In the Name of Love – Marriage equality and the right to not be alone
“I’ve wanted to be in love. Everyone deserves that.” – Adam Lambert
During a MySpace live webchat from his UK promotional tour in April of 2010, Adam Lambert was asked by a fan if there was anything he was afraid of. With soul-bearing honesty, Adam replied: “I have a fear of being alone … I want to fall in love, and grow old with somebody and I just sometimes get scared that it’s not going to happen.”
This is a fear shared by most of us, but coming from the lips of a young gay man, it was heart-stoppingly poignant. If you are heterosexual and have been lucky enough to find a compatible mate, you can cushion the fear of old-age loneliness with the hope of expiring in the embrace of a loving family – a spouse, children and grandchildren who attend to you in your final days, to whom you entrust your last wishes, who will hold your hand tight as you fade away and promise to keep your memory alive. What’s more, the material expressions of these attachments are recognized by the law, from how your worldly goods are inherited to who can act on your behalf when you cannot. But in many states in the U.S., the right to create a family – to form a legally protected bond with another adult, and to extend those protections to your children – is denied to you if you are gay.
Today marks the seventh anniversary of the date when gay and lesbian couples could legally marry in the state of Massachusetts. The state’s supreme court had ruled it unconstitutional to withhold the right of civil marriage from same-sex couples. That monumental decision forced Americans to wrestle with a question that most had never imagined could even be raised: whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Millions of Americans rejoiced over this long overdue civil rights victory. But majorities in many states reacted as though their very existence was in danger and enacted laws banning same-sex marriage.
The ensuing years have exposed a variety of arguments against same-sex marriage, none of which has stood up under examination:
- Weakens traditional marriage. If there is some insidious toxin that same-sex marriages exude to cause straight marrieds to march zombie-like to divorce court, please tell us. Nobel prizes await.
- Infringes on religious freedom. Nonsense, we are talking about civil marriage. No churches will be harmed during the filming of same-sex weddings.
- It’s about the children. Yes, and the lack of marriage protections harms the children of same-sex couples.
- LGBT people already have the right to marry…someone of the opposite sex. Hard to argue against people who think it’s acceptable to live a life of deception and to condemn one’s spouse to a loveless union.
- Kindergarteners will be forced to learn the mechanics of gay sex. Huh? If the depiction of Ma and Pa in the Little House Books doesn’t require schools to whip out a sex manual, why would the concept of age-appropriate instruction fly out the window when it comes to showing families with two dads?
Still, I’m sure these arguments have little impact, for the simple reason that the case against same-sex marriage is not about reason. It’s about how people feel viscerally, at the core of their being, about what they perceive as disgusting and “unnatural”. I grant that many will never overcome an aversion to homosexual acts. My advice: stop thinking about it, just as you probably don’t want to mentally picture your parents or children having sex. Just. Don’t.
I would like to propose that anti- and pro- sides focus instead on what they can support together. Can we all agree that marriage is good for society? Not because it enshrines sexual passion, but because it affords legal recognition and protection to families. And by family, I refer to a social unit of greater than one. Society confers certain rights and responsibilities to the family because people – and societies – fare better when they are bound to others. Families take responsibility for their members: spouses, children (biological and adopted), siblings, parents.
The family unit is so fundamental to society that our laws give the intimate communication between married people the same rights as the conversations an individual carries on inside his or her mind. The Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination extends to spouses, who cannot be compelled to testify against each other under most circumstances. In other words, our laws protect the individual’s right to not be utterly alone in the universe.
So is there anything about the right to not be alone that necessarily limits it to heterosexual pairs? At one time, people felt that marriage should be restricted to couples of the same religion, or same ethnicity, or same race. Over time, Americans came to recognize that none of these constraints was relevant to what a marriage is fundamentally about. If you consider a marriage as the formation of a FAMILY, does the gender of two consenting adults who wish to take care of each other really matter?
It seems to me that people from across the political landscape can unite around this idea, that marriage is central to how individuals in our society take responsibility for others. We should be encouraging it, not summarily denying it to an estimated ten percent of people. If there is a threat to the institution of marriage, it’s not coming from my gay friends wanting to get married. The threat comes from those who cavalierly place narcissistic self-gratification above the interests of family. When I look around me today, it is the same-sex couples who are fighting to have the law protect their families who are the true champions of marriage.
Do you have a story about same-sex marriage and what it means to you and your loved ones? Please share it with us!