The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Marriage & “Supportive” Non-Support

When I crossposted the bit about the Arlington County marriage scam to my Daily Kos diary, and quite a discussion ensued. In the middle of it, and old familiar argument popped up. One that’s delivered in calm, reasoned tones, and that sounds deceptively supportive until you think about it for a minute.

Which of those can’t be handled by other agreements, regulations or laws?

Answer: None

So the question stands, what does a marriage license give you that you don’t already have?

Are you saying I don’t have the right to make a comittment to another person? I don’t have the right to love someone? Nonsense.

If social security doesn’t do what we want it to let’s change social security.

If inheritance law doesn’t do what we want it to let’s change inheritance law.

If group health insurance doesn’t do what we want it to let’s group health insurance.

If parental leave laws don’t do what we want them to let’s change parental leave laws.

If taxes don’t do what we want them to let’s change taxes.

Let’s NOT make marriage an amalgam of all of these things. Marriage does not ‘neatly tie them all up in short order’. That’s exactly why we’re in the position we’re now in.

Except that the last two lines are flat out wrong. But then, the whole argument is not as supportive of equality as it seems when first presented. It’s just another way of saying “no,” as I pointed out in my comment responding to the above.

The tactic is one that I’ve seen here before, and it works something like this. You agree in theory that there’s a problem, but not with the proposed solution.

Then you say that the absolute only right way to go about it is one that is so unwieldy or unlikely to ever gain popular support that it is never going to come to pass no matter how long and earnestly one tries.

But if marriage advocates fall for it, that should keep them busy with a Sisyphean task that will probably never actually go anywhere.

And nothing will change.

I had someone tell me that he agreed that gay couples should have equal protections, but extending marriage to include them was the wrong way to do it. The only right way was to completely change our socio-economic system. Do that, and we can have all the equality we want. Right?

Right, but only if we take everything apart and then put it back together again, because that’s the only way.

Oh, and if we want pension inheritance, family leave, health benefits, etc., then we have to lobby each and every individual employer in America. One at a time.

Combine those to tactics and most of us having families right now will be dead before either yield even a modicum of success.

There are over 1,000 federal benefits and protections granted on the basis of marital status, from social security inheritance to game & fishing licenses (to keep those family fishing businesses in the family after a spouse dies, etc.). And that doesn’t begin to cover state and local laws.

And we’re supposed to go through each of those individually? One by one?

In other words, the argument above is just another way to say “it’s never going to happen,” because if your not allowed to come to the mountain won’t come to you, you’re gonna have to move it one teaspoon at a time if you want to get there. And that means, you ain’t gonna get there.

And it’s just plain wrong.

Marriage does tie “all them up in short order.” Heterosexual couples get all the rights and protections mentioned, for nothing more than the cost of the marriage license, and a 15-minute-or-less visit to the Justice o’ the Peace.

Did the person even read my post? The imaginary “commuter wife” I mentioned in the post could have all those rights by this time next week, if I’d met her today, proposed, been accepted and got the marriage license in before COB today. If we did the blood tests right away, we could be married by Thursday or Friday, depending on where we filed the application.

So, that does tie up social security, inheritance, health insurance, parental leave, taxes, and more in “short order”; in just the time it takes to say “I do.”

People like the commenter on the Daily Kos diary are doing is trying to have it both ways, by seeming to say “I do” support equality for gay & lesbian couples, but actually saying “I don’t” by arguing that the only way to achieve it is the one least like to come anywhere near success.

And while it’s tempting to make the argument that the current approach to marriage equality isn’t successful either, consider that — as pointed out in the last QueerlyKos round-up — the number of states that have passed either statutes or constitutional amendments banning or prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriages has pretty much maxed out. So, that tactic may be nearing the end of the road simply because there’s almost nowhere left to peddle it.

It’s also tempting to argue that the number statutes and amendments passed reflects “the will of the majority” on this issue (nevermind that the will of the majority may not only be wrong but also unjust), there’s plenty suggest that the will of the majority is shifting on same-sex marriage. More Americans approve of same-sex marriage than did a decade ago, when same-sex marriage and/or civil unions weren’t legal or recognized in any state, and opposition to same-sex marriage has dropped.

There’s also evidence that we’re reaching a tipping point when we look at how young people poll on the issue, and research shows that among 15 to 25 year-olds a majority favor same-sex marriage. Among 18 to 29 year-olds 41% support same-sex marriage and 28% favored civil unions. That adds up to 69% favoring some kind of legal recognition for same-sex couples, and only 30% of that set favored no recognition at all (which is what most of the amendments passed add up to, if they are read as also nullifying civil unions, domestic partnerships, etc.).

Consider this election, and the reality that the number of young voters increased by 2 million this year over the number that voted in 2002, for a total of about 30 million. Consider that this was the highest turnout of young voters in 20 years. (It’s also worth nothing that they trust the Democrats only slightly more than the Republicans, and most of them trust neither party.) And it’s likely that some of them have gay parents, or gay friends and classmates, or friends and classmates with gay parents, and we know where that leads: a lot more acceptance of gay as human beings, or something close to it.

Put all of the above together, and you know what just about every anti-gay right winger knows. They’re running out of time for this issue to take off, and they’re just about out of runway too. And their amendments are less about stopping judges from doing an end-run around today’s voters than they are about today’s homo-haters doing an end run around tomorrow’s voters, by making it a lot harder to legally recognize same-sex unions in the future.

The ‘phobes know what E.J. Graff meant in What is Marriage For?: The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution, when she wrote of changes in adoption laws over a century ago, “judges were merely aligning case law with their era’s social beliefs. State legislatures soon followed. They also know what Jonathan Rauch knew when he wrote this.

At bottom, what many MPA proponents want to forestall is not judicially enacted gay marriage; it is gay marriage, period. They say that an institution as fundamental as marriage needs a uniform definition: a single moral template for the whole country.

In other words, when those young voters begin voting in even larger number, or running for office and voting in state legislators or in Congress, the ‘phobes want to stop them from enacting marriage equality.

And they know that they can’t do it. The best they can do is slow it down. That’s why you get people like Bill Bennett saying that gay marriage is coming.

Despite amendments and various court decisions, the 10,000 foot view shows that what we’re doing is working. Bill Bennett even admits as much because he’s looking from the same vantage point. So, we don’t need to attempt to change 1,000+ federal regulations and countless more state regulations, or completely take apart and rebuild our socio-economic system.

And we don’t need “supportive” non-support, because our real support is —slowly, but surely — growing.


  1. Yeah, I agree. I mean, I’m single, and on the most fundamental level I don’t think it’s fair that a lot of the benefits of our society are reserved only for married people. I think ideally, everyone should get benefits on the basis of citizenship, not on whether or not they’ve been lucky enough to find a life partner (I don’t personally want to get married, but I’m sure many singles do). But, we don’t live in an ideal world, and we need to provide the benefits of marriage first to all married people before we start worrying about fundamentally changing the nature of benefit distribution in our society, because realistically that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

  2. As a lesbian partnered for 27 years, I think you are right that the argument that we can achieve many of the benefits of marriage piecemeal is a delaying tactic. (Though it still distresses me a lot that health insurance is tied to marital status — it seems profoundly wrong to me that access to care should EVER depend on whether a person can form/ has formed a significant pair bond.) I also think you are right that despite various votes. we’re winning. Young people think opposition to gay marriage is simply wacky.

    Today I looked back at some historical material from the dawn of gay rights in South Africa — it is easy to see how gay rights and eventually gay marriage (this week) came out of a more general understanding that all people were to be treated with respect and equally. At present we have little of that consciousness here.