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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Marriage: What Exactly Is It We're Fighting For?

I'm not going to try to keep up with the professional bloggers and news outfits who will be covering the Perry case day by day; you can catch all that coverage from the links under "Russ Recommends" in the right-hand column if you like - and I just added a new blog there, the daily Prop 8 Trial Tracker from the folks at the Courage Campaign out in California.

But I do feel a need here to remind my readers and Truckbuddies of just what is at stake here, and offer some observations on marriage from my own experience and reflection, for whatever it may be worth to anyone.

Of course, I am strictly an amateur writer on this subject; readers who care to know the actual facts of what they are talking about - as opposed to the mentally lazy slackers to be found in great numbers all over the blogosphere, on the left as well as on the right - as well as in the mainstream media, I might add - thoughtful readers would do well to consult the works of reputable, professional historians and jurists.  For example, Harvard historian Nancy F. Cott has been testifying at the Perry trial the last couple of days, and you can see excerpts - not the entire work, alas - of her book, Public Vows:  A History of Marriage and the Nation, here in Google Books.  It's well worth reading; and you gotta love a historian who quotes Mae West in her introduction.

I've also blogged on this subject, and in particular on the history of marriage, with links to other sources here and here.  And in light of the present court case, it's worth reposting Dan Savage's remarks on what the institution of marriage means:

Now to follow up what Dan said, here are your Head Trucker's thoughts:

1.  Marriage is not about declaring and celebrating your love in a public ceremony.  That's a wedding.  Lots and lots of people have the two concepts totally mixed up.  If the two are not clearly distinct in your mind already, please stop and ruminate on them until you figure it out.

2.  If this applies to you, please get over that juvenile, narcissistic, hippie attitude that "oh, we don't need a piece of paper to prove we love each other."  Guess what, chum - nobody but you and your partner fucking cares whether you love each other or not.  Your friends and family know, but are usually too polite to say, that the person you are mooning over so dreamily today might well be the total bitch/bastard you are cussing tomorrow.  Happens all the time; and you know it does, because you've watched the same goddamn thing happen to all of them, isn't that right?

3.  Marriage is not about love and romance, not at all:  it's about money and property, houses and cars, pensions and taxes, and all the other concrete, real-world stuff that so many misty-eyed romantic types just can't be bothered thinking about - until it's all snatched away from them, and then they rage and scream and cry and whine about how terribly unfair the world is.

4.  Marriage was invented - go look it up, I'm not in a mood for research at the moment, but you can trust me on this - to protect the couple's rights to their property and wealth, and the rights of their children, if any, to that property; and in some cases, the rights of other family members.  Love has nothing to do with it, bud.

5.  Civil marriage is the name we give to a legal contract - just as much a contract as the one you sign when you buy a new truck or a house or take out a credit card - a legal contract that specifies both the rights and the responsibilities/obligations of the individuals who marry.  This is a matter of law, not romance, and not religion.

I can just hear some Abercrombie princess saying right now:  "Oooh, law - how boring, and anyway I'm not into materialism . . . ."  Well you better grow up and get over that attitude, Mary.  Try to think with your big head here.  Suppose you've been shacking up with that hot number you finally convinced to move in with you a few years ago.  Who has been steadily getting less and less hot, and grayer, and bitchier, and with a noticeable beer belly now.  Well, it beats trawling the bars, so you hang in there with him.  Then one day you get an email or a text message that reads:  "I can't deal with your shit anymore, adios asshole."  And come to find out, Mr. Used-to-be-so-hot has cleaned out the fifteen thousand bucks in your joint checking account, as well as run up a similar amount on your joint credit cards, taking his new stud to relocate in Hawaii.  And sold "your" car - which was in his name because he found a great deal and you weren't around to sign the papers at the time.

He couldn't get away with all that if you two were married; if you ain't married, and you don't have fifteen thousand more dollars stashed away somewhere to pay for a damn good attorney, you can kiss all those material goods - which you did say you didn't care about, right? - fucking goodbye.

Or let's take a different example.  Just like me and my Cody, his family is so welcoming, so kind, so nice - "Oh, we love you," they say . . . "you're part of our family."  The two of you are always included in family gatherings, always front and center at every birthday party, Thanksgiving, Christmas, weddings, anniversaries, and Sunday dinner every week.  All well and good - you think.

But then one day, your partner ups and dies, boom, just like that.  Now who are you and where do you fit in?  Honey, you are nothing and nobody to his family, and you belong nowhere.  The house was in his name - well, better get your shit packed in a hurry, because his parents own it now.  You have no right to be there; they can call the sheriff at any time to set you on the street with just a few days' notice, you're merely a tenant there.  His car?  They sold that yesterday while you were at work.  His bank accounts, that you were a signer on?  They cleaned those out the first morning after he died.

