Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why Marriage?

Why do we have marriage? What purpose does it serve to us as human beings both on a social and emotional level that we have invested so much of ourselves in this institution? Indeed, it has become a key piece of contested ground in the "culture war" being waged here in America. But what is Marriage? What does it do for us? What does it mean to us on an emotional level and why is it so important to fight for it? Why should gays and lesbians be excluded from it? Is it a civil right? These are questions that those of us on both sides of the issue have struggled to clearly define in order to establish our views on the issue. It is also a queestion posed in a posting on the National Organisation for Marriage's blog, in concert with the, offering  the opinion of average person...a waitress in Ohio...."Why do we have marriage?" Her answer?...

“I guess in a way to keep families together. Because if you think about it, if you have a guy and a girl who spend their lives together, or who intend to spend their lives together, if they don’t get married, and have children [while unmarried], it’s too easy of a getaway. You know, whereas if you’re married you’re talking about divorce, you’re talking about splitting this and splitting that, you know? Some states I think require counseling now if you want to get divorced. So I think it’s kinda nice because you can’t just over something stupid one day totally call off your marriage, you know? You still have a chance to work at it, you know? Which, is maybe a good thing, maybe it’s not a good thing. Maybe it’s more to keep people—or families—together, instead of everybody have a momma and poppa over here and moms here, dads there, you’ve got four step-kids, four regular kids, you know? Yeah, it’d be complicated [without marriage], there’d be kids all over the frickin’ place. Next thing you know you’re dating a third cousin and you don’t even realize it because mom went with this person and dad went with this person and they both split and went with these people. So I think maybe it will, ummm, save a little bit of chaos….I just kind of pulled that out of nowhere…”

First I would like to say that I am casting aside the ancient reasons for marriage that often included marrying to ally families for financial and/or politcal gain. Here I would like to focuse more on moder reasons for marriage and I'm  sure this womans opinion would be echoed by many more average people. Essentially, the argument is that Marriage provides a structure that binds a family together and impells them to fullfill their obligations to each other. True enough. But the intent of organisations who used her words was to show that marriage is a family structure. The implication being that gays and lesbians don't have families of their own and that we are somehow inherently part of the "chaos" described in this womans opinion. The problem with this is, if you take her definition of the function of marriage at face value, it absolutely includes gays and lesbians as well. After all, why would it not be important that our families have that same bond. We have children and obligations to each other as spouses so how does that differ substantially from the needs of a heterosexual couple. Two doesn't.

I think it needs to be said here that this vision of marriage's function comes with the implication that no one...straight or gay...can keep it in their pants. Apparently you all are running around impregnating each other out of wedlock and leaving a trail of children in your wake. And here I thought promiscuity was only a gay failing...*/sarcasm off*...But this attitude betrays a rather dim view of humanity and lays the blame solely on morals. If they got married, the logic goes, then they would HAVE to keep their sexual antics within the bond of their relationships and more couples would stay together. My answer? think again.

Being a child from a married and then divorced family, marriage is no guarranty that a couple will remain together, even when its horrifically painfull to separate. In addition, many of the young people I know who had children young, did so from high school age, and many came from very moral homes. Here I think that blame falls on our inability to deal honestly and openly with our kids about sex. We can't mask this part of our humanity behind "abstinence only" teaching...because they won't know what it is they are giving up. Without clear knowledge of what sex is and what responsibilities and risks it contains, how do we expect kids to make good decisions that are, in fact, THEIR choices and not simply blind obedience? This is why so many people from my generation and beyond had babies in high school...there was too much peer pressure surrounding it and sex itself was too much of a curiosity.  But the real issue here is that this is not a gay issue or a morals issue. Dont blame "baby momma's/daddies" on the lack of marriage or morals when it has more to do with how we educate and talk to people about sex so that they can make better choices.

This is where NOM often shoots itself in the foot. They use arguments that don't come out directly and say that gay families are inferior...but they do imply it. Their achilles heal is when you follow their logic through to conclusion? Just like the sample above? If this is one of many legitimate reasons for marriage why would gays and lesbians not be included in that? And... if marriage isn't only about making a couple hold to their obligations to care for each other, then there must be other reasons as well right? Just from my own insight I can think of a few, and more often than not, they demonstrate that gay couples need marriage just as much as anyone else does.

From a social/emotional standpoint, getting legally married changes how our families, friends, and those who surround our lives view our relationships. For instance, I have been with my husband now for almost a decade and a half. Only a tiny slice of that time has been spent legally married. But no matter how long we have been together, family often treats us as if we are not we could just get over it and walk away at any moment. But...then my brother gets married and family and friends start asking long term questions like, "when are you two going to have kids?" Already they look at his relationships with romantic thoughts of "forever", yet our relationship is still impermanent. Being able to stand before them and say those vows sends a clear message that we intend "forever" as the very best of our abilities. Accept it...don't accept it...thats up to the individual, but marriage sends a clear message that we intend to tackle life together come what may. He is no longer my "friend", boyfriend, significant other, or partner, he is my "husband" and that carries meaning within our society...and just like the word "marriage", the labels are important because of the meanings they carry.

second is the legal aspect of marriage. I don't want to beat a dead horse about the rights that unmarried same-sex couples lose out on...even those in civil partnerships....because it been covered extensively already. Marriage provides many protections and benefits that define us as full legal citizens, equal under the law. As an example, this last tax season Jay and I would have been able to recieve an additional  $4600 in tax refund had our marriage been recognized federally. That's money that is sorely needed at this point in our lives and would have been put to good use. Marriage would have protected Clay Greene from losing most of his possesions when the state sold all of his and Harold Sculls belongings in order to "pay for their care"when they were forcibly sepparated. Marriage may have prevented Lisa Pond from dying alone of a brain annuerism in a Floriday hospital because her partner and children were not recognized as family. This is just to name a few examples of how legal marriage impacts our lives and why it is important for everyone.

