Four years ago, in Cites & Insights 4:7 (June 2004), Bibs & Blather included a section headed “It May Not Be My Fight, But…”
It went something like this (OK, it went exactly like this):
Boy, do I not want to write this section in some ways. I stand to lose readers as a result and I canâ€™t imagine that Iâ€™ll gain any readers or friends (my few close friends already know where I stand). I could lose speaking opportunities. I should just let it be.
After all, it may not be my fight. Iâ€™m a middle-aged white man, straight, politically moderate, married to a wonderful woman for more than 26 years, with no intention of changing that status.
But here it is. And, come to think of it, maybe it is my fight.
Iâ€™m happily married. Iâ€™m heterosexual. We were married in a church.
And for the life of me, I cannot see any way to interpret the marriage of two adults who love one another as doing anything other than strengthening marriage, as long as the two adults are both competent to make that commitment. Those marriages do nothing to weaken my marriage in particular, and (I believe) a lot to strengthen marriage in general.
Before you blow your stack, note that I would have no problem with â€œmarriageâ€ being something thatâ€™s done entirely by religious organizationsâ€”as long as government replaces it with some other form of commitment that has the 1,100+ perquisites that currently exist for married couples, and only for married couples. Get government entirely out of marriage (that is, the rite and agreement with that particular name), and I have no problem. Of course, neither do same-sex couples: Any number of ministers in Metropolitan churches, Unitarian Universalist congregations, and other faiths will be only too happy to wed two men or two women who are committed to one another. Would my wife and I still have a church wedding? Hard to say.
â€œItâ€™s for the children.â€ Hogwash.
I donâ€™t remember any questionnaire when we went to get a marriage license, asking us whether we intended to have children. We donâ€™t have them, and wonâ€™t. Should our marriage be annulled?
My father remarried at age 89 to a wonderful 91-year-old woman. I suspect there was never any possibility of those two having childrenâ€”and that wasnâ€™t a bar to their getting married.
â€œFor the childrenâ€ means that any person whoâ€™s infertile, either by choice or by chance, should be barred from marriage.
â€œThe Bible saysâ€¦â€ Well, for one thing, freedom of religion only works if thereâ€™s also freedom from religion, and the government currently provides all those perquisites to married couples. Thus, marriage has to be considered a secular union. Donâ€™t push Biblical attitudes toward right and wrong too far. Thereâ€™s at least one passage in the Bible that appears to praise drunken incest (Genesis 19:30-38), and certainly more than one case of polygamy without condemnation.
I also take into account that the case Iâ€™m most personally acquainted with: Two wholly-committed people were able to get married in San Francisco before the courts temporarily stopped a peaceful and loving process. That couple includes one woman whoâ€™s a military veteran and considerably more religious and conservative than Iâ€™ll ever be, and another woman whoâ€™s a minister and presumably understands the Bible fairly well.
Was Gavin Newsom legally right? I donâ€™t know. (I know he surprised a lot of people, given that heâ€™s a happily married businessman whoâ€™s relatively conservative by SF standards. But then, it took Richard Nixon to open U.S. relations with China.) Was he morally right? I believe so. I wonâ€™t comment on â€œAx Handle Romneyâ€ or other players in this ongoing drama (if you donâ€™t get the reference, youâ€™re younger than I am). I was fascinated by an article in todayâ€™s San Francisco Chronicle, filed from South Boston, that suggests people there arenâ€™t terribly concerned about Massachusettsâ€™ legalization of gay marriageâ€”and that some â€œfamilyâ€ groups are getting desperate because â€œtwo years might not be long enough to show that gay marriage undermines marriage.â€ For once, I agree with the â€œfamilyâ€ people: I suspect two centuries of gay marriage wonâ€™t be long enough to show that it undermines the institution of marriage!
Semi-reformed slutty â€œvirginsâ€ getting â€œmarriedâ€ for two days to have a good olâ€™ time with an old boyfriend may weaken the institution of marriage. People on their 6th and 7th marriage may weaken the institution. Fifty percent divorce rates may weaken the institution. Or, in all those cases, it may not. Everyone who cheats on their spouse weakens the institution, as does every man who believes his spouse is some sort of slave and lesser being.
Loving couples where both are men or both are women? Couples who have been together for decades (four of them, in the first San Francisco ceremony)? These couples strengthen marriage as an institution. They also strengthen society and help to undo a long-standing wrong.
If you find that so disagreeable that youâ€™ll never read Cites & Insights (or anything else I write) againâ€”well, thatâ€™s your privilege. Donâ€™t let the door hit you on your way out.
So what’s happened over the past four years?
- The 4,000 marriages that took place in San Francisco were eventually annulled by state courts–but those courts didn’t choose to rule on the constitutional issue at hand.
- As anticipated, several years of legal same-sex marriage in Massachusetts has failed to cause the moral or other downfall of that state or in any apparent way weaken the institution of marriage.
- And now, California’s Supreme Court–which, incidentally, has six Republicans out of its total seven members–has concluded that the ban on same-sex marriage does, indeed, violate California’s constitution.
- Carpetbaggers from Virginia and various other “liberty as long as you’re on our side”–“Family, but only the way we define Family” groups were already gathering petitions to try to write a ban on same-sex marriage into the California constitution. That only takes a majority vote. Could a majority vote to make it illegal for people over 65 to marry (after all, “It’s for the children”) or for left-handed people to vote? Presumably so…
- Before we start talking about “will of the people,” it’s worth noting that the way the will of the people is typically expressed for legislative issues is through elected representatives–and that California’s state legislature has twice passed bills to legalize same-sex marriage. In both cases, the Governator vetoed the bills. (Yes, California uses the initiative process a lot–and, as in most other states, the initiative process frequently produces bad law and worse policy.)
- Interestingly, the Governator has come out against the initiative to overturn the court decision and says he’ll campaign against it..
I still don’t understand how marriage involving two loving people can weaken the institution of marriage. (I don’t remember who commented that it would take a lot for gays to screw up American marriage more badly than straights have done, but it’s not a bad point.)
I’ve been married 30 years now, and look forward to many more years…and I suppose I’m only “middle aged” in my own mind, since I really don’t plan to live to anything like 124.
I did lose one long-time reader as a result of that 2004 commentary. That’s the breaks. I could lose more as a result of repeating and, if anything, strengthening my opinion–but I think it’s unlikely. Things are moving…and the Republican-dominated California Supreme Court made the right decision, in my opinion. (Worth noting: One of the three dissenters basically agreed that the ban was unconstitutional but wasn’t willing to overturn it. In some ways, it was a 5:2 majority more than a 4:3 majority.)
I’m hoping California’s voters will demonstrate the social liberalism that’s helped make California great. In a state with no majority, I’d like to see all “minority rights” treated well.
Update 6/21/08: Comments are closed for this post.