In a recent referendum, 8 American states recently voted on constitutional changes to “protect” marriage. Only one state did not pass that referendum. The vote in most states was pretty emphatic and overwhelmingly: “yes, protect marriage by making it only between a man and a woman”.
Why? Most gays wonder why other people feel so strongly about our private lives that they feel they should make new laws specifically preventing us from legally legitemising our existing monogamous, long-term relationships.
So, in my mind, it all boils down to the use of the emotive term “marriage”. It’s not just a religious thing either. I have spoken to non-religious people who believe “marriage should be between a man and a wife”. The fair-minded among them always qualify that statement by asserting “but I think they [gays] should have equal rights under the law.”
So, as you can see, the issue is not really a religious one. At its heart, it’s an issue of culture. For most people, the idea of marriage being between a man and a wife is so strong it’s built into their very notion of society. Why should governments want to mess with that? Do gays really want to destroy the fabric of society through their own personal indulgent desire to call themselves “married”? Are gays demanding special dispensation due to their status as a “minority”? No, I don’t think so.
Firstly, purge your mind of the word “marriage”. We’re not talking about “here comes the bride”, “till death do us part” a white dress and a black tux. The word “marriage” is a heavily loaded cultural term that should have been dropped from this debate years ago. Gays do not want marriage. When I was about 12 I asserted to my father I would never get “married”, and I probably never will. I don’t want to follow in my parents’ footsteps or the footsteps of Britney Spears. In my mind, marriage quite often results in divorce and I don’t want a divorce.
What we are really talking about here has been referred to as “civil union”, “de facto relationship” or “common law marriage”. It is a legal thing, not a religious or cultural thing.
When two people of different genders cohabit “in the manner of man and wife” for long enough, the law automatically makes them a “de facto” (in practice) couple. This happens whether they, their parents, the Church, the Pope, the Queen, George Bush or even God Himself likes it or not.
Why? Because the law treats people who have this status of “domestic partnership” differently than people who just hang out as flat-mates.
In most of the US, when two gay people cohabit in exactly the same manner, their relationship is not recognized in this way. I should note that it is in New Zealand and other countries including (most recently) South Africa.
Why should we care? What difference does it make if gay people are “recognized” by the law? Let’s use a long-winded fictitious example:
Adam and Steve are childhood sweethearts, although they’re not allowed to marry, they make a lifelong commitment to each other and live together for 5 years through their late 20’s into their 30’s. They share everything, a bed, their clothes. Adam works in a high paying job as a stock broker. Steve gives up his job as a graphic designer and telecommutes half-time so as to play the role of home-maker.
They have to pay higher tax than a married straight couple, and their insurance doesn’t cover them in the same way, but since they’re both earning rather well, it doesn’t bother them much. Adam is appalled to find out that even though he carefully crafted his will to give everything he has to Steve, his estranged (openly hostile) father will be able to challenge the will and (as far as previous cases are concerned) could quite likely deny Steve any access to any money.
One rainy Saturday night, they’re driving home from the pub. Adam’s been drinking heavily (as usual) and although Steve offers to drive, Adam’s always been the controlling sort and he declines. He ends up being involved in an accident. Steve is critically injured. Adam panics and drives to the hospital without checking on the other car.
Steve is taken to the emergency ward and desperately needs medical attention, but Adam is unable to sign any medical waivers. Luckily Steve’s mother is jut a phone-call away. As Steve is recovering, Adam is denied visitation three times on the grounds that he is not Steve’s “family”.
No one was killed in the accident, but the other car is a write-off and there are expensive medical bills to be paid for the other party. Adam is found by the police and taken to court.
In court, Steve (in a neck brace and crutches) is forced to testify against Adam, telling the court that Adam had been drinking heavily, was intoxicated and was driving recklessly that night. Had they been “married” he would not have been required to. Ever since that court appearance, Adam takes to drinking at home.
After the accident, Adam starts hitting the bottle really hard. One night, Steve tries to tell Adam he’s had enough, Adam flies into a rage and takes a swing at him. Adam sleeps on the couch that night and apologises the next morning.
The abuse recurs. The problem escalates to the point where Steve can’t take it anymore, he needs to get out, get help. One night, with his nose broken and his clothes bloodied, Steve turns up at the local police station.
“My husband beats me.” he says to a bewildered constable. “I.. I’d like to file domestic violence charges.”
“Um, I’m sorry, sir” the constable says with genuine concern “the law doesn’t recognize your situation as ‘domestic’, domestic violence laws don’t apply. You can file charges for assault, though, I guess”
So, Steve files charges and they go to court, a messy battle ensues. The judge rules that Adam should pay Steve the cost of medical bills and places a restraining order on him.
Because their relationship was not recognised under the law, Adam keeps the house, the dogs and most of the money. All their money was pooled but in Adam’s bank account. Steve, not being financially minded, wasn’t really able to prove which of that money was his.
Ok, so it was a bit of an extreme story but these sorts of stories act themselves out all the time. From a purely moral perspective, a partnership recognized by law discourages promiscuity. For that reason alone, it is a good thing. For all the reasons above, it is a vitally necessary thing.
Some churches will bless same-sex unions irrespective of the law. That’s great, they are independent of the law (as it should be). You can still have two white dresses or two black tuxedoes, wedding bells, fruit cake and all that good stuff. I don’t care if you get married in Vegas or at Westminster Abbey.
The two most important things are:
a) Does God recognize us (that, I believe, is always true and no amount of jumping up and down will change that)
b) Does the law recognize us (this is what we’re fighting for)
And finally. Yes, the image in this post is a passionfruit flower 🙂