Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear an argument concerning the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage that passed in my beloved California in 2008 (with enormous help from organized churches, which still hold their tax-exempt statuses, despite using their influence to become major political donors).
There are innumerable arguments to be made in the struggle for equal rights: the separation of church and state; the constitutionality of legalizing homophobia; my very simple, and very sincere, confusion about why anyone would give two shits about allowing two consenting adults to get married.
However, of all the things that could rile me up, what really gets me is this insistence that what opponents of marriage equality really take issue with is the term “gay marriage,” because “marriage” belongs to the religious and to give “marriage” to the gays would be to violate the church’s right to separation from state interference.
Okay. Let’s ignore for the moment the outrageousness of framing a human rights issue as a semantic argument and explore this a little, shall we?
To make a statement such as, “marriage equality would destroy the institution of marriage because marriage is inherently religious,” is to make several assumptions:
1) There are no homosexual religious people, because
2) All gays are raging sinners (which is a blatantly homophobic and fear-mongering thing to assume, whether you admit it or not).
3) Currently, only practicing members of religions can get legally married in this country and
4) Atheists and agnostics must apply for “civil union” licenses at court houses and have “civil union” commitment ceremonies instead of weddings.
All of these assumptions are, of course, complete bullshit.
I am agnostic woman who got legally married to an agnostic man at a wedding ceremony officiated by a Jewish gay man who is one of the best people I know. The only thing “traditional” about my wedding was that I married the love of my life. And marrying for love was hardly tradition at the inception of the institution, when women were literally “given away” by their fathers to their husbands.
And yet, simply because I am a woman who fell in love with a man, I was able to secure for myself and my husband: life-long memories of a fabulous wedding; tax benefits; legal recourse in case of accident or death; and the gift of knowing that my government and my neighbors see me as a competent, loving, and equal member of the society in which I live.
Marriage does not belong to anyone. No one group can lay claim to its one true form. Marriage, like most cultural constructs, has never been traditional – even as it is practiced, it is changed. Marriage (and the wedding) as we know it didn’t even become “traditional” until the early 1900s, when women first started giving their husbands rings and wearing white at weddings – not to symbolize purity, mind you, but to emulate Queen Victoria, who chose a white wedding gown to make a fashion statement.
We don’t combat the progress of cell phone technology because it impedes the tradition of rotary phones. We don’t fight the development of modern medicine because it calls into question the efficacy of plague masks. The answer to why we stand in the way of social progress lies more in our own fears of change and less in how things ever actually were.
I hope the Supreme Court can cull through all the nonsense and make a sound and logical judgment on Proposition 8 tomorrow. It’s been embarrassing Californians with common sense for four years too long.