My final point is that the people who posted the quote above have a reason for doing so and it has nothing to do with "preserving traditional marriage". It has everything to do with preventing gay and lesbian people from attaining any form of societal recognition  and...if they us backwards. Maggie Gallagher herself has said that she doesn't mind civil partnerships as long as we "don't call it marriage". This is her false effort to appear reasonable to the American public. But what happens when we take her comments at face value? Probably something like what happened in Oregon where NOM embroiled itself in the fight to block civil partnership benefits...or NOW in Wisconsin, where Civil Partnership is being legally challenged because opponents feel that it violates the states ban on sam-sex marriage....(what the hell?!)

NOM and those that stand on their side of the aisle will not be content with stopping at marriage bans. They will continue on to challenge civil partnerships, employment and housing protections, and anything else that serves to give them a reason to exist...namely, driving us back into the closet until we are again illegal. That is their real goal and why the legal protections afforded by marriage are not only about being treated fairly under the law, but also about protection of our rights as citizens.

This is my answer for why we have marriage and I acknowledge that it is only a small part of its importance and function but, to go into them all would take longer than anyone would have the stamina to read. Plus everyone would answer this question differently. However varied the reasons for marrying, denying that gays and lesbians have the same needs, motivations, and protections is simply untrue.

Until next time dear readers...


  1. Yes, yes, yes. All over the place, yes.

  2. Great article Bryan! A few years back I stumbled upon an excellent book by Stephanie Coontz called "Marriage, A History". While she only focuses a few pages on gay marriage, the entire book is fascinating. She argues that, contrary to popular belief, the concept of a traditional marriage has never existed. Marriage is something that has always been in flux. For example, the concept of a love marriage is only a couple of hundred of years old. So for those people who argue that marriage has been the same since the dawning of time are completely wrong. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend that when you have the time to do so.


  3. This was what I found odd about my state. In Nevada they passed a bill that would pass domestic partnership, however the governor vetoed the bill because of the law that "banned same-sex marriage." When I heard this I was like, "I thought it was the word 'marriage' you objected to not the unions themselves!" Some conservatives baffle me. They don't want to call it "marriage", but they want to block other leagal partnerships too? Geez just striaght up say "I'm against gays/lesbians being together in general" rather than dancing around the issue. My God I had no idea your drive thru-weddings were so important and sacred compared to same-sex partnerships. Come on really marriage lost its sacredness a long time ago here.

  4. I always thought of marriage as an agreement between two people, mutually pledging their lives to one another for eternity. You didn't need to stand before a judge or priest, and you certainly didn't need to ask for another's permission. After reading this post, I now realize that I was confusing love with marriage. I think now that I'd define marriage as a title and status that only applies in the arenas of Society and Law.

    I realize that you exempted the Ancient understanding of marriage (a bond created only for heirs, political alliance, and status advancement), but I'm going to bring it up solely to serve as a comparison to the concept of the "affair." Whereas a marriage was meant for the above, an affair was something to serve the desires of a partner. Sometimes these desires were purely carnal and lustful, but on other occasions they resembled what we now would call love. Specifically the gay relationships (mostly between men) were seen in this light, since being with another of the same sex could not bring any of the benefits of marriage in a societal setting.

    I liked your point about the difficulty of talking about sex in America. It's interesting that even after all the immigrants from all over the world have come here, America still refuses to give up its Puritan origins and beliefs. I wholeheartedly agree that a lot of the problems we see today stem from a very conservative prospective about sex. A funny example: a few years ago I went on a trip to Europe with some classmates. We stopped in Paris for 3 days and when we had finally found the hotel, it was midnight. My bunk-mate and I laid down and turned on the tv to ch. 3, which turned out to be porn. There was no warning when the program started, just some naked butts, etc. on what appeared to be a public access channel! I quickly changed it and started going through the channels when I came across the start of the movie "Saw," a gory horror film, and it had a lengthy warning introduction and ended up censoring all the gory parts anyway. It just goes to show you the differences of opinion in the world.

    I wanted to point out how there were three anonymous posters and then make a joke about us being "The Three Anonymigos," but you had to go and ruin it, Marcus...

    I feel your pain, my true anonymigo: Let's just hope Nevada doesn't turn into my great state of Michigan, where the traditional marriage model is still "protected."

  5. OMG Bryan..I am soo with you. At least in CA you guys are LEGALLY married. We have no protection here in Ohio.
    It's funny..I posted these same feelings on another blog..and someone responded.."You are not without have Dave." And YES..he is right..I do. So many people don't have a "Dave" regardless of what happens in this country..or in Ohio I will still have my "Dave"...

  6. Great post Bryan, I think you explaind it so well! I know what you mean about the NOM's of the world dancing around the subject, It reminds me of the R71 debate in WA. That side cept saying they wanted to protect marrige and had nothing agnest civil partnerships while the whole time running a campain to try to over turn expanded civil partnership that made it celar it protect the word marrige while giveing the same rights. I just wanted to shout at those people "you just don't want gay people to have any rights, otherwise you would not be fighting domestic partnerships!!" hell the law was nicknamed everything but marrige! I hope that some day very soon I will be able to marrie in my own state! the worst part in less then a hour (it only take an hour to do the 45 miles to vancover BC) Is a whole country that reconise my right to marrie!

  7. You guys are so inspiring to me! Love all your videos and the kids too. You are the CUTEST family.
    Thanks for being so "normal" - it's such a nice change from the shallow gay lifestyle. You are doing so much for us all.
    And the upcoming movie will do so much also.
    PS: I lived in Santa Rosa and the Bay Area for 19 years! Now in Colorado.
    Smoky - aged 60!