Monday, January 16, 2012

I Secretly Voted Against Your Right to Marry

Frankly, I don't know why lesbians and gay men want to get married and have children. In fact, I don't fully understand why anyone, gay or straight, would want to conform to most social norms unless doing so would further some unique and self-determined ends. 

Years ago in Savannah I had an arch-conservative office-mate who kept a loaded firearm at his desk and nailed a placard to the wall over his desk that read, "Heterosexuals Have Rights Too." (The sign conveniently ignored the obvious, that in 1993 in Georgia homosexuals had no rights, per se.) In my first year at the college where we both taught English, he handed me a photocopy of a psychological study he had found in a journal that concluded that homosexuality is not conducive to a normal, well-adjusted life. Out of curiosity I read the article, but said nothing about it. A few weeks later he asked me what I thought of the piece. I replied, "Normality strikes me as a rather pedestrian goal." He laughed and said, "Good answer." 

He had gone to Woodstock in the sixties but converted to Reagan conservatism in the seventies. He was a libertarian and advocate of Ayn Rand's Objectivism. Had he lived, he no doubt would have joined the Tea Party. He had the temperament typical of Tea Partiers: absolutist, reductionist, ready to argue, and financially motivated. But he killed himself (with his gun) a year or two before I moved to North Carolina. He lived most of his adult life pursuing rational self-interest and promoting gender norms and laissez-faire capitalism. I have to assume that his suicide meant he had not found the pressures of such a life any more fulfilling for him than for gay and lesbian teenagers who have to live in the hostile society he promoted, kids whose rates of suicide are estimated at two to three times the national norm--a statistic I first read in the article my office-mate passed on to me.

I have led a full life, denying myself little except for the respect and support of zealous church people, the pitter-patter of little footsteps, and a supportive spouse--in other words, the traditional lifestyle that would have (according to statistics) promoted my upward mobility and financial success. 

However, if other gay people want to get married and raise children, I think they should. Even though I retain my reservations about whether matrimony does anybody any real good, I don't think I or the government have the right to stand in the way. My take is that the "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" upon which the nation was founded ensures every citizen a go at finding whatever form of fulfillment he or she can find. 

I support the right to any form of marriage so long as both parties can give their consent and they are not coerced, i.e. by rape or slavery, and perhaps so long as the marriage poses no untreatable health risks to their offspring, should they choose to procreate biologically. 

I don't understand why only the legally married should enjoy a host of financial and health benefits, denied to us singles. These include tax benefits; estate planning; distribution of benefits through Social Security, Medicare, and disability insurance; veterans' and military benefits; benefits through employers' insurance and retirement programs; hospital visitation rights; proxy decision-making; adoption; retail family discounts; protections from domestic abuse; burial arrangements; and more. Perhaps as a single man I am prone to be a bit, well, selfish, but it would never occur to me to award myself special and exclusive privileges that, by rights, could be extended to everybody without rubbing any skin off my nose. 

I don't understand why convicted rapists can get married--and, by the way, according to Mosaic law (Deut. 22.28-29), the model (we're often told) of the American justice system, must marry the women they raped--but two men or two women cannot. I don't understand on what grounds politicians who have divorced and remarried can charge gay people with threatening the integrity of marriage. But then I have not yet seen evidence that suggests that married people do have more integrity or contribute more to society than single people.

I don't see why it's okay, given the traditional separation of church and state, for federal and state laws to prohibit churches from marrying two people of the same sex. Religious conservatives would have us believe that marriage rights for gays and lesbians would force congregations to not only accept but also seal same-sex marriages. But right now any religious body can refuse to marry people for whatever reason--for instance, because the engaged couple belong to different faiths or because one or both parties have been divorced. Still, many conservatives promote the fear that legal same-sex marriage would limit a church's autonomy. Based on what evidence? At present, the opposite is the case: churches that favor extending the sacrament of marriage to people of the same sex are forbidden by law in most states from doing so. This is tantamount to, let's say, North Carolina asking its citizens to vote on which form of baptism should be the legal definition of baptism. I would think that the form of marriage that religious bodies regard as having spiritual value would be a matter for religious leaders to decide, but to decide only for themselves and their trusting followers. 

North Carolina (where I live) puts the question of same-sex marriage up for a vote in four months, in a proposed amendment to the state constitution. The purpose of a constitution is to organize a centralized government and define its powers, usually with protections that prevent "the tyranny of the majority" (as Alexis de Tocqueville phrased it in Democracy in America) from ignoring the rights of individuals and minorities. The proposed amendment to the state constitution would not only ignore gay people's rights but also repeal any privileges conferred upon their relationships at their workplaces and in their places of worship. 

Putting the civil rights of a minority up to a vote is antithetical to the spirit of American liberty and equality. Had the civil rights of African-Americans been left to a popular vote in the 1950s and '60s, we Southerners would probably still be under Jim Crow. The Equal Rights Amendment, which would affirm merely that "equal rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex," has not passed in the forty years since its introduction. North Carolina is one of the fifteen states that resisted ratification. But the effect of North Carolina's Amendment 1 would be worse. It would be as if an amendment were proposed to legally codify that men would retain certain rights that would be deliberately denied to women. That is injustice. Anyone who would hide in a voting booth to deny against anyone else's right to marry is petty and cowardly--when, with a little gumption, he or she could respond to the minister's call to the congregation to "speak now or forever hold your peace," and put something on the line for the sake of conviction ... and, with luck, spark a long-remembered brawl at the wedding reception.


  1. Trenchant and correct, as ever. What you neglected to point out, however, is that the continuation of civil partnerships (as they are called in the UK) and their accompanying 'ceremonies' are in danger of destroying the myth (for myth it be) that all gay men have innate good taste. Let's just ban the be-suited hoopla that we have all had to grit our teeth through...and morning suits, tuxedos,and the like come in two colours. Black and white. No others.
    Toodle Pip!

  2. Hello,
    I have found this site today and I am very impressed by your elaborate way of describing things!
    I myself, am a girl in the beginning of my twenties but the topics you illustrate are very interesting.
    Starting from age 18, I have always been wondering why marriage is of high importance, even for me, who comes from an asian buddhist country, this very christian thing seems to be essential for finding happiness and satisfaction in my life - at least from my familys point of view.
    When I come to comment on this matter, when a talk naturally bends to that theme, I usually experience a lot of lack of comprehension from the others. It would be very interesting to hear from you, how you deal with such "discussions"?
    Lots of respect~



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