUSTICE KAGAN: Mr. Cooper, could I just understand your argument. In reading the briefs, it seems as though your principal argument is that same-sex and opposite — opposite-sex couples are not similarly situated because opposite-sex couples can procreate, same-sex couples cannot, and the State’s principal interest in marriage is in regulating procreation. Is that basically correct?
MR. COOPER: I — Your Honor, that’s the essential thrust of our — our position, yes.
JUSTICE KAGAN: Well, suppose a State said, Mr. Cooper, suppose a State said that, Because we think that the focus of marriage really should be on procreation, we are not going to give marriage licenses anymore to any couple where both people are over the age of 55. Would that be constitutional?
MR. COOPER: No, Your Honor, it would not be constitutional.
JUSTICE KAGAN: Because that’s the same State interest, I would think, you know. If you are over the age of 55, you don’t help us serve the Government’s interest in regulating procreation through marriage. So why is that different?
MR. COOPER: Your Honor, even with respect to couples over the age of 55, it is very rare that both couples — both parties to the couple are infertile, and the traditional — (Laughter.)
JUSTICE KAGAN: No, really, because if the couple — I can just assure you, if both the woman and the man are over the age of 55, there are not a lot of children coming out of that marriage.
Of course, that elderly couple has already done their duty; they usually come with grown children. But the real tragedy of the marriage institution, I was learning, is not that it encourages order and productivity within the State, or that it encourages productivity as ordained by someone’s God. The tragedy is that it always assumes love is an afterthought, secondary to all those other concerns. And this is where gay marriage comes in.
Gay couples aren’t going to be procreating. (They may be looking to raise a child, and society can always use couples like that.) They’ve fought an uphill battle to even be recognized as as couple. And they’re not asking for anything straight newlyweds don’t have. They’re getting hitched for one reason and one reason only: to weave two lives into one. Which, as straight couples know, requires an incredible amount of dedication and sacrifice.
And love. Gay couples, by the very fact of their existence, are doing it for love and love alone. You might think it’s selfish for two people to put their happiness over society’s, but on a planet that already has trouble sustaining its 9 billion people, procreation is no longer the main reason for marriage. In a world where women work, often out of necessity, marriage doesn’t need to be defined as a way to combine family fortunes.
Gay couples, far from threatening marriage, are purifying it, competing a redefinition that’s already been going on for the past hundred years or so — moving it away from an institution that turns women into breeding hens, or love into an investment, one that forces lovers to pursue the purity of the race or children to be with fathers who wish they’d never been born. If you personally don’t define marriage as a sacrament that celebrates love and commitment above all, that’s your right. But that concept is going to grow old alone.