Tag Archives: gay marriage

The Social Value of Gay Marriage

The standard pseudo-religious argument against same-sex marriage is that “conventional” marriage between a man and a woman offers value to society that same sex marriage does not. Quite the most impressive counter to that argument, written by a straight woman, is “Why Gay Marriage is Good For Everyone” which I found at “Casaubon’s Book “on Science Blogs.

In Wisconsin last week, a court ruled that a lesbian mother who had been a stay-at-home mom to raise two adopted children with her partner, had no status as parent because only the other mother could be recognised in law as an adoptive parent. (“In Wisconsin, Not All Parents Are Equal“). It is to find ways around complicated legal difficulties such as these that so many queer families are forced into complex, sometimes imaginative, legal solutions of their own.

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Introducing her piece, Casaubon writes about two Washington men who fell in love during WWII, and finally wed after a “62 -year engagement”. (“Wow, What A Long Engagement That Was“) But this is not just a cosy, feel-good romantic tale – although it is that, too. Along the way, as these two men aged after decades sharing their lives, they realized that in the absence of  the legal protections offered by marriage, they would need a plan of their own – so they settled on adoption!

When Henry was 69, he legally adopted Bob, who was 70. It gave them legal protections, offered an advantageous inheritance tax rate and made the pair into a family.


She also tells of another legal device used by her own mother. Casaubon and her younger sister were themselves raised by two Moms after her biological parents divorced. Her (biological) Mom realised that if anything should happen to her, her partner would have no standing in law to continue in a parental relationship over the children. To get around this, she too used a legal ploy.

My youngest sister, Vicky, is 7 years younger than I am, and because my parents divorced when she was an infant, she remembers no time in her life when Sue, my step-mother didn’t stand in a parental relationship to her. Within a day or two of my turning 18, my mother sat me down to tell me that she was changing legal documents to leave her share of Vicky’s guardianship to me if my mother died.

Realistically, this is bizarre: the law was able to accept a girl of just eighteen as Vicky’s legal guardian, but not the mature woman who had already offered care and co-parenting for the child’s whole life to that point.
These examples illustrate what Casaubon describes as the very real social value that the arrival of same-sex marriage has brought:  recognition that marriage is  not only about romantic love, mushy feelings and living happily ever after. (If it is only about the first two, with no consideration of the mundane practical matters, the chances are there will be no happy ever after.) Gay or lesbian couples, she notes, really do not need marriage only for the symbolism or social approval it supposedly brings, but also, very consciously, for the practical and legal protections it offers. With or without marriage, same sex couples are forced to think hard about the financial and legal foundations of their relationships, in a way that opposite sex couples should do, and used to do, but no longer do. She quotes John Boswell on the changes in “traditional” marriage:
In premodern Europe, marriage usually began as a property arrangement, was in its middle mostly about raising children, and ended about love. Few couples in fact married ‘for love,’ but many grew to love each other in time as they jointly managed their household, reared their offspring, and shared life’s experiences. Nearly all surviving epitaphs to spouses evince profound affection. By contrast, in most of the modern West, marriage begins about love, in its middle is still mostly about raising children (if there are children), and ends – often – about property, by which point love is absent or a distant memory. (Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe xxi-xxii)
Far too often, the modern idea of  “traditional” has placed so much emphasis on the romantic fantasy, the movie or fictional version of what it is, and the “perfect wedding”, that there is insufficient emphasis on building secure foundations for the marriage – and with it has come high rates of marital breakdown and divorce. This leads her to a discussion of the record of marital success and failure in her own family. Her own parents, and their parents before them, had seen their “traditional” marriages end in divorce. However, her mother’s lesbian relationship has endured 31 years, and provided a strong example for the children:

There are two generations of divorce in our family to model on – two generations of failed marriages and steps and sundered relationships. And yet my sisters and I are all stably and happily married after some early romantic errors. Eric and I have been married for almost 12 years, my sisters for six and five years respectively, and they look good to last. The single best and most lasting partnership in our immediate family is my mother and step-mother’s, 31 years and counting. It is on this all three of us base our (heterosexual) partnerships, and the model is sturdy and set to last a lifetime (technically Eric and I have the deal that after 75 years of marriage, we can discuss dating other people – he’ll be 103 and I’ll be 101 and we figured by then we might need a change ;-)). In our case, at least, these three traditional, heterosexual, nuclear family models rest firmly on a foundation created by gay marriage. It is a sturdy place to rest.

