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Monday, August 9, 2010

Thoughts on Marriage

I.  Ted Olson eloquently sums up the whole case for marriage equality in this short interview.  Andrew Sullivan says, "I've been making these points for many many years. I cannot express how affirming it is to hear such a distinguished conservative jurist defend the civil rights of gay citizens - especially such a fundamental, core right as civil marriage."

Sullivan also writes a longer post today on this topic.  Excerpt:
The church - even in its current High Ratzinger phase - opts for inclusion over exclusion. It allows the infertile to marry. It does not remove the Sacrament of Matrimony from those who do not produce kids. It even annuls countless marriages, many of which have been consummated, in enormously large numbers. It marries those past child-bearing age. It treasures adopted kids, even though they violate Ross's parent-procreating "microcosm of civilization" ideal. And that's only the Catholic church. The Protestant churches freely allow divorce and contraception - breaking both the monogamy and the procreative elements of Ross's ideal (which is to say all of it). So in the religious sphere, the Church breaks its own ideal with regularity, and the other churches have long since given almost all of it up. And yet the Catholic church still insists that its ideal be enforced as an act of civil exclusion in the secular sphere, even on people who are atheists.

On what conceivable grounds, if you pardon the expression? Look at how diverse current civil marriages are in the US. The range and diversity runs from Amish families with dozens of kids to yuppie bi-coastal childless couples on career paths; there are open marriages and arranged marriages; there is Rick Santorum and Britney Spears - between all of whom the civil law makes no distinction. The experience of gay couples therefore falls easily within the actual living definition of civil marriage as it is today, and as it has been now for decades. To exclude gays and gays alone is therefore not the upholding of an ideal (Britney Spears and Larry King are fine - but a lesbian couple who have lived together for decades are verboten) so much as making a lone exception to inclusion on the grounds of sexual orientation. It is in effect to assert not the ideal of Catholic Matrimony, but the ideal of heterosexual superiority. It creates one class of people, regardless of their actions, and renders them superior to another.

II.  David Boies wipes the floor with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, co-founded by the infamous George Rekers of rentboy fame:

Have to say, it's gratifying but really surrealistic to this old shitkicker to see these straight men defending gay rights so passionately - something that simply Does.Not.Happen down here in Jesusland.

III.  On a completely different line of thought, Andrew Brown writes in the Guardian about wedding-day extravagance and pretentiousness:
The modern wedding, with its stupendous cost (£20,000 on average) and duration, is really a celebration of the participants. They really are unique and precious snowflakes, just as they have suspected all along. In fact, they are each and both of them just the unique and precious people they would like to be. Everyone pretends that for the day the couple really are starring in their own film: following the conventions of modern films, that means nothing really bad can happen to them.

Feeling unique and treasured and valued for yourself is exactly the point of being in love, and it's very nice. But it's not realistic. In particular, it's a disastrous attitude to bring to a wedding. There will be times when you appear – and are – not in the least bit treasured or valued, and when you'll be unlucky to be thought unique: everyone going through a divorce is convinced for a while they were married to the absolutely worst spouse in history.

The great point about completely impersonal ceremonies, whose form is the same for everyone, whether these are religious or entirely civil, is that they remind us that the problems and difficulties of marriage are universal. They come from being human. They can't be dodged just by being our wonderful selves, even all dusted with unicorn sparkle.
Of course, it's your privilege to do as you like on your "special day," whether that involves gold lamé or faded denim.  But your Head Trucker has never thought much of expensive spectacle at a moment when a sober, solemn vow is the central idea - which partakes of the sacred in some sense, even if exchanged by two atheists in front of a county clerk.

Nor do I favor the hippie practice of writing your own vows - for one thing, the vast majority of folks who are not trained writers have a tin ear for language, and produce something sickly-sweet that grates on the nerves like fingernails on a blackboard.  For another thing, it's embarassing to witness the uncensored little-girl fantasies on display in such vows, full of totally unrealistic notions drawn from fairy tales, pop songs, and romantic movies.  As everyone who has been married - or at least as nearly so as is possible without benefit of law - knows, there is a very good reason why the Dunmow flitch has rarely ever been claimed.

Which is why your Head Trucker, if the occasion ever arose, would much prefer to use the simple, ordinary words of the traditional marriage service - which to my mind, creates a connection, a spiritual union, between the couple and all the countless other couples who have come before to this sacred moment - all pledging the same troth, or truth.  To me, a lovely, sterling idea, more precious than anything money can buy.
In the Name of God, I, N., take you, N., to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.
But as all that is getting to be an entirely moot point at this late age, your Head Trucker will just shut up now and go back to tending his own garden.

IV.  Male sexuality is really and truly different from female sexuality, whether we're talking heteros or homos.  It has taken many years for this to really dawn on your Head Trucker, and it leads me to some interesting conclusions about what fidelity really means in practice and in the heart.  But more about that another time. 

For now, I'll just say that looking back, there were times when I went nuclear over things - very human things - that in retrospect were not worth the subsequent anguish on both sides.  I was following a script learnt by heart from old movies and Victorian novels - both of which genres were quite consciously crafted so as not to offend the sensibilities of little old blue-haired church ladies who, when duty demanded, gritted their teeth and thought of England or whatever; but that was a false model for me in many ways. 

With age comes, if not wisdom, then at least clarity, you know?


Mareczku said...

Taht was excellent, Russ. Thanks for sharing. Great job. I also checked out the clips and links.

Russ Manley said...

Glad you liked, Mark.

dave said...

As one who never felt the need for the term marriage, I find your and their arguments compelling.

Russ Manley said...

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments . . . ."

David said...

Marriage to me requires love, but is not itself about love. I see it as insurance, a contract guaranteeing that should our love and partnership survive, our security is maintained and our wishes are respected. That what we build together remains ours, and that when and if I am unable to act for myself, decisions are made for me by my designee.

I have opinions on the wedding itself but they're far too long to go into here. Suffice it to say I think smaller is better. And I agree with you Russ that writing ones own vows is never a good idea.

Russ Manley said...

Precisely, David: marriage is a contract that protects you both, that other people respect because the law makes them leave your stuff the fuck alone. As I've blogged about several times before.

Which also elevates your spouse into something more than just your latest mancrush or fuckbuddy: when you both man up enough to sign on the dotted line and take on a serious responsibility, just as you would for a car or a house.

Not everybody can, not everybody should; but a lot of us would. If the feeling was mutual, I mean.

Stan said...

I see marriage as a legal contract with your partner. And in case one of you gets sick or dies the other partner is protected under the law.
As far as the marriage ceremony I can't stand them...gay or straight.
A waste of money! BLAH! Horsefeathers!

Russ Manley said...

Duly noted, Stan. When your turn comes, we'll just mail you a coupon and a stamped return envelope. Grin.

But as far as marriage being a legal contract - that is exactly and precisely what civil marriage is, a contract. As any lawbook will tell you. Which I've blogged about several times before, and which religious foamers just don't seem to get.

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