In the wake of last week's California Supreme Court ruling that struck down a law outlawing gay marriage, during an election year, there is sure to be a renewed and heated national debate on the subject. There really shouldn't be.
In general, I dislike writing about political issues. Statements can easily be taken out of context and misconstrued on purpose. I also really hate committing my political views to any sort of trackable media -- i.e., the internet. Politics are too volatile, especially through the anonymity of the internet where any jackass is free to rail off bigotry under any pseudonym of their choosing. However, this topic in specific, riles me beyond comprehension. Let me begin by saying that I am a married heterosexual white male, and like most people who belong to overwhelming demographic majorities I am often unintentionally intolerant to others who are Not Like Me. I'd like to think that that's the case everywhere on this issue -- that people mean well, but they're just getting it wrong, somehow. Unfortunately, what I think I see are bigots and intolerants spouting rhetoric in the name of religion and conservativism. I think they give both of those things a bad name.
To really discuss this topic properly, we have to get a good idea of what it means to be married. Once we cut out unnecessary gender designations from the Merriam-Webster definition, it tells us that marriage is the state of being united to a person in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law. To restate, marriage is a legal contract meant to confer federal and state benefits upon two people in a consensual relationship. Note the lack of the words "God" and "love." They come into play later.
To anybody who is unmarried, it might not be immediately obvious what kind of difference it makes, but it's big. There are literally hundreds of state and federal benefits available to married couples that are not available to unmarried couples. They include things like next-of-kin status, joint insurance benefits, Social Security, Medicare, and the ability to file your taxes married-filing-jointly -- important for things like the Lifelong Education Credit, or claiming interest paid on mortgages.
The reason that marriage involves a federal contract is to confer these (and something like 1400 more) benefits. It is not to join these two people in the eyes of the Lord, it is not to show the commitment of love between two like souls, blah blah blah. The problem is that marriage is not just a civil ceremony. People keep getting married in churches -- not for federal and state benefits, but for love and ceremonial commitment within the confines of their specific religion (the benefits are just the little red tape icing on the cake -- a little chewy but tastes great). However, if you're going to walk around with this person you love and say you're married and try to get the benefits due to a married couple, you'd better have the piece of paper with the federal stamp to prove it. Especially when you're talking to the IRS. They love pieces of paper.
It's so easy to see why this is such a sticky topic; it should be as equally easy to see why it shouldn't be.We're taught to be a couple-based society. Hollywood bashes us over the head with it every chance we get. Our society has been getting married as a show of love for thousands of years, and that is exactly why gays want to do it. They want to show their friends and family how much they love each other. They also want to enjoy the federal benefits of marriage.
The obstacle: Homosexuality is an aberration in the eyes of (some) God(s). You know what? Fine. Don't allow gay marriages in your church. If your priest, pastor, preacher, reverend, deacon, minister, parson, or padre doesn't feel comfortable signing their name to a marriage license that has the names of two men or two women -- fine. Odds are, gays don't want to get married in your church anyway.
So, what's your beef? Legalizing gay marriage will not require your church to hold gay weddings. In fact, it has nothing to do, whatsoever, with your church. It has to do with a little piece of paper that's going to get stuck in a filing cabinet. Have your own argument with God and leave the rest of us out of it.
The Slippery Slope Argument
By definition, slippery slope arguments are bullshit. Here, let's try one out:
"If you let gays get married what's next? People getting married to children? To their pets? To their siblings? To as many people as they want?"
I'm fairly certain that I've heard each one of these arguments, some in tandem. It's not so much a slippery slope so much as we're on different hills altogether.
For each one of these cases it's easy to see why the federal contract of marriage (between two consensual adults) should not be available. If you want a quick breakdown it goes like this:
To children: See the word adult.
To pets: See the word consensual, also see animal cruelty laws.
To siblings: Sorry. Incest. Outlawed because shallow gene pools mean enormous medical defects. (Didn't stop a lot of royal families, though did it?)
To multiple partners: Bigamy. It'd be an easy way to scam the government via federal benefits.