And what about the china and the silverware, the crystal figurines, the window treatments, the Monet print, the hand-painted lamps, the TV and DVD player, the gas barbecue grill, the riding lawn mower, the brand-new microwave, the king-size bed, his computer, his books, his clothes - and even the little dog?  Get your queer hands off all that, honey, none of it belongs to you.  Not a teacup, not a pencil, not a shirt button - nothing you can't prove you bought with your own money.

Are you getting this picture?  Don't give me that "I don't care about material things" crap.  You will care very damn much when you wake up one morning and find yourself, for all practical purposes, a homeless man - and an utter stranger in the eyes of the law.  If you aren't married, then when your partner dies you have no more rights than the dog.

6.  In addition to money, real estate, and personal property rights, the federal government confers 1,138 specific rights and benefits on married couples that you have no access to whatsoever if you aren't married.  And each state confers several hundred more. 

I won't try to list all of them here, but consider just two:  for example, if your partner were killed by someone else's negligence, say in a car wreck or plane crash - if you were married, you could sue for damages for the loss of your spouse.  But if you two were just shacking up?  Tough.

Also, suppose somebody were to sue the two of you sometime, or even just one of you.  If you're married, you cannot be compelled to testify in court against your husband.  Oh, you aren't married?  Then raise your right hand and repeat after me . . . .

Plus of course such things as being able to draw social security or veteran's benefits when your spouse dies; which can make the difference between a comfortable old age or miserable poverty.

7.  Another big point of confusion that I've blogged about before:  the Christian church did not invent marriage.  Did not, did not, did not.  Even a cursory glance at your Bible shows that people were getting married long, long before the birth of Christ; and in fact, as you should remember from Sunday school, many of those Old Testament marriages were, in fact, polygamous.

And the Old Testament is the record of just one rather tiny nation.  Marriages of one kind or another, often polygamous, and sometimes incestuous even, were occurring all over the rest of the world too.  The Greeks and the Romans were pretty much monogamous, and were getting married many long centuries before there was a Bible as we know it, or a Christian church of any kind.

So don't pay a bit of attention to all the ignorant dipshit rightwingers who mouth about "oh marriage has always and everywhere been the same."  It just fucking has not, and the proof is right there in those Bibles they love to wave about.

As Dan says in the clip above, straight people have continually been changing and adjusting and reinventing marriage all down through the centuries and millennia to suit their own agendas and purposes and desires; and now in our civilization, marriage is an egalitarian institution from which there can be no rational reason to exclude gay people.

Because not only does marriage protect your individual rights, as well as bestow certain obligations - it also does two other very important things for each individual.

One - it means you are a fully grown up, fully competent and fully free adult.  Children are not allowed to marry because they lack the maturity to fully understand, and thus give legal consent, to such a contract.  And in the past, slaves could not marry because they also were considered legally incapable of giving free consent, for the obvious reason that they were not free, but the actual property of another.  And the laws may have changed in some places nowadays, but I do know that historically, mentally incompetent people - the insane and what used to be called retarded - were also not allowed to marry, for the same reason.

Two - it makes you legally related to your husband's family, and thus part of the network of relationships that make up society.  And before you start spouting all that hippie crap about "well I don't care what society thinks," just remember:  until you guys say "I do" and sign that piece of paper, you are only just "the boyfriend" in everybody else's eyes.  No fucking matter what they may say - you aren't really, truly "part of the family" until you man up enough to make a permanent, public, legal commitment to being one of them.  Which is terribly important not only for the material reasons I mentioned above, but also for the social and emotional reinforcement of your and your husband's bond:  the public as well as familial acceptance as being a true part of the group, the clan, the tribe, the country.  It ties you into the rest of society in a way that mere shacking up or just getting your rocks off with a hot trick never can.  It links you in, makes you part of the long, complex molecule, if you will, of humanity, rather than just a free atom bouncing around all by yourself.

If you don't think that's terribly important, just stop and think one damn minute:  even though you might appear to act the same on the outside, isn't the real truth of the matter that you have an entirely different attitude on the inside towards your sister's boyfriend - as opposed to your sister's husband?  Well, then just turn it around, bud, and consider how all the rest of the family thinks about your boyfriend, who is not your actual husband.

