Why I Support Gay Marriage (*with a footnote)
Posted by Thomas J. Hubschman
Actually, I don’t. I don’t “support” straight marriage either. It seems to me legal civil union should be all the government ought to be in the business of offering. Anything more than that — exchange of vows and wedding rings and stale cake — all that should be left to religion. Or to nothing at all.
But it would be naif for me to expect the feds or the states to rescind their recognition of straight marriage in favor of a civil agreement between consenting adults. People do need the force of law to back up their claims to parental rights, real estate and the pension of someone whose house they might have spent the last forty years cleaning, not to mention the feeding and snotty-nose wiping of said-spouse’s offspring. All of which could be accomplished by a civil union for either gays or straights, but marriage is enshrined, as they say, in the law.
I confess to reacting with irritation to arguments by gay people that they deserve the right to have their love or other non-taxable sentiments formally recognized the same as that of straight people — maybe I expected more of them after all they have suffered at the hands of straight bigotry — though I do understand that being gay does not exempt you from being a patsy for romantic fantasies or preclude your right to indulge them. I react with similar irritation to straight people’s marital fantasies, the flimflam of fancy dress and bank-account-breaking receptions with Bach or Beatles music and drunken uncles. To me it’s all a gross money-making social confection imitating the more cynical arrangements the rich have historically perpetrated in order to acquire each other’s land and gold (a couple recently turned up at a church near me in a white Cinderella coach drawn by two white horses). Not to mention that, gay or straight, there’s even odds the marriage is going to end up in a divorce court (someone should do a study of the longevity of legal versus so-called common-law marriages; my money — though not a lot of it — is on the latter).
But, as I say, I’ve seen the light on the gay marriage issue, even though I find all this jawing about the right to love whomever we will is romantic nonsense as far as the issue of legality is concerned and just confuses the issue. The I-do’s and I-will’s unto death forever forsaking all others is so much non-nutritive fluff laid on by a judge or justice of the peace to make the ceremony sound and feel like a house-of-worship wedding. All that matters is the legal contract (and, of course, what the principals themselves understand they are committing themselves to quite apart from the state’s involvement). And contracts between legal persons (i.e. not slaves or other non-persons) in our so-called civilization really is sacred, if only in a bourgeois way. It’s one of the pillars of our socio-economic setup. Ergo, if gay people are persons in the legal sense, and they certainly are in this country at least, they have every right to enter into a contract of their own choosing which must be recognized by the state. You can’t exclude someone from making a contract if they have the legal standing to do so. Thus gay people (persons) have the irrefutable right to enter into the contract we quaintly refer to as marriage.
Of course, if your belief that persons of the same sex should be allowed to marry is based on moral argument, there is no point discussing it. Those in favor see the issue as self-evident, and those who don’t see it the same way. You can only win a moral argument by pitching it to the choir, a la Thomas Jefferson. There are no “self-evident truths”…except for those for whom there are.
One footnote of interest (don’t read this if you’re one of those who cry at weddings or dream of white dresses and happy-ever-afters). I recently read Frederick Douglass’s account of his years in slavery (it’s available for free at www.gutenberg.org and should be read by every American and would-be American; it’s much more relevant to present-day America than most of the distractions that pass as newsworthy). In it he reproduces the language of the legal contract by which slaveowners claimed the right to possession of their human chattel. One of the phrases in that contract guarantees the right “to have and to hold” said human chattel. Could it be that’s what the phrase really means, or used to mean, in the marriage ceremony as well? It would be interesting to find out if both men and women pronounced those words before modern times, before, say, 1800. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was only men who did so (viz. the bride’s vow to “love, honor and obey”) and by so doing were guaranteed the legal right to do more or less as they would with their newly acquired human property.
* The historian Shlomo Sand writes: “Arising as it [the modern state] did from the heart of Christian civilization, it exhibited certain distinctive features from the start. Just as the church organized the faith during the medieval era in Europe, the modern state regiments it in the modern era. This state sees itself as performing an eternal mission; it demands to be worshiped, has substituted strict civil registration for the religious sacraments of baptism and marriage, and regards those who question their national identity as traitors and heretics.”