It should be noted, also, that at least two of these were sanctioned by a religion (FLDS anyone?) recently, but not by the federal government. Fact is this: These kinds of arguments are shock statements designed to distract from the real meat of the issue -- the major parallel we have in our society (if you really want to compare apples-to-apples, here) is interracial marriage which, at the time, was also an affront to God or some such bullshit and is the exact precedent the California Supreme Court used to overturn the ban on gay marriage.
The Sanctity of Marriage
When adultery is outlawed I will believe that people are interested in protecting the sanctity of marriage. Until then, I have yet to see an argument, much less a convincing one, that tells me why gays getting married will make my marriage less meaningful. My wife and I are the ones that make my marriage meaningful.
The Best Man at my wedding was a woman. For over a decade, she has been one of my closest and dearest friends. She lives with, and is engaged to, her partner, who is also a woman. Laws don't dictate that they cannot live together, or grocery shop together. There's no law that says that at the end of a long day, they cannot come home to each other and spend their evening in the company of the person that they love. But they cannot enjoy the same legal rights and benefits that I enjoy with my wife. In a country that heralds itself as a paragon of freedom and equality, this should be a no-brainer. It angers me beyond comprehension that this lack of equality and fairness can be tolerated, much less supported, in our society.
Much as the glib bumper sticker says -- if you don't approve of gay marriage, don't get one. Otherwise, keep your nose out of other people's business.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
5.19.08 @ 5:07a
Just wanna say Word, Erik. Awesome piece.
5.19.08 @ 7:26a
Bravo, Erik. It really should be as simple as you outline it.
5.19.08 @ 8:15a
Bravissimo, Erik! Gay marriage is nothing more nor less than a civil rights issue. There were (are!) a lot of people who use religious concepts to oppose civil rights for African-Americans, and there are a lot of the same things going on with regard to gay civil rights.
5.20.08 @ 12:49a
I personally don't believe in marriage for anyone. If the government did away with the special benefits of marriage, and made everyone equal as individuals, you would see many fewer marriages.
5.20.08 @ 12:55a
I love the ":civil union" argument:
"It's the SAME THING!"
Fine, then it should be called "marriage."
"NO! Because it's not the same thing."
Fine. If people insist on defining marriage as a religious institution, I think all hetero marriages should be rendered invalid in the eyes of the law until the couple files civil union papers too.
I do think same-sex marriage will be legal everywhere within my lifetime, though. And I think that's awesome.
5.20.08 @ 7:56a
If people insist on defining marriage as a religious institution, I think all hetero marriages should be rendered invalid in the eyes of the law until the couple files civil union papers too.
I completely agree with this. I'd be happy to do it.
5.20.08 @ 3:04p
I totally agree.
Erik, You Rock! You big Patrick-loving beer guzzler!
(For those who don't know, Patrick's a starfish, not a man.)
Food for thought: Roger & I had to pay a lawyer $2800.00 to create a revocable living will and trust awarding us a small fraction of what the heteros get with a marriage license.
The gays Thank You for your piece. And I do mean the article.
5.20.08 @ 3:09p
Yeah, see - that's just ridiculous.
A point I didn't bring up: Legalizing gay marriage is good for the economy.
More weddings = more parties = more gifts to buy = economic stimulation.
God knows I love being economically stimulated.
5.22.08 @ 11:58a
Great job Erik - thanks!
And I'm totally with Juli - If marriage is religious, then the laws should be changed to make reference to civil unions. It's just a massive find/replace, right?
As long as even the most conservative statistics show that over 1/3 of the (straight) marriages nationwide will end in divorce, you'll have a hard time convincing me that gay marriage is a threat to the institution.
5.22.08 @ 5:27p
Not to open an additional argument, but marriage is a religious institution. As well as a civil one. Some people choose to do one, others to do both, and some who have religious marriages think gays who want them should get to have them too.
As for the religious people who don't think that, as Erik very rightly puts it, "Odds are, gays don't want to get married in your church anyway."
5.22.08 @ 5:29p
Oh, you're very right. It *is* a religious institution - but that's a totally different argument that should, in no way, effect what people are entitled to from the federal government.