Next week is destined to be the second most important week in the history of gay legislation in this country. That’s when various oral arguments will be presented before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the validity of same sex marriage. I call it the second most important week because the most important week will be when the Supreme Court delivers its decision, expected in June.
OK, right out of the gate, I’ll say that, of course. I believe that it should be the civil right of any person in the U.S. to marry whomever he or she chooses. And if you study the Constitution, you’ll see nowhere is the word “marriage” even used; in fact the decision that led to the legalization of abortion in this country was based largely on a phrase, not in the Constitution, but in the Declaration of Independence: our individual rights as humans to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Now, Amendment X of the Constitution states that “powers not delegated to the U.S. (meaning the federal government) by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the states are reserved to the states respectively OR to the people.” The magic word here is OR. Is marriage a states’ rights issue, to be decided by individual states and their citizens, as has been the case up to now, or one ultimately held by us as individuals?
But even if we assume that it is up to each state to decide, if the Supreme Court knocks down DOMA (the federal Defense of Marriage Act which defines marriage as strictly between a man and a woman), the states’ rights issue may evaporate.
OK, OK, but my question to you is this: How many of us – and I’m talking about gay men now – how many of us, even if we believe in same sex marriage, would take advantage of it if we had the opportunity?
Looking at it objectively, pragmatically, and not through rose-colored glasses, I don’t think very many.
Sure, there are countless practical reasons why marriage recognized by the feds would be superior to marriages or domestic partnerships or civil unions recognized by a particular state, or legal docs drawn up between partners, and a lot of it comes down to money: joint federal income taxes, Social Security and pension survivor benefits, exemption from federal estate taxes, and the legality of the marriage no matter what state you lived in. (Not the case now.) My partner and I have wills, powers of attorney, and living wills which give us the right to make health care decisions on one another’s behalf without family meddling, but we still can’t enjoy the just mentioned benefits str8 married couples have always enjoyed.
But having said all that, and let’s estimate that 10% of the adult population is gay and, of that, half are male, how many of the 15 million gay men in this country would take advantage of same sex marriage if everything was ideal?
Again, my view? Only a minority for very practical reasons.
Yes, social attitudes are a-changing and will continue to progress, but the majority of us are still employed in the largely conservative work sector. A good number of the Fortune 500 companies are advocating same sex legislation to eliminate the double standard that their HR departments must now deal with, but no law will ever completely eliminate discrimination and homophobic behavior in the work place unless it’s the boss creating the havoc (sexual harassment might apply here). With jobs stressful enough today, who needs the additional grief of snide remarks from co-workers – or worse – unless you got the brass balls to deal with it until maybe, just maybe, they come around or don’t give a shit anymore. The benefits of the wedding ring may not outweigh the negatives. And don’t rule out discriminatory actions when it comes to promotions or salary increases – such shit is very difficult to prove just like age or even gender discrimination. Believe me, I worked for a Catholic health care system and I saw it happen many times.
Secondly, would you honestly marry someone who has far less than you In assets which means, unless he signs a pre-nup, you might be subject to half of your money going to him in a nasty divorce. With 60% of str8 marriages ending in divorce, can we honestly think our marriage success rate will be all that much better?
Remember, boys, if you’re legally married and it sours, you’ve got to legally divorce, not just pack up your toothbrush and Titan DVD’s. Based on what I’ve seen with straight couples I’ve known whose marriages have gone south, that ain’t easy, nor pretty. One buddy of mine, married for over forty years – to a woman – before deciding to divorce to lead the life of a gay blade, is still waiting for his half of the money two years after papers were filed, with no minor children or convoluted investments like cattle ranches in Alaska to muddy the waters.
Watching the exuberant crowds in NYC’s West Village on TV when the New York State Legislature’s vote of the same sex marriage bill was announced, I also questioned how many of those masses were genuine and not out there for the cameras. I feel the same way about some of these life partners that need a flower girl to make their lives complete: are they doing it for the glitz factor or because it’s the hip “in” thing to do right now? Like the supposedly happily married gay neighbors of mine who proudly passed around their 2008 wedding pictures from Toronto to those of us attending their Thanksgiving dinner party; by March, Hal, the prettier of the two, had left Sam for a twink two blocks away. And because the mortgage was in Sam’s name only, he was left holding the bag.
Finally, there are many gay men – maybe not the majority but certainly a significant number – who love the free and breezy lifestyle where the social and legal restrictions of marriage don’t exist. Hell, even a growing number of str8’s have moved away from marriage in favor of co-habitation, even when children are in the picture.
So I ask you: if we are given the right to marry any place in these United States we want and we have found “The One,” would we exercise it?