And one more reason - not everybody needs to be married, that's a fact.  Some are simply too immature, some are simply too narcissistic, some are too irresponsible (though of course none of this has ever stopped anybody from trying).  But for most people, it's the mature, fully grown-up thing to do - to take the awful leap of faith with another person, to man up and actually commit yourself, for better or for worse, to another person.  If you both chose wisely, and if you both do the work it takes, you will be better men, and bigger human beings, than if you stay stuck in the sexual fantasies of adolescence.  As too many gay men do.  Which of course, until just the last few years, there was no incentive to do anything else, was there? 

8.  I haven't even mentioned here the whole idea of parenting, which is another reason for marriage.  Your Head Trucker, once upon a time when he was much younger, wanted to be a father very much - something I've rarely mentioned even to my closest friends.  But when I came out, I realized I would have to let that dream wither, bury it underfoot.  Loving another man and having children - it just did not seem at all possible thirty years ago, boys.  So, as much as it hurt me to let that idea die, I did.  I don't know about you guys from other parts, but for us Southerners, that idea, that desire, for the renewing of the blood is a deep, strong current inside.

A loss I will carry with me to my grave.  My son - my daughter - who were never born - I never saw their faces - never held them in my arms.  You understand?

Now, of course, it is indeed possible.  Too late for me.  But possible now for millions of gay couples in time to come; a very happy thought.  And your Head Trucker is old-fashioned enough to believe that if you are going to have kids, you damn well ought to be man enough to marry their other parent.  Enough said.

Well I guess I've said all I needed to say today, at least, on this subject.  It's just very important to be clear-minded on what this court case, and the whole movement for equal marriage is really about.  It's not about tuxedos and cake and a fabulous honeymoon - hell, you really don't need a piece of paper for all that, guys - you can throw a fucking party any damn day of the week you please, if that's all you think marriage means.

But that's such a little-boy, grade-school idea.  Marriage is about so much more, and is so much deeper than all that.  It's worth fighting for - as long as it takes, no matter how many defeats we suffer along the way.  We can't give up on this fight, boys, not hardly.

You aren't equal - you aren't free - you aren't grown up - until you have the right to marry, just like everybody else.  Case closed.


TomS said...

This is a very impassioned essay, full of practical advice.
I stand with you on this.

My partner of 13 years and I sought legal counsel to protect our home and personal belongings, cars and bank accounts, by establishing trusts, wills, legal documents of our own. We felt we needed to do the things that would be automatic if we were able to enter in a marriage contract. It was 4 years ago and I am still paying off the legal bill, but it will have been worth it.

So for the very same reasons you mention, I am hopeful that the "Perry"decision falls our way with wide-ranging positive consequences.

I don't know that I would enter into a marriage with someone I didn't love, so for me anyway, this is an important component, although I do understand that the marriage contract does not legally protect one's love (or lack of it!)

I hope you had a second to check out my essay on why same-sex marriage should not be left up to a popular vote....and would value your opinion, off-line is fine.
Thanks Russ, I appreciate you and your wonderful essay.

Russ Manley said...

No, marriage and love are two different things; love is a feeling, marriage is a commitment, a legal contract. Yes, it's best if the two go together, but you can love someone without being married to them, and vice versa.

You guys were very wise to get the legal work taken care of. Which you shouldn't have to do all that and spend all that money; straight couples get it automatically with marriage - which is the point of this post.

And yes I did read your post on the marriage-vote subject, good job.

Sebastian said...

Wow Russ! This is just great - clear, passionate but logical, and very personal. You should get this published, or widely disseminated. Have you considered sending it to the Perry v. Schwartzenegger team?

Russ Manley said...

Haha. Bless your heart Sebastian, I'm sure Olson & Boies have much better sources to work with than my scribblings. But appreciate the thought, buddy.

FDeF said...

Your commentary makes a lot of sense. But, as long as the marriage rights fight is a "state-by state" issue, we will never be accorded the long list of federal rights that go along with federal recognition.

My guess is that with lawsuits of various kinds being brought at the state level, as in California, the Supreme Court of the United States will eventually have to weigh in - which could go either way. Let's hope and pray that wisdom will prevail if and when that happens.

Russ Manley said...

Yes, let's hope. We recall that it was only by federal intervention that segregation was finally done away with. And I can tell you definitely that if it had been left to a vote in each state, the Deep South would still be segregated today.

I think Reiner & Co. are taking a big gamble, especially considering the conservative makeup of the current Supreme Court . . . but sometimes it's the bold advance that wins the day. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Mareczku said...

This is excellent, Russ. Applause, applause.

Russ Manley said...

Appreciate ya, Mark.

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