LINCOLN, Neb. (U-WIRE) — On Dec. 20, 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that the state must provide the same protections and benefits to homosexual couples as it does to heterosexual couples. This is actually an unprecedented move in the battle for gay marriage. By choosing not to force the state to institute gay marriage, the Supreme Court has actually taken a much stronger stance.
The Court compelled the state Legislature to find a way to protect and benefit gay couples in a way fully consistent with the way they protect and benefit married couples. Further, since coming up with a full domestic partnership plan that is essentially equal with marriage would be difficult, many legislators predict that simply expanding the definition of marriage will be the best thing to do.
On one hand, I’m against gay marriage. Being gay, after all, often means so much more than “I am attracted to people of the same sex.” Coming out is as much a re-evaluation of social norms as it is a coming to terms with a queer sexuality. I questioned everything when I came out — I had to.
It’s healthy for each generation to question the prejudice and the teachings handed down to them by their parents. Attitudes should be evaluated, mistakes discarded, wisdoms treasured.
Our current social standing on marriage is a big mistake. The problem with marriage right now is that it’s held up as the highest form that a relationship between two people can reach. Countless youths — that is, those our age — pursue this shining beacon of happiness as if it were the one true path to our self-fulfillment.
Truth be told, it’s not.
Meaningful relationships are of different forms and different intensities, and it is a myth to think marriage is the highest, or most intense relationship that can be had. So we’re better served by thinking creatively and originally with every new person we become involved with, instead of thinking in terms of, “Is this the right one?”
In the coming out of gay society, a chance to really pursue new forms of relationships and attachments has presented itself. We can take this opportunity not necessarily to be promiscuous, but to redefine the borders of emotional and physical attachment we have with the people in our lives.
The widespread acceptance of gay marriage serves as a block to these new creative opportunities. It will do for gay society the same thing it has done for straights, which is to say it will limit the variety of intimacies that are possible with people in our lives. Marriage would ostracize queers like myself, who love freely of our own volition, just as it has already done for straights (for example, take heterosexual poly-amorous groupings).
On the other hand, gays need something. Marriage isn’t just about spending two lives together. It’s about tax codes, child-rearing, financial planning, hospital visitation.
Gays have been living together for ages, either openly or in secret arrangements. If a gay couple wants to visit one another on the death bed, it is simply humane to allow them to do so. It comes down to equal protection and benefit.
Whether conservatives choose to acknowledge them, gay relationships do exist, and these relationships are perfectly capable of being infused with meaningful love. Two genuinely attached adults must not be told that they cannot visit one another in the hospital, that they cannot blend their financial lives together or that they cannot raise children in a loving, capable environment.
Gays don’t need marriage, but compassion compels us to give them that. The moral majority is guilty of inhumanity by denying even the most basic privileges to gay unions.
But what about the family? Conservatives are quick to claim that gay marriage will dilute straight marriage. Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, said of the Vermont decision, “While this legal decision is designed to elevate the status of same-sex couples, it really represents a slap in the face for marriage between a man and a woman,” (NY Times, Dec. 20, 1999).
I guess I don’t understand the reasoning here — because there is none. True, allowing gays to marry will change the notion of marriage from one that implies procreative sex, but it does not preclude the rearing of children, the founding of a home or any other of the society-building aspects conservatives point to as so important in marriage.
In fact, most gays who want to marry want to do so for reasons that are inexplicably straight — they want to have children, they want to form a household, etc.
The real weakness of marriage in modern times is its connection to intense love — that feeling that begins any substantial long-term relationship. People are trained to think marriage is nothing more than the sanctification of this intense, transient love. So when it dissipates, divorce follows. The real solution to weak marriage is strong anti-divorce movements — such as the elimination of no-fault divorce — not the virulent attack on gays who benevolently want to bring their lives together.
So one should encourage the Vermont Legislature in its efforts to satisfy the Supreme Court’s decision. Whether they choose marriage, domestic partnership or something new and different, they will be taking a step toward just equality.
Jacob Galzeski’s column originally appeared in the Jan. 14 issue of the Daily Nebraskan.