The Issue of Straight Marriage


Marriage is confusing. You can take it from me personally. But speaking solely in political terms, marriage is confusing because there are two kinds—civil and religious—that have always been confused together, if only because they’re both called “marriage.”

This constitutes one of the most basic mix-ups between church and state that we have. You go to court, you get a license, sometimes you get a blood test. (The clerk actually gave us a little bag of goodies that included detergent, god only knows why.) And then, if you choose, you can have a J.P. perform a marriage ceremony. Or you can have some licensed religious person perform it. In any case, to make the civil part legal, you sign the marriage license with witnesses, and the person who performed the ceremony signs it, and it’s done.

If you just do the religious part without getting the license signed, you’re not legally married, i.e. in terms of civil marriage.

Civil marriage confers various legal benefits involving taxation, inheritance, insurance, medical decisions, and other social advantages. An argument could actually be made that the state discriminates against single people by conferring special benefits on married couples. The idea is that marriage somehow advances the interests of the community or the nation. Traditionally that would mostly imply the advantage of producing children, although of course people who are not married do that regularly. Then we get into the whole notion of legitimate versus illegitimate children, which really ends up being about property and how it’s passed on. Marriage itself was primarily a way to perpetuate property through the male line, and it’s only been in relatively recent times that the question of love has entered into it.

Organized religion being one of the bulwarks of the social order, it stands to reason that civil marriage and religious marriage were traditionally one and the same. But the rise of the secular state has occasioned a gradual split between the two marriages.

I know I’m not the first person to point out that, considering marriage in the light of the First Amendment, it would make sense for the American government to get out of the business of marriage by calling it something different such as “civil union.” That’s what civil marriage already is, but by taking the word “marriage” out of it, we could continue to allow religious institutions to marry, or refuse to marry, whomever they wished, and at the same time allow consenting adult couples to enjoy the benefits of civil union.

Of course this isn’t going to happen, and I think if we consider that fact calmly and clearly we can understand why it is more difficult to protect equal rights for gay people in terms of marriage than such a logical solution would suggest.

The values and mores of a people change over time. It used to be considered fine and dandy to enslave human beings. That changed, and there was a considerable struggle involved in that change. In terms of marriage, we can learn from the Bible that patriarchal society used to believe that having multiple wives was okay. That changed too. The notion that is undergoing change at this point in time is that homosexuality is immoral. There is an ever-increasing number of people who no longer believe this. However, those who still believe it are tenaciously struggling to maintain this “moral” position as part of the laws. The so-called sodomy laws have been successfully challenged. Now the marriage laws are being challenged.

One of the more ironic, and even a bit amusing, aspects of the legal struggle is that gay marriage was never specifically outlawed, simply because the folks who made the laws never conceived of the possibility of gay marriage. The general social hostility against homosexuality precluded any such notion. Now that this hostility is being eroded, those who still believe that homosexuality is immoral want to “define” marriage as between one man and one woman.

In the recent controversy around California’s Proposition 8, a spokesman for the Mormons said that the church was not against gays, but only wanted to protect the institution of marriage. Other religious opponents of gay marriage have put forward this argument, and presented various imaginary disasters that will happen to society if we allow gays to marry. This argument is nothing more than a lie, or at best a piece of outrageous self-delusion. Without the belief that homosexuality is immoral, there is no reason to oppose gay marriage. Those who try to claim that they’re not anti-gay, and yet continue to oppose gay marriage, are simply afraid to state their true belief, which is becoming less popular, and thus less likely to succeed. (Of course there’s also the “love the sinner, hate the sin” canard, which only the most fervent state of denial could distinguish from the position of being “anti-gay.”)

In the case of politicians such as Obama who are, I suppose, not anti-gay, their refusal to support gay marriage is just another example of electoral timidity. They stick their fingers in the wind, and if there’s too much cross-current, they take the safe route, even if it means betraying principle. As soon as the zeitgeist shifts decisively, these same politicians will support gay marriage. This is another example of how change has to come from the bottom up.

Why authoritarian fundamentalists are so fixated on homosexuality, when they pass by the everyday immorality of their own death-dealing imperialist country, and even confer a Christ-like blessing on the nuclear bomb, is a subject for another essay, or probably an entire book. Religion as a guardian of the sexual order has become so dominant that it might escape the average person’s awareness that there used to be something more to “faith” than bickering about who gets to have sex with whom. In a world of suffering and calamity, it behooves us to ask if two loving people wanting to get married really hurt anyone, and if someone purporting to carry a gospel of “love” can reasonably dictate whom we should not love, especially when his own hatred and fear is on glorious display for all of us to see. But such is the predicament of religion in modern life. The least worthy representatives of faith seem to have a monopoly on all the megaphones.

Here is a question that I never hear asked. If gay marriage is outlawed, what of all the churches and other religious groups that have allowed it? For instance, I have attended gay weddings that were performed by liberal Methodist ministers. What of their religious freedom? Does it not violate their First Amendment rights to say that their weddings are invalid? It should go without saying that even if gay marriage is legalized, any church or other religious group has the right to refuse to marry someone within their tradition. So it really comes down to certain religionists wanting to dictate their own marriage (i.e. sexual) beliefs to everyone else.

The issue, it seems to me, is not gay marriage, but straight marriage. If the union of two consenting adults is conceived in the light of an ideological agenda that excludes certain people because of their sexuality, what does that say about the institution itself? I would argue that it diminishes it, and even threatens to invalidate it completely. The real immorality is to enjoy a benefit, civil or religious, that is inherently denied to others. It thereby becomes an unjust privilege rather than a blessing, and it loses whatever sacramental character it might have had. Allowing gays to marry, therefore, is necessary in order for marriage itself to be preserved.

