Friday, November 16, 2012

Marriage: Love and Contracts

"Let me check my schedule." I think that's how our engagement began.

Married life over the past 24 hours has involved shifts taking care of an up-all-night sick toddler, cleaning up vomit, and administering nebulizers.  Thankfulness that I will not have to travel away from B or LB for the next ten days or so.  Appreciation of the cozy house.  Debates over likely outcomes of a Supreme Court decision on DOMA.  Coffee at 6:00am, dinner at 6:00pm.  A good and simple married life.

As a feminist and a hater of the wedding industrial complex, I never planned to marry and I've never been particularly invested in the social approval that comes with marriage.  Then when B and I had been together for five years or so, Maine put marriage on the ballot and we started thinking that a little civil marriage ceremony at the courthouse, with a few friends and family members, and a nice dinner afterward, might work for us.  And then the people voted down marriage equality in Maine.  And with that rejection, we became more invested in marriage.  We were living in Baltimore when gay marriage was approved in D.C., we decided to go for it, and since our schedules were clear that first day they were offering licenses, we thought we might as well hustle down on the train in case they suddenly changed the rules.

We were couple #81 (I think) on the first day that D.C. offered marriage licenses to same sex couples, and it was a fun and happy experience.  People were giving out cupcakes and flowers.  The couples waiting in line were a diverse group, men and women, elders and youths (including some who looked a little too young by my standards), people of many races and ethnicities, those in business formal and those in sweatsuits, people from the District, from Maryland, and from Virginia.  The line was long and slow, but spirits were high.  We married a few weeks later at the courthouse with our parents present and everyone cried.

Eight months later we had a baby (she was two and half months early if you're counting).  Our marriage was, in no small part, an effort to ensure all possible protections for that future child.  Marriage was a public declaration of our love for each other, and our responsibilities to each other, but we could have made those declarations privately.  I've never felt that our love for each other needed state sanction, or that I needed the state to tell me our relationship was legitimate, but the legal rights and responsibility provided by official recognition of our marriage have been very important.

I really admire legal theorists like Nancy Polikoff, who point out the structured inequality embedded in a system where marriage provides access to rights and benefits.  However, I don't think academics like Polikoff recognize the situation on the ground.  Marriage (if you can get one) is cheap and easy.  It provides protections to gay couples who lack the financial means or background in the law to cobble together those protections by other means.  I'm doubtful about the cultural good arguments for marriage-that marriage will solve all our social problems of poverty, crime, and whatever-but I do think that when you tell someone, say the clerk at the admitting desk in the hospital, that you are married, the word carries a cultural power that forces people to acknowledge your relationship even if they don't want to do so.

I'm curious to see where the fight for same-sex marriage will take us.  I hope it will help us create a country that is more inclusive and equitable to all, and not a world where singleness is vilified and marriage is exalted.  I fear that, as anti-marriage activists have said publicly, the next fight against same-sex marriage will be uglier, a return to the worst homophobic stereotypes and threats.  Either way, life at the cozy house marches on with our little piece of political embedded in the personal.

I'm writing this post for the Love Makes a Family Blog Carnival, which can be found here.

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1 comment:

  1. "However, I don't think academics like Polikoff recognize the situation on the ground"

    Yes. And this is the conversation I had with people who were trying to make philosophical arguments once it was already on the ballot. Philosophy is great, but if it's between getting some rights and not having any at all, I'm voting for the rights, thanks.