On October 13th I attended a debate about same-sex marriage between Maggie Gallagher and Dale Carpenter. For me, the debate simply perpetuated my lack of understanding about what exactly people in same-sex relationships want from legalizing same-sex marriages.
I should provide some context. I grew up Catholic and abandoned my faith for 18 years, the last ten-and-a-half years of that period in a monogamous lesbian relationship. I considered myself married to my partner and organized my life accordingly. In the end, though, I recognized a deep spiritual emptiness, had a change of heart and left the relationship. (After her own spiritual struggle and devastation from the end of our relationship, my former partner ultimately reconnected with her faith, too, and today we remain friends.)
At no time during my relationship with my former partner did I feel cheated or at a disadvantage by not being able to marry her. We knew that we needed to take steps to insure that we prepared for our future, with or without each other, in the case of sickness or death.
My living will and medical proxy gave her the ability to speak for me and make medical decisions. We were the beneficiaries on each other’s life insurance policies and retirement accounts. If for some reason I needed to add her to my benefits at work, I could. We could have had a commitment ceremony performed by a minister at any number of gay-affirming churches in the Twin Cities, attended by our family and friends who loved and supported us. I considered myself married. I didn’t expect the state or the federal government to extend to me the same benefits a husband and wife received.
It leaves me wondering how exactly extending the civil definition of “marriage” to same-sex couples truly helps society as a whole when that change would affect such a small percentage of Minnesotans (10,207 households are same-sex couples in Minnesota, according to the 2010 Census). This is compared to more than a million husband-wife households who would have the public definition of their relationship altered so that their benefits could be extended to same-sex couples. After all, civil benefits for married households are fundamentally meant to support and promote the ideal environment for the raising and rearing of children, our future citizens.
It’s worth adding that in no way am I questioning a same-sex couple’s love and commitment to each other, nor am I saying that they are bad parents. In the same way, I’m not questioning the love and parenting skills of a single mother who’s living with her own mother and raising a child—which could also be considered a “same-sex” household.
So, what do gay marriage advocates really want from the State? My guess is that it’s actually not really about the “benefits” of marriage. There are ways to provide for yourself and receive basic social benefits, regardless of your status in life. My former partner and I did this without difficulty.
But, I don’t think it is about simply tolerating and respecting the private “love and commitment” of two individuals either. There are plenty of church-like and non-faith based ceremonies out there for two people who want to profess their commitment to one another.
We see here, here and here that there are different reasons emerging. Respectfully tolerating a person’s private decision to be in a same-sex relationship is one thing, but being required to sanction and encourage that choice—and face consequences if you don’t—is quite another.