Marriage for all Americans

As a newly minted husband, I accept that I’ve got a lot to learn. In fact, my wife keeps a list.

She keeps several, actually, but I don’t mind. And I’ll even let you in on a little secret--I love being married.

As you’d expect, this has a lot to do with the fact that Shelley and I love each other very much.

But for me, it's not just about love. It's not just about partnership, either, though I’m positively thrilled to have found such an exceptional one.

It’s also about structure.

I'm someone who requires structure in his life. Scratch that, I crave it. I lust after it. I can’t really operate without it. 

Of course I’m human and I also need to be loved, as the man says. And it’s not just a one-way street, obviously. So given, I must give back.

But I also need to know that I’m with a person who can balance me out; someone who can reassure me, double-check my work and put my world in order. The only way I can achieve any kind of balance is through structure.

It's one of my little idiosyncrasies, I guess, and I’m lucky to have found someone who can put up with my quirks. Moreover, I’d venture that tolerance--to some a kind of shorthand for “putting up with quirks”--is an integral part of the formula for a successful marriage.

But however you care to define marital bliss, there is a group of Americans for whom it remains essentially unattainable at present, thanks to what some governments deem as disqualifying “quirks.”

Little wonder that if intolerance keeps many heterosexual couples from a happy marriage, so, too, does it deny gay and lesbian couples the same.

And whether you’re Democrat or Republican, Tea Partier or Maddow fan, dog lover or cat person, the discrimination and persecution homosexual couples face--in 2010--ought to trouble you, because you are also an American.

To me, gay marriage--along with the overturning of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”--is the great civil rights struggle of my generation, as segregation was for my forebears. This is not to say, by any stretch, that we’ve stamped out all discrimination based on skin color, or that race relations have been healed. Clearly this is not the case. And what progress we have made has been slow, painful and incremental at best.

I fear, though, that progress for gay rights has been nearly invisible.

Indeed, the stigma of even being attracted to someone of the same sex doesn’t seem to have weakened very much during my 30 years, which partly accounts for the ridiculous holdup in tearing down the ban on openly gay troops in the military.

Even dimmer seems the prospect of gay couples actually gaining the full and unencumbered right to marry anytime soon.

Opponents of gay marriage wring their hands over the implosion of the “traditional” institution of wedlock, a position that has never been fully explained to me.

If the past half-century has taught us nothing else, it’s that the “traditional” institution of wedlock is already dead, or at least on life support.

There are healthy marriages, sure. I hope mine is. I hope yours is.

But broken homes are so common now that we might just as well worry what gay marriage will do to our “new tradition” of visiting multiple stepfathers or stepmothers on Christmas Day.

And the great irony is that heterosexuals, not gays, are pretty much solely responsible for this (being that they are the only ones with the right to wed and, therefore, the extrapolated right to eff it up).

Whatever statistics you choose to cite, the “traditional” concept of marriage is taking on water. The only truth for me is that, gay or straight, people are people -- and we all lie, cheat and steal from time to time.

This will sometimes lead to divorce, no matter whom you prefer to sleep with.

Marriage between a man and a woman is a good thing. But it’s not the only thing. The ceremony itself holds different meaning for different people, but at its heart, the tradition is little more than a legal and protective arrangement.

Denying that ceremonial experience to a segment of Americans is presumptuous and unconscionable; denying the legal framework is unconstitutional.

But let’s assume, for a moment, that marriage between a man and a woman is a sacrosanct, exclusive and immutable privilege--and that rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. By extending to homosexuals this privilege, what exactly is it that opponents worry will happen?

Will gay couples start protesting “traditional” marriages? Will lesbian couples start infiltrating soccer carpools to evangelize their lifestyle? 

Will homosexuals rappel down the sides of heterosexuals' homes, smash into their windows and start demanding that the entire household sees things their way?

Of course not.

It is not necessarily the aim of gay men and women to prosthelytize their sexual preferences. All of us derive carnal pleasure from one part of the human body or another. That gays happen to prefer the anatomy and, maybe more importantly, the company of one gender over the other is the thinnest of excuses for discrimination and does not constitute a reason for denial of basic rights.

Gay men and women seek only the ability to marry the people they love. To pretend otherwise is nonsense. If homosexual weddings are legalized, the only institution that will see meaningful change is the stock market, as the business of getting married opens up to all.

And if the “it’s-always-been-done-this-way” stance is unconvincing, those who would use religion as an excuse to thwart the gay-rights movement are on even flimsier ground.

Homosexuality is an abomination, for the Bible tells me so? Those who’ve been taught to believe this ought to at least skim the Book of Leviticus. Got a tattoo? That’s forbidden. Eat shellfish? Also an “abomination.” Like bacon? Makes you unclean. Have an adulterous wife? Sorry, you’ll have to put her to death. And let’s not even get into passages about chattel and slavery.

Even if you do believe “being gay” is a sin, there’s no reason to think it’s any worse of an offense in God’s eyes than judging someone before He does.

The Bible is a teaching tool, and we are meant to derive lessons from it. There are some pretty good ones in there. But those who take the book literally do so at their peril. It’s been used to justify any number of wrongheaded ideas over the centuries, and I submit that impeding gay marriage is just one in a very, very long list.

But I hope my gay brothers and sisters will take heart. Why?

Because, as with all previous and difficult civil rights struggles, there eventually come to be enough like-minded people voting among the majority to ensure that the rights of the minority are codified and protected.

Those who are uncomfortable with the notion of gay rights need to understand that they are on the wrong side of history. And those who exhibit open hostility toward gays should know that, in the coming years, their antagonism will be looked upon by future generations in the same way that most of us now look upon supporters of segregation and Jim Crow.

The full legalization of gay marriage is inevitable. The path to justice -- while often long and potholed -- will eventually see to that.

It is only a matter of time.

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