Like many Americans, I grew up learning a “queer” was a criminal, a pervert or, probably, both. Not that I was taught this directly. I just picked it up from the embarrassment of my elders, the cruelty of my peers and the writing on the restroom walls.
I also learned, like the President, that marriage was a “union between a man and a woman.” Like Adam and Eve. There was no Adam and Steve. I didn’t see this as a problem. After all, I liked boys. I was so clueless, I didn’t know my favorite cousin Brandon and his buddy Jake weren’t just “roommates.” What I didn’t know didn’t hurt me…at first.
In high school, I learned the truth about Brandon and Jake. By then, I could relate to all kinds of love, and considered their relationship “cool.” But I couldn’t fathom them being married like my parents were married, or like I expected to get married. Nor could I imagine why they’d want to be.
Years later, Jake contracted Lou Gehrig’s disease. Soon, he could barely move, only capable of communicating with Brandon. Jake’s caretakers understood. But in emergencies, paramedics refused Brandon the right to see Jake. Only “immediate family” allowed. That’s parents, children, siblings and spouses. No friends. No lovers. No roommates-for-life. When a nurse wouldn’t let Brandon see Jake because their 22-year-old relationship lacked a marriage certificate, I realized why everyone needs the right to marry.
Of course, there are happier, “gayer” reasons not to prohibit same-sex marriage, like the radiant newlyweds of San Francisco’s “Winter of Love.” That historic moment, when a courageous mayor gave the right to marry to people who love people of the same sex, ignited acts of romantic civil disobedience reminiscent of Rosa Parks and the Greensboro sit-ins. The comparison isn’t perfect. You can’t hide your skin color, while you can closet your sexual orientation. Yet there are parallels. Slaves couldn’t marry. After emancipation, most states outlawed interracial marriage. Racists called for Constitutional Amendments prohibiting black-white marriage with the same sanctimony the anti-same-sex-marriage set utilizes today.
Both invoke the “sanctity” of marriage. “Gays can’t bear children together,” same-sex detractors intone. “God commanded, ‘Be fruitful and multiply!'” But that was Genesis, when the desert was vast, and the population small. By Ecclesiastes, God wasn’t ordering rampant reproduction anymore. By now, the Earth is overpopulated. Couples who marry not to reproduce, but to stabilize their lives and contribute to their communities, should be applauded, not ostracized.
What constitutes marital sanctity anyway? Anti-same-sex marriage fundamentalists are free to believe what they like about it. What they shouldn’t be free to do is force those beliefs on everyone. America separates Church and State. Individual churches needn’t perform same-sex marriages. Individual states needn’t recognize them. But our federal government must not discriminate. Our Constitution, always amended to extend human rights, shouldn’t take them away. Remember, America’s one attempt at Constitutional Prohibition (anti-alcohol) failed miserably.
The President calls marriage civilization’s “most fundamental institution.” But notions of the proper spouse keep changing. In times past, marriage meant holy union between a man and his chattel. Or one husband and multiple wives. Brothers wed sisters in ancient royal families. In Victorian times, 13-year-old brides married 45-year-old grooms.
So why not same-sex marriage? The sexes aren’t really “opposite.” Men aren’t from Mars. Women aren’t from Venus. We’re all from Earth. We all need sex. We all need love. We all need the right to marry.
Even hermaphrodites do.
Why not just let gays have civil unions? Because, as anti-segregationists have long known, “separate but equal” is never really equal.
Do gay weddings threaten straight ones? Perhaps we’ll have fewer opposite-sex marriages wherein one spouse is living a lie. My friend Nikki was devastated to learn her husband Mark was having unsafe sex with men. Mark always preferred men, but he wanted to be “normal,” so he’d married Nikki. If Mark had the same-sex marriage option, this unhappy hetero union might have been avoided.
As for me, I eventually married (a man). Celebrating our 12th anniversary, I think marriage strengthens our love, though who knows? Marriage isn’t for everybody. For many, it’s a passion-killer, or torture worse than any homophobe could conjure as the hellfire awaiting the queer. Some left-leaning critics deplore same-sex marriage as “assimilation, not liberation.” Maybe so, but everybody should have the right to enjoy, or endure it.
With all the same-sex couples getting hitched nowadays, we can expect plenty of same-sex divorces. That, too, should be their right.
Dr. SUSAN BLOCK is a sex educator, cultural commentator, host of The Dr. SUSAN BLOCK Show and author of The 10 Commandments of Pleasure. Visit her website at http://www.drsusanblock.com
Send all hate mail, love letters, commentary, questions and confessions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org