I’m for anything that terrifies Democrats, outrages Republicans, upsets the apple cart. But exultation about the gay marriages cemented in San Francisco, counties in Oregon and New Mexico, and some cities in New York is misplaced
Why rejoice when state and church extend their grip, which is what marriage is all about? Assimilation is not liberation, and the invocation of “equality” as the great attainment of these gay marriages should be challenged. Peter Tatchell, the British gay leader, put it well a couple of years ago: “Equality is a good start, but it is not sufficient. Equality for queers inevitably means equal rights on straight terms, since they are the ones who dominate and determine the existing legal framework. We conform–albeit equally–with their screwed-up system. That is not liberation. It is capitulation.”
So the good news, as that excellent paper, UltraViolet (newsletter of LAGAI, Lesbian and Gay Insurrection), recently put it, is not that 400 gay couples are now legally married in San Francisco but that 69,201 in the city (UltraViolet‘s number) are still living in sin.
Marriage diverts us from the path of necessary reform. Civil union, today lawful only in Vermont, is what makes sense as a national cause. Unmarried couples, straight or gay, need to be able to secure joint property, make safe wills, have hassle-free hospital visits and so forth. But issues of hospital visits or healthcare should have nothing to do with marriage, and marriage as a rite should have nothing to do with legal rights. “Marriage” should be separated from legal recognition of a bond, of a kinship.
There’s a fork in the road for progressives. One path is sameness, expanding a troubled institution to same-sexers. But that path detours the real problems of relationships today and their official recognition. As a generation of feminists and the divorce rate attest, marriage is in sore trouble, well beyond powers of recuperation offered in Bush’s proposed constitutional amendment, which would be a touching souvenir of a world long gone. Why have prenuptial agreements become common among people of moderate income? Prenups challenge the one-size-fits-all straitjacket of marriage, as do other important arrangements devised in recent years in response to changing anthropological and moral circumstance: co-parent adoptions, adoptions by single people, many varieties of public and private domestic partnerships, civil unions. Expand and strengthen the options. Get religion out of the law.
Civil union across the country would help to level a playing field that’s become increasingly uneven. In some corporations gay couples have health benefits that unmarried straight couples don’t. Contrary to endless rants about the “marriage penalty” in the federal tax code, a larger number of people enjoy a marriage bonus, as reported by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation in 1999.