Friday, July 25, 2008

No Three Strikes on Marriage

Matthew Yglesias asks whether it would be better to ban fourth marriages rather than gay marriage if we want to protect the sanctity of marriage.
Marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples leads naturally enough to gay divorce. Along those lines, I was thinking recently that if you really wanted to do something to shore up the sanctity of marriage then rather than ban gay marriages you ought to ban, say, fourth marriages. It's one thing to say that people who make a mistake ought to get a second chance, but serial nuptuals really do make a mockery of the institution's basic premises in a way that same-sex couples don't. Maybe some people just need to admit to themselves that they have no business making promises of life-long commitment.

But he's very mistaken here.

A lot of people who get married aren't ready for marriage. Hell, some folks who get married aren't ready for a decent hook up yet. But, they show their "commitment to marriage as an institution" by continuing to try until it works.

I have an aunt in her late 70's who was working on her fifth marriage when she was 48 and husband no. 5 had just moved out of the house in San Diego the day before I pulled for a visit. My poor aunt was just as blown away by no. 5's departure as Snow White would have been if Prince Charming left her. But, she hung in there, No. 5 eventually back and she's still married to the guy 29 years later. What would she have done if Matt's silly "three strikes" idea was in effect? More to the point, how would Matt's idea have helped her given that either she or her third husband weren't ready for marriage (at least to each other).

My aunt's story is one of the reasons why legalizing gay marriage is important. People all over the country put an incredibly high value on marriage and are willing to go through any number of traumas to make their marriages work--even their fifth.

The fact that gay people are largely banned from marriage is an extremely harmful form of discrimination that excludes gay men and women from one of the satisfying and significant dramas of human life. Marriage is something that my aunt was willing to go through five times before she got it right. It is something that everybody, straight or gay, should be allowed to experience, work through, struggle with, and succeed or fail in if they wish.

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