"I like to think that I love my family almost as much as opponents of gay marriage love their families..."
A middle-aged dad (me) opines on gay marriage in this morning's newspaper column.
I suppose my newspaper audience is more conservative than my blog audience, but on Friday the wife of a local fundamentalist minister surprised me by saying she agreed with me on this subject...as I wrote, the culture is ahead of the government on this one.
by Edward Cone
News & Record
I asked my wife if she saw gay marriage as a threat to our own wedded bliss. That's one of the things you hear from opponents of gay marriage, that it's a threat to the plain vanilla variety. But Lisa seemed confident that our union, which has endured 14 years and two children, would survive.
That was a relief. As long as gay marriage isn't mandatory, we should be OK.
Then I read that legalizing gay marriage is actually supposed to be a threat to the institution of marriage. I like that phrase, the institution of marriage. It fits whether you see marriage as something you aspire to, like an institution of higher learning, or something you are confined to, like a correctional institution.
Gay couples who wish to marry are in the aspirational camp, although some might take the other view once their wishes are granted. Their desire to be joined forever by taking vows recognized by society is a validation of the concept, not an attack on it. That seems to me to be a good thing for marriage, which is made stronger by opening it up to people who want in.
And it's not like heterosexuals are doing such a great job as curators of the institution. Considering the failure rate for American marriages and the number of births outside of them, the old structure is looking a little shabby. Maybe a little Queer Eye for the Straight Tie would help spruce things up.
But what about the kids? That's another thing I hear, that gay marriage is a threat to the family. I like to think that I love my family almost as much as opponents of gay marriage love their families, so I'm pretty protective of my children. They already live in a world where gay couples are a reality. Old-fashioned dad that I am, I'd like my kids to know that the same rules apply to everyone, and that includes my preference for commitment over mere cohabitation.
Some people, of course, read the Bible in a way that leads them to disapprove of homosexual practices. That's their right in this great country of ours. But this is a question of law, not religion. People who don't approve of gay marriages shouldn't have them. If everything that somebody, somewhere objected to on religious grounds was illegal, ham sandwiches would be sold on the black market and the NFL couldn't play on Sundays.
Freedom of religion means that the government cannot require churches to perform gay weddings. The other side of that coin is that churches shouldn't be able to prevent government from granting to consenting adults the practical benefits of marriage, such as hospital visitation rights and joint assets.
There is an argument that these practicalities are enough, that the state can recognize civil unions, but that marriage is the province of religion. Holy matrimony is held separate from the contractual relationship. I really don't care what people choose to call these legally sanctioned, committed relationships, although the state should call its version the same thing for straights and gays, but to my mind calling them marriages is an affirmation of their value to the people involved and to society at large.
As often happens, the culture isn't waiting for the government to catch up to it, and some religious groups are way ahead of civil society on gay marriage. One of the nicest weddings I've ever attended took place a few years ago at a church in Chapel Hill. It brought together two people who pledged their love to each other and who continue to live that pledge as well as any straight couple I know, and better than many.
The state didn't recognize what we saw that day as a marriage, but everyone in the church did. The recent decision by a Massachusetts court, affirming the rights of gay Americans to share their lives with each other, shows that the states are starting to see things more clearly. That's a good thing for the country and for marriage.
© News & Record 2003