Exciting news people! I'm not getting married. The reasons are not too hard to understand, but the problem that frames them is complicated.
Well, "problem" not in the sense of it being a nuisance, but rather a subject that needs some contemplation and dissection to understand.
I grew up in the Midwest and am now in my mid-twenties. Conventional knowledge suggests I should either be on my way to the alter, or actively trying to get there (at least that seems to be the general consensus among my relatives.) I do not feel that way— or rather, I don't anymore.
I have nothing against marriage idealistically, outside of the whole Women's Studies 101 history of the institution. I realize we've come a long way, baby, and I am fine with committing to one person for the rest of my life. In fact, the whole idea seems really nice, especially when you're in love. I'd just like to explain why there is an ethical argument for not getting married in the US today.
I didn't really want to feel this way, but now I'm here, stuck with the mindset. I suppose it's because when faced with the reality of the situation, I made myself stop and think about it.
I moved in with my boyfriend after only a couple of months of dating, and I knew even then we were never breaking up. I knew I had found the man I wanted to marry.
Now I'm not so sure, though it has nothing to do with him.
I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of spending loads of money on a wedding when that money could be put to better use in a million other ways, but I figured I could sort of tweak The Big Day when it came so it didn't bother me too much (veggie menu, no diamond ring, I'm not paying anyway.) I also knew that it was really more for my family than for me. Because for my Catholic family— and my boyfriend's Jewish family— marriage is basically required, and certainly expected, if you're planning on starting a life and family with someone. It is also required if you want to do things like sleep in the same room at my Dad's house. (Yes, even when you've been living together for 3 years.) If it were up to me, it'd be City Hall and a handful of people. Of course that would piss everyone off, so at some point I resigned myself to the fact that my giant family and my boyfriend's rather large family would inevitably collide at Papa Fox's country club.
So several months ago we started looking at rings and talking about dates and doing the usual "maybe it's time" thing. (Side note: diamonds are ridiculous— WHY do people spend so much on these rocks? The only reason they cost so much is market control, and the only reason we buy them is advertising- see: The Diamond Invention - but I digress.) It was about this time things started to get weird, and not in that familiar "I'm uncomfortable with the money/time/energy required by this one day" way. It started with me thinking about who I would want to fly in, want in the wedding, and need for emotional and pharmaceutical support. It occurred to me that some of those people would not be able to get married themselves, at least not where I live (NYC) or where I'm from (STL), and that even if they did get married in Iowa, the Federal government would never recognize their full rights thanks to Bill Clinton signing the Defense of Marriage Act. (DOMA)
Soon after, I saw this.
I have loved Charlize since That Thing You Do!, and when she said she didn't feel right about getting married when so many people can't, I realized I totally agreed with her, but hadn't actually ever thought about it in that way.
When I did start to think about it, the obviousness of the problem surprised me. Of course I don't want to buy into an institution (literally, you have to pay for a marriage license) that discriminates against people, especially people I care about. Of course I have a problem contributing money to a state that amended its freaking Constitution to insure wacky discriminatory practices would carry on for as long as possible. Of course there is something wrong with marriage being a privilege offered to only heterosexual couples. But I feel like most people don't even think about it.
Then again, people who belonged to country clubs that didn't allow Jews or went to schools that didn't allow Blacks probably didn't think about that much either until they had to. But at some point they either had a moral epiphany and left, tried to change those institutions, or were forced into evolving by legislation. But we have no new Civil Rights Act coming our way today in defense of equal marriage or gay rights, and even the standards we do have (see: not tolerating institutionalized discrimination) are obviously not being applied to this very applicable situation. So while there are plenty of people making it their life's work to eradicate this blatant inequity, it is clear their progress is and will be hampered by a nation that has not yet come to fully grasp it's own ideals, and is intent on staying backwards in this regard. So the only thing I can do at this point, outside of contributing money and effort to political action organizations, is to not join the club.
There are plenty of people who will say, "This is only hurting you, and does nothing to advance gay rights. I'm not going to stop voting just because other people in the world don't have fair elections," etc.
Well, this is not some problem with "the system," nor some kind of boycott I'm advocating. I get that I am forfeiting rights I would otherwise have were I married, and that me not being married does nothing to directly help the gays marry.
However. There is something to be said for solidarity, and even more to be said for personal moral fiber, regardless of the pay-off. For me, this is simply an aversion to targeted, purposeful discrimination, keeping me away from an institution that does such things.
Take something like a driver's license. We need the government to regulate certain things like who can operate automobiles so we don't all die when my grandfather decides Alzheimer's shouldn't keep him off the road. Sure, there are restrictions (age, physical and mental ability, etc) but it should be open to all who qualify. And if everyone but gay people, or black people, or short people could get a driver's license, I would have a problem paying and supporting the DMV. (It would be a pain in the ass to not have a license when I went home for Christmas, but I'd probably survive.) Same with paying someone to give me a marriage certificate who wouldn't give one to a gay person. It just doesn't seem to jive with my conscience.
And I get that this is all a part of the government, but it is not the government per se that is the issue here. It's a policy, namely DOMA, and a collection of local policies like Prop 8, and, most importantly, peoples' mindsets that are the problem. So there's no need to take on the government, to stop paying taxes, stop voting, etc. I don't disagree with everything the government does— just this institution (marriage) it controls on various levels. I think that marriage should be about love, not politics, but when it is politicized by legislation and discrimination, leaving the politics out of the equation just isn't an option anymore.
