I’ve been married for many years, although not particularly enthusiastic about it—until now. Don’t misunderstand. Sharon and I have had a loving, committed relationship for decades. But recent consciousness-raising arguments over same-sex marriage changed my overall opinion about marriage. You might even say that support for gay marriage became my personal DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act).
In 1999, after living happily together for 10 years, Sharon thought we should get married. I responded with a cliche, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I followed with counter-religious arguments like marriage is a religious tradition and we’re atheists, or the purpose of marriage is to have children and we’re too old. I quipped that religious conservatives were always ranting about the evils of “living in sin,” so I needed to promote the joys of sin. I also wanted to boycott heterosexual marriage until gays had the right to marry.
Sharon and I married on January 1, 2000 because she wanted us to get married more than I didn’t, and I loved her and wished to please her. We had a nice secular ceremony at midnight in our home, with friends sharing our delicious Ben & Jerry ice cream wedding cake. My first-year anniversary present to Sharon was to tell her, “You know, being married isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
So why did same-sex marriage change me from marriage detractor to marriage supporter? I had naively assumed that gays wanted the right to marry for the same reason I became a South Carolina gubernatorial candidate without a prayer in 1990. I wanted to challenge our discriminatory state constitution that prohibited atheists from holding public office, and I had no wild expectations of actually being elected and serving. But I soon learned that same-sex couples weren’t simply advocating for marriage equality. Most couples (myself excluded) view marriage as a stronger and more loving commitment than just cohabiting. And a bonus for gays is becoming part of a new mainstream culture that has a broader definition of traditional marriage.
While listening to arguments for same-sex marriage, I discovered there are about 400 state benefits and over 1000 federal benefits to marriage. I don’t see why married couples should have so many economic and legal rights unavailable to equally committed unmarried couples, but I take advantage of them, just as I take advantage of breaks in a tax system that I think should be more progressive.
Though arguments against same-sex marriage come almost exclusively from religious conservatives, government positions on marriage must be secular, not religious. I’m troubled by religions that discriminate against women, against gays and lesbians, and against all who don’t subscribe to a narrow religious doctrine. But as an advocate for religious freedom, I acknowledge their right to do so if it doesn’t affect those outside the religion. Sharon could not have married me or anyone else in a Catholic church, even if she were still Catholic as she was raised, because she is still married to her first husband in the eyes of a church that does not recognize their civil divorce.
Recently and inevitably, there was another significant victory for same-sex couples, the first same-sex divorce. Who can say that gays are outside the mainstream of traditional marriage, where about half of marriages end in divorce? Won’t it be interesting to see if the divorce rate for same-sex marriages will be lower than that for opposite-sex marriages?
Here’s a final insight I gained while thinking about same-sex marriage. My parents had a happy marriage, but the type in which I would have been miserable. My father went to work, as men were supposed to do; my mother took care of the home, as women were supposed to do. They both seemed comfortable with their stereotypical roles, though I can’t be sure because I never heard them discuss it. Perhaps these marital interactions during my formative years led to my having “post-traumatic parental marriage syndrome.” (Don’t Google it, because I just made it up.) Since I can’t imagine what gender roles would look like in a marriage between two men or two women, I’m finally able to free myself from PTPMS and appreciate fully my own wonderful marriage.
Image courtesy of Fibonacci Blue.