I recognize, of course, that gaining access to marriage in New York is a huge political victory for gay and lesbian people and their supporters. Thus, these early weddings are cause for more than just personal celebrations and that’s the general theme of some of the news coverage. But as readers of this blog may recall, I also have some abiding concerns about the way marriage operates in our culture. I’ve written about these before and they’ve been developed by others as well.
Here is what worries me. I think it’s great for same-sex couples to have access to marriage–it is part of being treated equally–but I think marriage should not be compulsory or required. In other words, a couple should be free to marry or not, as suits them. (There’s a long argument that goes here and you can read about it in a published article I wrote. (Registration is required to get to this but it is free.))
But look at the way people are talking about marriage–go back to the essay from earlier this week. Doesn’t the essay suggest that if you are parents, then being married is necessary to the well-being of your children. Otherwise, like Maeve and Georgia, your children will feel like you’re part of a second class family, which cannot be good. Indeed, John Feinblatt and Jonathan Mintz are model parents and so they
“care deeply that the girls feel fully integrated into society and see it as just. Sunday’s ceremony goes a long way toward that.”
Who can fault them? And what kind of parents, in the face of this reasoning, would choose not to marry? How will we judge parents who choose not to marry.
This isn’t an issue exclusive to same-sex couples, of course. Indeed, it is one that different sex couples have had to contend with all along. How many unmarried different sex couples do you know who are parents? How many different sex couples do you know who got married when they decided to have children?
Same-sex couples have, in an odd way, been sheltered from this pressure because marriage wasn’t an option. But now it is an option in NY. And what I mean to suggest here is that it isn’t simply an option. It is seen to be the right thing to do if you are parents and hence, is virtually required for the good of your children. Whatever your political critique of marriage as an institution, doesn’t that have to be set aside in favor of your ordinary parental concern for the well-being of your kids? Wouldn’t it be selfish to refuse to marry because of some personal political analysis when getting married would allow your kids to feel fully a part of society?
I’m sure the media will have many stories about same-sex couples getting married in New York and no doubt many of them will include heart-warming references to the children who can at long-last participate in their parents’ weddings. I’d like to see a few stories about same-sex parent couples who are choosing not to marry, though. I wonder if there will be any. I rather doubt it, but one can always hope.