Monday, July 10, 2006

Personal Is Political

In the wake of last Thursday's New York Court of Appeals decision, and thinking most particularly about today's California Supreme Court hearings on whether the ban on gay marriage in California is unconstitutional, I'm focusing more on what it would mean to me personally, rather than esoteric arguments about the pros and cons of gay marriage.

Whenever it seems possible that they could legalize it here, in California, my heart quickens. It's clear from the way I react that I desperately want to be able to marry A----. It astounds me what it feels like to make a life with someone, and it's rare that a day passes that I don't realize my love for her has deepened, broadened, enriched my life. I'm a traditionalist and a romantic in many ways, and I love the idea of marriage - the concept of one true love, the security of promising to spend your life with someone, the invitation to your community to recognize, honor and participate in that relationship. I want all of that for myself, for us, and my response when it seems like it could happen is visceral.

When Mayor Gavin Newsom briefly was able to legalize gay marriage in San Francisco, we were in France. We heard of what was happening when a retired English general remarked to us in the local bar how extraordinary the events in SF were - he seemed so thrilled by what was going on, and so completely without guile, that we weren't really sure we understood until we got to the local library to check our email the following Monday. There we were, 8,000 miles from home, on a three-month self-imposed exile, literally in the middle of nowhere, and reading about what was happening in our own city, to many of our own friends, and it seemed so extraordinary and wonderful and impossible.

So much of the press around those events was about the couples who chose to get married - all the celebrations, the flowers arriving from around the country and the world, the sold-out hotels, the jubilation in the streets. But I wonder, sometimes, how many relationships ended that weekend when suddenly couples were confronted by a question that had thus far been only the purview of straights - what are your intentions? Without the need to buy a ring, commit to a date, walk down the aisle, sign the papers, it's so much easier not to discuss long term plans for the relationship, to go on with life, each assuming that the other shares a common vision for the future. There is no lack of a proposal, or accidental pregnancy, to force the issue. So what impact did it have on all those relationships when everyone woke up one morning to suddenly find they could get married - and that it seemed everyone was doing it? Surely heartbreak existed right along with all those nuptials.

Indeed, I think about that question when the arguments about whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to be parents come up. Inherent in the gay culture (whatever that is) is this sense that gay and lesbian relationships aren't permanent or condoned by the larger society. Some of us opt to think of our relationships differently, but there's a different set of pressures on straight couples. I watch my straight friends fend off relatives and even relative strangers, as they are asked again and again why they aren't married (if they are single) and when they are going to set a date (if they are in a relationship). It hovers over heterosexual couples in a way that even the most marriage-minded gays and lesbians can't relate to. And it means that built into our inability to get legally married there comes a real freedom that might not exist any longer if we were suddenly the norm, and our families expected us to get married, too. With a different set of expectations comes a different approach to relationships that might impact the statistics about whether gay and lesbian relationships last, even if someone actually bothered to compare couples who considered themselves married to wedded heteros.

Back to this parenting thing for a second, though. I keep drifting away from it. In the conversations that happen among those that oppose gay marriage and parenting, there's a certain lack of knowledge about the reality of becoming a gay parent - it's not something you go into lightly. There's no such thing as an accidental pregnancy when you're involved with someone of the same sex. There's no casual conversation or choice about not using protection and "just seeing what happens." To become a gay or lesbian parent, you have to make some serious choices, often plunk down some serious cash, and even if the conversation starts out light, if you actually get to the point where you become a parent, you've really made a choice to follow through at that point - seriously committed to the process and the result.

This doesn't mean that every gay or lesbian couple that becomes parents never breaks up. But it strikes me as a fascinating juxtaposition that all sorts of heterosexuals can become parents without thinking about it - and that Maggie Gallagher and Dr. James Dobson can make blanket statements indicating that they're inherently more qualified to be parents than any gay or lesbian couple could possibly be.

Some element of the argument against gay marriage, then, twists around and starts to contradict itself. Queers shouldn't be parents because they can't get married, and they can't get married because their relationships don't last, and therefore they shouldn't be parents, which is the only reason folks should get married at all - a bit of a circular argument. And don't even get me started on heterosexuals who don't want kids and are allowed to get married. With arguments like these I'm starting to wonder if you should be required to prove you're not barren before you're allowed to tie the knot.


Blogger LB said...

I am the first to comment on your blog, how exciting! Circular arguments do have their place however. How else would people who have no hard evidence make it look like they're using logic?

9:59 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I'm stuck trying to really understand where people are coming from. I suspect behind most arguments against gay marriage is some form of bigotry, but I assume you're right - they're looking for logic to justify it. I have some belief that if I could understand this logic, I'd be better equipped to rebuff it, both in my own mind, and with others.

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i like the way you ramble just a bit; it helps you connect topics in creative ways

12:17 PM  

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