Sunday, February 15, 2009

How about the freedom NOT to marry?

Freedom to Marry week garnered more attention than usual this year, no doubt a result of all the attention to California's Prop 8 and the litigation challenging it.

Most Freedom to Marry activists say they want same-sex couples to have the choice to marry. When questioned by marriage skeptics, they assure that they don't believe everyone needs to marry; they just want gay people to have the choice, like straight people do.

I have been saying for years that this idea of a choice to marry is illusory. As long as marriage is the only way to garner economic security and emotional peace of mind -- not because it's natural but because our laws and policies make it that way -- marriage isn't a choice, for straight or gay couples.

Take my partner and me, for example. I've got a good job with health insurance, and it covers Cheryl as my domestic partner. Only same-sex couples can cover their domestic partners at my work, a policy that has irked many of my straight colleagues over the years. (Two I know of have married because of the health insurance). But the theory for providing the benefits was this: gay couples can't marry, so the way to be fair to them is to provide benefits for their domestic partners. Since straight couples can marry, they must marry, or no health care for their partners.

The District of Columbia may well allow same-sex couples to marry in the foreseeable future. Maybe my employer won't change its policy, out of deference to Virginia and Maryland employees who won't have the same option. But maybe they will. Or maybe they'll change it for DC residents. Once we can marry, their reason for extending benefits to our domestic partners will disappear.

If that happens, will anyone really believe that I have a choice whether to marry my partner? Let's see. Stand on principle and let her flounder, with her multiple health issues, without any health insurance. Or marry so that she has access to decent health care. We celebrate our 20th anniversary this month. No one can doubt our commitment. I want the freedom not to marry, and I want it for my straight colleagues as well.

But until marriage stops being the dividing line between relationships that count and those that don't, there's no freedom and there's no choice. So don't be fooled by Freedom to Marry supporters who say they are fighting for our choice. it just ain't so.


Anonymous said...

Saw your article on Blierico, commented, found my way to your blog.

I wish I hadn't though. It's too interesting, and it is too hard to tear myself away from it and work on that damn dissertation thing they expect me to write before letting me graduate.

Excellent post. :)

jordand said...

Very interesting take on the marriage controversy. We rarely hear an inverse argument such as yours, and I'm glad I stumbled across your blog. As a bright, young gay male I am intensely interested in the push for equality, and plan to couple this with my affinity for the law in the near future. I would absolutely love to hear more of your ideas, if only to gain a new perspective. Bravo.

Anonymous said...

Excellent points. Thanks for providing a nuanced perspective on marriage inequality.