I thought about writing about becoming less of a pacifist, of accepting marriage, of being American, but this hit me today.
Gay rights and Gay marriage seem to have adopted a life of their own. When you look at demographic differences, to young people (like 50 and under), it is a non-issue. To me, this is a stunning shift in American society and culture. I grew up in the suburbs of a southern city; no one in my high school would have been accepted for coming out. In college, at a liberal campus, I realized that being gay didn’t mean a person was a lesser human.
As the 1990s advanced and I myself was married, the first rumblings of a movement for equal marriage rights emerged. I can recall by around 1998 people I knew refused to get hetero-married until homosexuals could as well.
The civil rights side was clear as day to me. Marriage in the US is a legal state; it confers tax benefits. Married spouses are entitled to be present for health care decisions. Children can be assigned joint custody. In jobs, spouses can share medical and retirement benefits. Whatever one thinks about the morality of being Gay from a religious viewpoint, we should agree that such legal benefits should be available to all. A Christian may think a Muslim is a lost soul, and vice versa, but they don’t advocate that religious differences be the basis of legal discrimination.
So, in my mind, the strategy to ensure marriage equality was to avoid the whole slippery slope of marriage as a category. The reality in American is that marriage is a hybrid religious and civil status and process. That was our historical goof. I thought it made sense to fight for civil unions for all and let marriage be exclusively the provenance of the faithful. hence, anyone who wanted legal status as a couple would get a civil union: straight, gay, bi, trans etc. Those who cared about marriage as a religious ceremony would do so at a church. No church would be forced to recognize gay civil unions; no gay couple would be discriminated against. Looked to me like a good plan.
But the social movement went another way and the fight became one of gay marriage and marriage equality. The language became more about the freedom to love who you want, not the freedom to enjoy tax benefits. The advocates who fought for twenty years in state courts and legislatures decided to shape the debate on the very cultural grounds and symbols (marriage) that I thought was a strategic mistake to. I think they will win in the end. And in so doing, maybe have pushed the national discussion more deeply towards tolerance compared to what would have happened if we decoupled civil marriage from religious one.
Either way, the wedding industries must love it.