Well, maybe not everything. But a lot, anyway.
For those of you who may be reading this from far-away places – particularly those of you who may have the good fortune to live in states and countries who acknowledge and support and love all couples, regardless of their various genders, let me get you up to speed. In my beloved state of Minnesota, the Legislature decided to offer up an amendment to the Constitution banning gay marriage.
Never mind that gay marriage is already illegal here.
Never mind that 53% of the state is opposed to the ban.
Never mind that most of the authors and sponsors of this legislation are divorced. (Defending the sanctity of marriage, MY EYE!)
Never mind that gay people are a part of the fabric of our culture – they own businesses and work in every sector of our economy and send their kids to school and show up at park board potlucks and church picnics and pay their taxes and fix up their houses and go for long walks at sunset and do every single thing that heterosexual married people do.
Never mind all of that. The Legislature decided to send a State-sponsored “You Stink” letter to the gay community – a “Get Off My Lawn” letter and a “Stay Out Of My Sandbox” letter and a “You Are Not As Awesome As Me SO THERE” letter. And for the next eighteen (I think? I’m not really one for counting) months, my poor state is going to be awash with misinformation, with hateful rhetoric, with outright lies, and with ad after ad after ad.
Simple answer: Money.
Photo courtesy of Fibonacci BlueThe National Organization for Marriage held a rally last July at the state Capitol against same-sex marriage.
Because in the end, it doesn’t matter what the polls say, and it certainly doesn’t matter what the majority of the population thinks about a certain issue. It’s about who has enough money to control the message enough to make sure that their voters show up at the voting booths, and that the opposition does not. Democracy, in this day and age, has nothing to do with the will of the people and everything to do with who shows up.
Our voters, or their voters? I guess we’ll find out in 2012.
Which is why, on the evening of that fateful vote to put this ugly amendment on the ballot, Republican strategist after strategist said the same thing: “If this was a secret vote, it wouldn’t pass.” In other words, legislators weren’t voting with their hearts or their souls or their minds; they were voting with their re-election budgets. And that is a shameful thing.
Minnesota will flow with money. And it will be dirty money. God help us.
So, over the next few months, I’ll be fundraising and going to demonstrations, and my kids will be waving hand made signs, and we’ll probably go out doorknocking as a family, but in the meantime, I wanted to talk a little bit about marriage, and why it matters, and how my observations of my gay-married friends has deepened and strengthened my own marriage, and how grateful I am.
Here’s the thing: marriage is hard. It’s work. I’ve said it for years: getting married is one of the single bravest things a human being can do. Hell, it’s hard enough for us to live with ourselves, much less trying to live with another person. Now we all know the benefits and satisfaction of hard labor and a job well done; we all know what it’s like to look at the dirt under our fingernails and the grime on our knees and feel the ache of overworked muscles and know in our hearts that it’s bringing us one step closer gorgeous harvests come autumn. So is it true with a marriage: the work is good. We also know that marriage, if it is done right, is predicated on the guarantee of tragedy. We will spend our entire lives knowing our spouses, and loving our spouses more than we love the breath in our lungs or the food on our lips or the sun on our skin. And then, one day, one of us will have to live without our partner – our best friend and dearest treasure. Love requires tragedy. There’s really no getting around that one – unless both partners die in a fiery wreck, which just sounds terribly unpleasant, so let’s remove that as a possibility.
So we hang on to each day because we know it is limited. And we make mistakes and we sometimes argue and we are sometimes blind, but in the end, we know that despite the work, what we have is precious.
Marriage is precious.
And it is because of that preciousness, and because of that temporal nature that we look to the married people around us as role models and as touchstones and as guides. The marriages of my friends and neighbors and parents and relatives and friends of relatives and everyone else in my broad and diverse community are all part of my marriage. I watch, I listen, I learn and I keep building towards the future. That’s how it works.
Gay marriage would not, and does not, hurt my marriage. Now, if any of my friends ever got divorced, it would – I know for sure – hurt my husband and I. Indeed, it already has. Divorce hurts marriages, not gay people saying “I do”. Gay marriage would not change how I think about marriage nor would it change how I teach my children about the importance of fidelity and honor and love. It wouldn’t change how I teach my children about the sacredness of sex. Indeed, if the state recognized gay marriage, it would provide me with an extra teaching tool – that it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, because marriage matters and monogamy matters and you still have to do right by your partner. (I’m pretty conservative when it comes to that, actually.)
Gay marriage may actually strengthen marriage in this state. I believe that gay marriage as it stands now, despite it’s underground status, has already strengthened my marriage. Indeed, my gay married friends have – quite unintentionally – given me lesson after beautiful lesson on the building of a mutual life outside of the the assistance and blessing of the government. This is what they’ve taught me so far:
1. I learned that it’s not enough to rely upon the language of relationship to define a relationship. What does wife mean? Or husband? By removing the terms of the relationship, I was allowed to strip pretense away and observe the thing as it is: Something fragile, hungry and alive; something separate from me, separate from Ted; a life force with a path of its own, and it is my job – and his job – to protect it, love it, and follow it.
2. The celebration, the wedding, the community honor of a relationship that existed before the day of the ceremony and would exist after – well, it matters. Just like punctuation matters and pausing while speaking matters. Sometimes we need to take a breath, process what came before and prepare ourselves for what is next.
3. Divorce sucks. Doesn’t matter if your gay or straight, it hurts just the same – not only the couple in question, but the community surrounding the couple. Divorce hurts every marriage it touches. I’m not saying it should be outlawed or anything (I’m a SUPERPROGRESSIVE BLEEDING HEART LIBERAL, after all) but I do think we all need to acknowledge it. Divorce really really really sucks. So do broken hearts and broken homes and broken futures. And it makes me cry just thinking about it.
4. Don’t rely on the government to tell you what you already know. Whether you are gay or straight, it isn’t the piece of paper that makes you married. We marry in our hearts and in our minds and in our bodies. The piece of paper just makes it less of a hassle. And speaking of hassles:
5. Plan for everything. Two of my very good friends, who had a beautiful – though not government recognized – wedding, and raised two beautiful sons together, knew that they couldn’t take a single day for granted. The world is complicated and unpredictable, they told me, and life as we know it could be irreparably altered in a moment. But, because the state does not recognize their union, they had to bring their own recognition with them wherever they went: written power of attorney; adoption records; living wills; notorized documents stating that, in the event that one should be incapacitated, the other – and not their families – would have all rights and responsibilities of a spouse. Now, we all know that these documents are not always honored. But they did their best. They planned. They hoped for a better tomorrow.
6. Love the community you’re in; build the community you want. My friends know all about the pain of having one’s family or neighborhood or place of employment or church deny the tranformative power of their love for one another. They love their communities anyway. They volunteer and work for justice and teach classes and vote and give to charity. They also are very good at building new communities that are predicated on acceptance and tolerance and care.
Every marriage is a gift – to the couple, to their community, to the whole world. Every marriage requires bravery, tenacity, tolerance, insight and love. Every marriage deserves recognition and support, because the work is difficult and the benefits are tremendous.
Thank you, my married friends, both gay and straight. Thank you for your support and your instruction and your guidance in my own marriage. May your love thrive, expand and multiply. May it bless your lives, bless your city, bless your state and bless the world.