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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Why Marriage Matters: Nathaniel Frank

Crowds cheer the first same-sex couples to marry in Washington state
at the courthouse in Seattle, December 9, 2012.

Two very percipient quotes from scholar Nathaniel Frank, author of the 2009 book Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America - the first from Slate, "How Do Americans Really Feel About Gays?":
The whole point of a wedding, from a cultural perspective, is for a couple to invite their community to recognize and help enforce—indeed to approve of—their union as a positive thing worth supporting. There has always been something a bit disingenuous about gay rights activists insisting that they deserve marital recognition from their society because their relationships are nobody’s business but their own. Marriage is all about making your relationship other people’s business.
The second is from Huffington Post, "Why Other People's Marriages Are Our Business":
I first pondered this question on the evening of a friend's wedding when she told me what her marriage meant to her. "It's a way of enlisting my friends, family and community," she told me, "in supporting what will surely be a difficult set of commitments over time." Suddenly I realized the purpose of all the ritual and ceremony, the reason for the gifts and tears and witnesses: marriage is not just a private bond, but a public identity, whose meaning is shaped by the assumptions and practices of all those who claim and recognize its status. Being married helps us keep our commitments to our spouses and our communities by creating a shared identity with very public expectations. It doesn't always work. But every day thousands of people choose to embrace this identity because of the support it helps afford them. This is why gays need access to the very same institution of marriage--not civil unions--that straights enjoy: so they can join not just each other, but the wider community of committed people whose marriage is recognized, understood and championed by people across the world. And this is why separate is inherently unequal.

Some dismiss these ideas as lofty rhetoric either because marriage so often falls short of expectations or because their own beliefs are even loftier: they insist they don't need others' approval, and that marriage is only important because it grants legal benefits. "We don't need the state or anyone else," they say, "to affirm how much we love each other, or to help us keep our vows." At best, this has always seemed an adolescent view of marriage. Anyone who has ever had a wedding, who has mentioned her husband or wife in passing, or who has dreamed of one day getting married, knows this isn't true. And anyone who thinks clearly about the intersection of psychology and public policy should too. There is something about knowing that your community--and even the laws of the body politic--recognize and affirm commitments you've made, that can help you stand by them. It's a bit of Freudian internalization, in which the pesky knowledge that something's been publicly uttered somehow makes it both more true and more serious. It then becomes tougher to shirk off. It's the reason that we should care when someone tramples their public vows, including public figures like Ensign and Sanford. We should all raise an eyebrow. It's what Jonathan Rauch calls "stigma as social policy."

Read more gay-related articles by Frank here.

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