This is the irony of “traditional” marriage in her family: the theory that opposite-sex marriage alone can provide a suitable context for raising children. Instead, she and her sisters were raised by two moms in a stable, sound relationship – and are now modelling sound relationships for their own offspring. Sound and healthy “traditional” families have been successfully nurtured
by an untraditional one. Children are not necessarily better off, or better prepared for their own marriages, when raised by opposite sex parents, or by same sex parents: the test is that they are raised by parents who have understood and successfully negotiated the challenges of  living lives in committed partnership. Some of these will be opposite sex couples in conventional marriage (as my own parents were), some will be same sex couples in unrecognised, but equally committed partnerships – as Casaubon’s were before the law changed.
It is for this reason, she says, that the “happiest day of her life” was not her own wedding, good hough that was, but the day when the law changed in Massachusetts, and her two Moms were finally able to marry.

It was the first legal day of weddings in the state of Massachusetts, and the day before, as the news was filled of stories of weddings, my phone rang off the hook. Friends, neighbors, exes – everyone who knew me or had known me wanted to know one thing “were they going to do it?” Everyone I knew was delighted in absentia that my mothers would get to marry. Even people I knew who were ambivalent about gay marriage, or even personally opposed to it in general called me to congratulate me and ask me to extend my congratulations to them.

And so, she says, the day that gay marriage becomes legal across the US will likewise be a day of celebration for all.
In drawing attention to the practical arrangements that should lie behind marriage, she is not in any way decrying the religious or sacramental elements. Instead, she points out quite correctly that   the sacramental value derives in part precisely from the value that religion places on the material protection that marriage gives to wives and children.  Marriage is by no means only about these material protections, but it is equally not only about warm feelings, romance, and perfect June weddings. The great social value of gay marriage, she says, is that it reminds us all to think again about a proper balance of motivations in preparation for marriage:

Here, I think, the salutary example of gay marriage may actually be helpful – by forcing the conversation to focus on the rights and legal protections of marriage, on the ways that marriage is fundamentally an economic and family institution – not to the exclusion of love, as we sometimes postulate it, but as part of love – as the expression in mutual support and dependence of the material realities of what love actually is when lived – they begin to present marriage as an attainable and achievable accomplishment. If love is not just a feeling, but a state in which you preserve and protect one another, merging strengths and assets for the benefit of partners and any children, and for the support of one another and extended family, this is something that might be achievable, rather than a diffuse idea of unending bliss and constant happiness.

Read the full post. It is much longer, and and far more thoughtful, than I could possible do justice to here – but definitely worth reading and thinking about – and then re-reading.

LGBT community: The Real Defenders of Traditional Marriage.

I have all along been puzzled by the US MSM acceptance of Maggie Gallagher’s con trick, that her organisation is NOM, the “National OrganiZation for Marriage”. IT quite clearly isn’t – their aim is to restrict marriage. In what way is that supporting marriage? They should rename as “NAM “, National organization Against Marriage. Our side are the ones who are showing real support for marriage, support that demands the opportunity be extended to all. We are the ones who should be saying “Vote yes – yes for marriage”.
Finally, others are beginning to say the obvious – that “traditional” as commonly understood is a load of hokum. Earlier this week I pointed out an Episcopalian bishop had reminded NJ senators that “traditional” marriage was an agreement between two men (the groom and the bride’s father). NOw, this piece from Huff post extends the idea. (Interestingly, this is the second article I have seen that uses the Tiger Woods story to show how bankrupt is the ideal of (straight) traditional marriage. the previous piece used the reported financial negotiations over the couple’ current problems to argue that conventional marriage is just a commercial contract, to which any couple should have access.) Expanding on the idea that monogamous marriage is an anomaly, Jay Michaelson concludes by suggesting that it is the “gay marriage crowd” who most clearly demonstrate enthusiasm for traditional marriage:

