Same sex marriage is now legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C.. In the most recent election, three states legalized it by popular vote, rather than a legislative act — a historical first.
I applaud their efforts, but I’m saddened that they were necessary. The rights of any group should not be up for a vote because the act of voting legitimizes the idea that some people don’t deserve the same rights as others. A right is a right.
Upon the recommendation of someone on Facebook, I recently read a very heady article on WSJ.com that argued against gay marriage (or what the authors referred to as “revisionist” marriage) based on the idea that marriage law will always discriminate against someone, that it affects behavior and the purpose of marriage law is to promote family and protect spouses and children.
After all, if two men can marry, or two women, then what sets marriage apart from other bonds must be emotional intensity or priority. But nothing about emotional union requires it to be permanent. Or limited to two. Or sexual, much less sexually exclusive. Or inherently oriented to family life and shaped by its demands. Yet as most people see, bonds that lack these features aren’t marriages.
I would point out that nothing about “traditional” marriage requires the couple to even like each other, much less have a permanent bond based on emotional union. When a man and woman marry, no one demands that they have children or even be sexually exclusive. All that is required is that they pay the license fee and have different parts. And again, it doesn’t matter what “most people see” because rights aren’t subject to majority rule. They are inherent.
Marriage law shapes behavior by promoting a vision of what marriage is and requires. Redefinition will deepen the social distortion of marriage—and consequent harms—begun by policies such as “no-fault” divorce. As marital norms make less sense, adherence to them erodes.
Revision of divorce laws made it easier for women to leave abusive marriages. In some states, for a woman to divorce her husband, she had to prove infidelity, otherwise, she was stuck. So long as he didn’t cheat, he could abuse her both physically and psychologically. The idea that my neighbor’s divorce somehow erodes my marriage is ridiculous on the face of it. Yet somehow, we’re to believe that if my gay neighbors get married, I’m going to look at my own marriage in a different light.
The authors bang on about societal norms as an argument against marriage equality, but I’d argue that it is those “norms” that make gay people want a legally recognized marriage. You get a lower tax rate, advantages to retirement savings, better insurance rates, death benefits when a spouse dies, rights to inherit, to make health care decisions for your spouse, easier to qualify for loans and collecting retirement benefits.
Plus there are the psychological benefits: married people enjoy better sex lives, are healthier than single people, are happier, have better social lives and live longer.
People who are vehemently opposed to marriage equality have yet to demonstrate to me how their own marriage will be affected by it. Nor can they explain how keeping two people who love each other from the advantages of marriage somehow strengthen traditional marriage. Why are these people not petitioning to change divorce law? Why are they not boycotting celebrities who marry and divorce in big public splashes? If marriage equality is such a bad thing, then surely people who marry and divorce multiple times are doing more damage to the concept of traditional marriage, right?
My hope is that eventually, any couple who wants to get married will give it some serious thought before taking the plunge. Let them consult with their ministers, counselors, older married couples or whomever they look to for sage advice. But once that decision is made, then let them marry and wish them well.
If you consider traditional marriage a right, then marriage equality is also a right and should never be subject to a majority vote. Because in America, we believe in equality and freedom. States like North Carolina (which voted to put traditional marriage into the state constitution) and Tennessee are going to find themselves on the wrong side of history (again) and they’ve got no one to blame but themselves. The world is moving on and it will do so without you.