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Privilege of marriage 

Of fantasy, Bush and the Pope

Why anyone wants to get married has become a mystery to me. Oh, I did it once, when I was 20. I fell in love with a woman and, like a blind sheep, couldn't wait to get to the altar. When I am in the company of a 20-year-old now, I typically feel like I should be packing his lunchbox and handing him his blanket for a nap, so I am astounded that I got married at that age. I looked young for my age at 20, so I'm sure people wondered who drove me to my wedding.

Like most people, I woke up from that heady romance a few years later. When you are awakening from a passionate fantasy at that age, you just don't have the life experience to negotiate the shift into a more mature kind of love. We were divorced after five years. Actually, about 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.

Because of the latter, it's hard to understand how marriage is seriously regarded by anyone as the foundation of culture any more. That expression, "family values," has about as coherent a meaning in reality as "promiscuity." People who use the term are those who wish not to awaken from fantasy and assume that the high divorce rate is purely a failure of commitment in a hedonistic society.

It is just as possible that the institution, with its origins in economic and parenting contracts, simply isn't as necessary to the culture's cohesion as it once was. Try as they might to demonstrate that two heterosexual parents of mixed gender are necessary to a child's upbringing, family values advocates actually have very little empirical evidence on their side. June Cleaver could do quite well on her own today, even as a lesbian.

So, from that particular practical perspective, I don't think there's a very good argument for marriage. Marriages don't work half the time and disentangling yourself from one -- divorcing -- makes you quickly aware of another problem with marriage. That punitive process, where the archaic inspirations of marriage firmly reassert themselves in financial battles, discloses how the married really do form a privileged class. The state rewards the married with all kinds of financial benefits, as do insurance companies. By valorizing marriage, it is nurturing the romantic fantasies of the single even as it stigmatizes them by withholding benefits. Meanwhile, the church depicts marriage as the destiny of the faithful. It's hard not to get married in America.

Unless you are gay of course. You get the point. The marriage laws are another way of stigmatizing gay people who are forever trapped, in the state's regard, in the underprivileged class of the single. To my own mind -- which tends to be radical -- the solution is to abolish marriage. At the very least -- and I don't think this is so radical -- the married should enjoy absolutely no economic benefits the single don't.

Although I am sympathetic with the burden of childrearing, I'm not even sure I think it's fair to give particular tax breaks to parents, married or not. After all, don't these same folks who typically shriek about family values also talk endlessly about having to take responsibility for your actions? Handing out tax money to poor mothers is bad. Giving tax benefits to parents is OK. Why shouldn't everyone be held equally accountable without exemption for their decision to breed?

Given all this, I have never gotten fired up about many gay people's demand to be able to marry. In an ideal world, to my mind, marriage would disappear. But, in my rare moments of realism, I understand that as long as privilege is going to be accorded to the married, gay people ought to be able to get their slice of the wedding cake.

Last week, we got a very clear picture of the way marriage laws are used to ensure the second-class status of gay people. President Bush announced federal lawyers are drafting legislation to ensure that the legal definition of marriage excludes same-sex partners. It ought to be abundantly clear how monstrous it is to use tax revenue, which gay people produce, to punish an estimated 5 percent to 10 percent of the population. Perhaps Dubya can also initiate a poll tax to keep gay people out of the voting booths in the next election because any gay person who votes for him is participating in his own oppression.

Then too, the Vatican issued a paper calling on good Catholic politicians around the world to act against the movement to legalize gay marriage. It seems the Pope, who wants to rule the world's governments as well as the church (where, of course, he can appropriately forbid whatever he wants), believes gay marriage is immoral and has the power to destroy society. Leave it to the leader of an institution that long refused to deal with its epidemic of pedophilia to tell gay people, who want to participate in a social ritual of committed love, that they are sick.

I think I favor gay marriage just for spite, now that I think about it.

cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com


Cliff Bostock's website is www.soulworks.net.

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