Ironically, and of course totally unrecognized by defenders of “traditional marriage,” it’s the gay-marriage crowd that is the staunchest proponent of traditional norms. They’re the ones saying that monogamous marriage is so great, let’s extend it to everyone. The real opponents of marriage are the folks who question whether it’s such a good idea in the first place. 


Whatever we think about such normative questions, the facts of the matter are beyond dispute: monogamous marriage as an ideal that’s actually meant to be upheld is a very recent, and not very successful, innovation. Personally, I recognize that as an deal, it plays an important role in creating stable families, stable communities, and stable societies. I am not forgiving the sin of infidelity. But I do wonder if it’s more a peccadillo than some kind of ethical felony.

Read the full article at Monogamous Marriage is an Anomaly, (Huffpost)


Same-Sex, Opposite-Sex, or "Apposite" Sex? : Churches Grappling With Inclusion, Equality

While the Catholic Church has been consumed with issues around clerical abuse, other churches have been getting on with moving into the real world.   There have been steps toward full inclusion in a number of Protestant denominations, in the US and elsewhere, and pressure for further progress continues to grow. Several reports this past week have illustrated this.

“Making it legal: the Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt Revd Gene Robinson (right) during the civil union with his partner, Mark Andrew, in June 2008 AP”

In the US, the Episcopal church has led the way among the major denominations, with two openly gay or lesbian bishops now confirmed. It has now released a report, Same-Sex Relation­ships in the Life of the Church, by a team of eight leading theologians which was commissioned by the House of Bishops, to consider a range of views on same -sex relationships in the Church. To me, the important feature here is not the conclusions, which diverge sharply, bu the simple fact that the report exists and demonstrates that differences of opinion and interpretation, of Scripture and theology, are possible and valid. The panel was deliberately drawn to reflect a range of views, including those of gay and lesbian people in committed relationships.
I found this passage from the Church Times fascinating, arguing that the issue is not just of “same -sex” or “opposite-sex” relationships, but on of “apposite-sex ” (i.e appropriate) relationships – and that for all of us,, such apposite relationships are a way “to sanctification”. This makes the question of “gay marriage” in church not just a matter of social justice, bu a matter of opening up a sacramental path to spiritual growth for all:
“Marriage cultivates concern for one another; it offers lifelong hos­pitality; it enacts love; and it exposes our faults in order to heal them. It is the marital virtues that the Church needs, not only with respect to the Bridegroom [Christ] but just now, with respect to one another.” The liberal group defined orienta­tion in terms not of gender, but of morality: “A sexually oriented person is someone who develops and is morally improved through a relationship with someone of the apposite sex, typically but not necessarily the opposite sex. Those called to same-sex relationships are those that need them for their own sanctification . . . because neither opposite-sex relationships nor celi­bacy could get deeply enough into their hearts to promote lifelong com­mitment and growth.” It said that same-sex couples should not be denied the moral worth of each putting their body “on the line” for the other “until death us do part”; that was an accountability “far beyond what counselled celibacy can provide”. Nor should they be denied the “delight” they had in each other; for that was necessary for action: Eros did not turn into charity through self-control, but through self aban­donment, and the self-dispossession that led to self-donation. “It is the daily version of finding one’s life by losing it.”
Meanwhile, a rash of other news reports have focussed not on the formal church response to the demands of theology and scripture, but on highly personal responses by individual clergy, struggling to negotiate a path in conscience between sometimes conflicting demands of Church and state in dealing with requests for marriage within their own congregations. I will report on these separately, in a later post.