The mindset behind this discrimination, as far as I can tell, is that allowing gay marriage will hurt what we think of as traditional marriage, because it makes it less special/holy if those sodomites can join in too. They are unnatural, god hates them, and so on. "Who will we be marrying next, people and cows!?" proponents say. (I love the equating being gay to being a cow.) Well, I think we can stop at "consenting adults." These anti-equality pundits tend to ignore the obvious problems with their religious arguments, like if you are getting this "moral" basis from the Bible, then you also have to follow the rest of Leviticus and the Old Testament and outlaw things like shellfish, divorce, and women leaving the house while on their period. But these people aren't really open to being reasoned with, and I've never known a racist or a bigot to suddenly see the light because someone pointed out their reasoning wasn't wholly sound. That's not really how these things work. And I don't see them picketing Red Lobster.
So the only way for me, personally, to contradict that mindset is to show that traditional marriage is not protected, but in fact diminished and out of the question for certain people who would normally join in because of the bigoted nature the institution has taken on— banning gay marriage in certain places, doing the separate-but-equal thing in others, and in most places, simply tuning out the voice of the gay community because they are a minority, after all, and minorities only seem to garner equal rights in this country once the majority decide to sympathize.
Also, do not think that "no one" would notice or appreciate this sort of gesture— my entire family (and my boyfriend's) will certainly notice on that fateful day I'm finally forced to explain to them why we haven't made the move yet. And I am sure there are people who will take it to heart that there are straight people willing to sacrifice their own rights in order to stand in solidarity with those whose rights are denied. Also, all these people definitely care: [marriageboycott.ning.com]
This is not to say gay people, or any people, give a fuck whether I get married— it's not about that, or whether or not they think this is just some empty gesture. It's about making a personal decision while putting it in a larger context, something we should probably all do more often.
Now most people I've bounced these crazy ideas off of respond with, well why don't you just get married in Boston or some other place gays can get married, and donate money to the cause instead of gifts or something?
I think that is a fine idea, but it doesn't totally get around the problem for me. DOMA is still in effect, and I feel like anti-discrimination and pro-equality continue to lose the good fight all over the country. Simply going to one of the five places where they are making an impact is nice and all, but avoids the larger issue. I could also go to Holland. But I don't live there, and neither does anyone I know. And this isn't really about statement making for me. It's more about what's in my heart, and how I would feel joining a club that has rules I don't agree with. And in the bargain, taking the argument against gay marriage (it will hurt "normal" marriage) and flipping it on it's head by showing that denying gays marriage can turn plenty of straight people off it.
But, hey, listen, it's not that I disagree with people getting married, so let's just get that out of the way. I'm not saying anyone (gay or straight or otherwise) should or shouldn't get married because of what I think. No one should make that decision for you— including the government. I know and love plenty of married people, and I'm not questioning their life decisions. Plus, I love an open bar as much as the next lush. It's not about the party, or the sentiment behind it. It's about me, personally, putting my money where my mouth is as far as Civil Rights go.
And I get that there are a lot of people who for religious, familial, immigration, or financial reasons need to get married, and I am not trying to give off an 'all or nothing' vibe here. For them, do what you need to do, and enjoy those rights while you're at it. Mazel tov! There are millions of reasons people get married, and most are perfectly valid. But there are also reasons not to, and all I ask is that we consider those, too.
Just like with eating meat, there is only so far you can take lifestyle choices with other people. Personally, I decided to become a vegetarian for environmental and ethical reasons, not because I don't love bacon. (God do I miss bacon.) But other people, for the most part, don't get it and/or don't give a shit about the environmental impact of their eating, and I'm probably not ever going to change their minds. I just try to do what I think is right, and hope that other people can come to understand why I think it's important. But while I think the vegetarian message is pretty 'out there' in terms of people understanding why it's effective, I don't think enough people have talked about this marriage abstention thing.
As far as civil unions go, it's a start, but it smacks of separate-but-equal to me — but it's a perfectly understandable option if it floats your boat. For the gay and madly in love, it is sadly the only option. So go for it, but we all know it's a stepping stone.
We should still be hoping for something better. And straight people should be just as concerned about this, because we all have a gay friend or relative who is currently being discriminated against.
The point is not that I think people shouldn't get married, but more that I don't think people consider these questions before they start buying rocks, and I think they should. For me, I think about how I live in one of the most progressive cities in the world with zillions of gays, and the fact that they can't marry here really bothers me. The fact that no matter where they get married the federal government won't recognize it bothers me even more. The fact that straight mentally handicapped people can get married and gay people can't... well.
Just to reiterate, I am abstaining — not boycotting. I think that marriage as a legal entity is something that should be available to everyone, and every consenting adult should be able to choose someone to enter into it with. I would just like to feel good about doing it first.
And again, I don't expect anyone to care if I get married or not. But I do think if Megan McCain, or some other famous young conservative (do those exist?), came out with the same sentiment, someone would care. If there were hundreds or thousands of young people refusing to get married because of this, it certainly wouldn't go unnoticed.
Maybe I will get married if I get to see the day DOMA is repealed. Or maybe I will have a commitment ceremony or a big ass anniversary (of our first date) party to appease my grandmother, who is not above dropping hints about how she won't be around forever and would love to see me walk down the aisle. I might even wear a ring and call him "hubby." But I don't think I can put my name on that marriage certificate, despite the tax breaks, until it's a privilege we can all enjoy.
You can call it an empty gesture, but for me, it's a gesture that speaks to my personal dissatisfaction with the option available to me, which unfortunately is not available to everyone else. And I'm not saying donating time and money to this cause isn't way more important. Do those things, please.
But also think about what you're getting into — and what you're endorsing — before you decide to join up.
This post originally appeared on Addy Fox. Republished with permission.
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