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Weddings bells are ringing! The bride may kiss the bride, the groom may kiss the groom, and everybody can get hitched! I’d like to propose a toast to all the happy couples and to the wise and powerful California Supreme Court which just ruled that same-sex partners have a constitutional right to get married.
If you homophobes don’t like it, you’re welcome to skip the ceremony. Don’t bother coming to the reception either. You don’t even need to send a gift! Your particular church, temple or mosque is also welcome to bar gay weddings from its altar. But you can’t stop Mendelssohn’s March from playing for Adam and Steve, as well as Cindy and Eve, at least not now, in the Great State of California.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand how you feel: Angry, violated, scared your kids will “turn gay,” and wondering why in tarnation these crazy queers can’t be satisfied with just being “domestic partners.” Like you, I grew up learning a “queer” was a criminal, a pervert or, a little of 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 current Homophobe-in-Chief has said, 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. I was so clueless; I even didn’t know that my favorite older cousin Brandon and his buddy Jake weren’t “just” roommates. What I didn’t know didn’t hurt me…at first. By the time, I learned the truth about Brandon and Jake, I was in my teens, and considered their relationship “cool.” But I still couldn’t fathom them being married like my parents were married, or like I expected to get married someday. Nor could I imagine why they’d want to be.
Years later, Jake contracted Lou Gehrig’s disease. Soon, he could barely move, and was only capable of communicating with Brandon through eye movements. Jake’s caretakers understood the level of intimacy between Brandon and Jake. But in emergencies, paramedics often refused Brandon the right to see Jake. Only “immediate family” allowed. That’s parents, children, siblings and spouses. No friends. No lovers. No “domestic partners.” Towards the end of Jake’s life, when a nurse wouldn’t let Brandon see him because their 22-year-old relationship lacked a marriage certificate, I realized why everyone should have the right to get married.
Of course, there are happier, “gayer” reasons not to prohibit same-sex marriage, like the radiant newlyweds of San Francisco’s 2004 “Winter of Love.” That historic moment, when intrepid Mayor Gavin Newsom 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. You might not like hiding your sexuality. It might make you ill and cause all kinds of problems in your life, but you can hide it. Yet there are some parallels between same-sex and interracial marriage. When slavery was “legal,” slaves weren’t allowed to marry, or were forced into mock marriages by their owners.
After emancipation, most states outlawed interracial marriage (in fact, the California Supreme Court was the first state high court to strike down a law banning interracial marriage in 1948’s Perez v. Sharp decision, while the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t get around to it until almost 20 years later). Around that time, racists called for Constitutional Amendments prohibiting black-white marriage with the same fear-mongering and sanctimony that the anti-same-sex-marriage set utilizes today.
Both racists and homophobes invoke the “sanctity” of marriage, and this is what rightwing activists are now trumpeting as they organize to get an initiative on the November ballot to amend the state constitution so that it bans gay marriage, overriding the court’s decision. But what constitutes marital “sanctity” anyway? “Gays can’t bear children together,” same-sex detractors intone. “Marriage is a framework for bearing children. God commanded, ‘Be fruitful and multiply!’”
Of course, that was Genesis, when the desert was vast, and the population very small. By Ecclesiastes, God wasn’t ordering rampant reproduction anymore. By now, the Earth is extremely overpopulated. Couples who marry not to reproduce, but to stabilize their lives and contribute to their communities, are to be applauded, not ostracized.
You wouldn’t know it from all the praying and God-blessing American politicians are doing these days, but the United States is supposed to separate Church and State. Individual churches and temples don’t have to perform gay marriages. But the State must not discriminate.
In pushing for an anti same-sex marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, President Bush called marriage civilization’s “most fundamental institution.” But what is fundamental? 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, like Cleopatra’s. In Victorian times, 13-year-old brides typically married 35-year-old grooms.
So, why not same-sex marriage? Why just marry the so-called opposite sex? The sexes aren’t really “opposite” anyway. Men are not from Mars, and women are not from Venus. We’re all from Planet Earth. We all need sex, we all need love, and we all need the right to get married. Even hermaphrodites do.
This is just what the Court affirmed, that regardless of the shape of our genitalia, marriage is a fundamental constitutional right. “The right to marry,” Chief Justice Ronald George wrote for the majority, “represents the right of an individual to establish a legally recognized family with a person of one’s choice and, as such, is of fundamental significance both to society and to the individual.”
So why not just let gays have civil unions or domestic partnerships? Because, as anti-segregationists have long known, and as Brandon and Jake learned the hard way, “separate but equal” is never really equal.
George prudently added that the decision “does not affect the constitutional validity of the existing prohibitions against polygamy and the marriage of close relatives.” Sorry, but no getting hitched to your beloved horse or poodle either.
Will gay weddings threaten straight ones? Well, yes, they just might, and in many cases, that’s a good thing. Perhaps we’ll have fewer opposite-sex marriages wherein one spouse is living a lie. A caller on my show named 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. Marriage didn’t stop him from having sex with men, though his situation made casual sex easier than a committed relationship. If Mark had had the same-sex marriage option, this unhappy hetero union might have been avoided.
As for me, I eventually married (a man), and I’m proud to say we just celebrated our 16th anniversary of lawfully wedded bliss, bonobo love and wild passion this past month. In our case, marriage seems to strengthen our love. But as a sex therapist, I know all too well that 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.” There’s some truth to that, but everybody should have the right to enjoy it, or endure it, or just do it, regardless of whether one or both of you has a penis or vagina. Of course, with all the gay couples about to legally tie the knot now, we can expect plenty of gay divorces. And that, too, should be their right.
P.S. Churches, temples and mosques aren’t required to marry gay couples under this decision, and probably most won’t, at least at first. To pick up the slack, I would like to offer my services (for a modest fee) as an ordained Universal Life Church minister to marry adventuresome couples of any gender combination here at the world-famous Speakeasy Cathedral.
Dr. SUSAN BLOCK is a sex educator, cable TV personality, author of The 10 Commandments of Pleasure and hostess of Dr. Suzy’s Speakeasy. Commit Bloggamy with her at http://www.drsusanblock.com/blog/ and join her new progressive online community at http://www.bonoboway.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
© May 17, 2008.