~ by cdash on November 24, 2008.

12 Responses to “The Issue of Straight Marriage”

  1. I wish with all my heart that gay marriage is fully supported as equivalent to any marriage. Misery should be an equal opportunity venue.

  2. Hi fairlane;

    I have to agree with your analysis. That’s a big change for a fellow like me who thought quite differently in the past.

    Man and women having children without the blessing of a license, even if they are great parents and a strong loving couple are shorted because it is “common law” there fore not legitimate.

    For the gays, I can see their frustration as well.

    I don’t think you or the gay community would argue that children need some protection and benefits or a stay at home mom who puts her children first. A marriage license should not be the determining factor.

    My son is gay. It is through this experience that my attitudes have changed considerably through the years. I was never a gay basher, but I had always looked at it with different eyes than I do now.

    This issue requires patience. For many heterosexuals gay is unnatural even if it is accepted.

    For homosexuals, heterosexuality is unnatural.

    Realizing that and knowing how life is and was, it won’t change soon.

    The heterosexual community have come a long way. It is not always about religion.

    I think that when this is understood, maybe a different method could be used to achieve.

    Your post is an excellent start toward that.

  3. Dashiel, that is a great point. You are right, marriage itself is diminished if it is exclusionary. Well said.

  4. Picture this. It’s Friday night.Relatives from far away states have gathered for the wedding. Food is cooking. Peops are ready to go, and suddenly the priest jokes, “You did remember to pick up the marriage license, didn’t you?” Er, no. Can we pick it up Monday? The priest says, “If I perform a marriage ceremony on Saturday with no license, I’ll be in jail by Monday. I can only perform the ceremony.” Meaning that the actual marriage could only be granted by the state.

    Fortunately, the state was nice enough to come in early Saturday morning (with her husband and two small children in tow) and issue the license. And the bag of goodies.

    Or maybe that was unfortunate because the state later had to grant a divorce, as well.

  5. Most straight couples, though not all, go to a priest, minister or rabbi to enter into marriage.

    Then, they go to an attorney to get out of marriage.

    Marriage is really a legal contract between a man and a woman.

    A huge component of law is “Divorce and Property.” Some lawyers do nothing but divorce work. It is expensive and messy and is why most states have adopted some form of community property law. Just split everything down the middle and be done with it.

    As a gay man in a 16 year, monogamous relationship with my same gender partner (17 years in January), we have had to jump through hoops and spend some serious coin to legally protect our relationship and assets. But while we can legally marry in both Connecticut and Massachusetts, we still don’t have access to the more than 1,300 Federal rights straight couples who marry will immediately receive. Rights like the conveyance of Social Security inheritance or not being forced to testify against your spouse in a trial.

    I’ve never understood why some straight people (usually Bible thumpers, it seems) are so obsessed with gay men and lesbians? The Mormons teamed up with the Catholics to fund and ultimately pass the homophobic Prop 8 in my homestate of California. Why aren’t these bigoted Christians focused on hunger and poverty and education? Instead, they use their time and energy and riches (courtesy of their tax exemption that I’m paying for) to codify the relationships of gay Americans to third class status.

    They’re hypocrites. I’m weary of these zealots storming through my bedroom with a Bible. Stay the fuck out of my life.

  6. My apologies Dashiel, I thought fairlaine posted it. My comment is still the same 🙂

  7. Great points, Dashiell! The marriage is sanctioned by the state. The wedding took place in the church, so to speak. The rabbi served as an agent of the state and the temple. But had he refused to marry me, a shiksa, to MathMan, a Jew, we still could have had a civil ceremony that would have granted us a marriage.

    Everyone should be entitled to that right.

  8. It’s the realm of fuckery that this is even an issue in 2008. It’s akin to having a debate about the tastiness of ice cream. Murka is so fucking backwards socially.

    Oh, and if you hate ice cream, leave the country, you bloody bastard.

  9. Great post.

  10. I dunno. My straight marriage did not go so well. I don’t think I wanna try a gay one. What I want is a legally recognized drinking buddy (of either sex) so that I can get drunk and be as uncivil as I like.

  11. This is slightly off topic Dash, but I find it deliciously ironic that we use the same word to define marriage and being placed in a mental institution: committed.

  12. Dashiell: I can’t fault any of your arguments and I certainly can’t fault your writing style.

    Using your own logic, for change — as opposed to a Processed Change Food ™ — to happen the people have to want it. Obama has no incentive to be anything other than a smarter George W Bush right now because he’s that’s the path of least resistance and the people aren’t asking for change. The Republicans like it this way. The Democrats are so filled with this absurd White Guilt that they are frozen in place. The only people who oppose Obama’s inaction and complicity are BLACK PEOPLE!

    Nevermind Wingnuts. Other than here, HELL, Torrance’s spot, and Buelahman’s and of the A-List maybe Hullaballoo, will you read anything slightly critical of Obama, not like being a “socialist” or “inexperienced” but on POLICY AND LACK THEREOF?

    The only reason Obama took a chance and advocated against Prop 8 was because Schwarzenegger and the polls were scaring him fierce and he needed a big liberal turnout. It didn’t work. He only won California smallish and he was a double loser on Prop 8.

    Look, let’s be a little honest here. This is not Obama’s issue. Not by a long shot. It’s more than just guessing the political winds. He’s evolved some, but he has admitted it himself. He has problems with “the gay lifestyle and agenda.” I don’t even go by his words. I go by his deeds. Google Donny McClurkin and Rick Warren and then tell me if given his druthers, Obama would extend the same rights to the LGBTQ community that he would to red-heads or stamp-collectors. Please.

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