Thursday, April 9, 2009

Vermont Passes Same Sex Marriage

Earlier this week, Vermont passed a bill legalizing same sex marriages occurring in the state. While this is being touted as a victory for human rights, I can't help but wonder if we're fighting the wrong fight.

The Kingston Daily Freeman held a poll on on whether same sex marriages should be permitted, and a majority indicated that they approved. But the question was posed as a simple "yes" or "no." Is it really a yes or no question? I think the issue is far more complex than one that can be summed up in a single-word answer.

We need to have a broader conversation about government sanctioned relationships, the creation of inequity and privilege based on relationship status and generally interfering with the personal lives of citizens.

The idea that we complacently allow the government to attribute worth and incentives to something as intangible and sacred as love is a strange concept. For many, marriage is a sacrament. For some, it is a means to an end. Why the government should be involved is still unclear to me.

If marriage existed solely as a religious sacrament, available as an option to those who choose it, I really wouldn't have any problem. I certainly wouldn't choose it, but it would be available to those who wish to recognize their relationship in that way. Marriage as a social concept would exist without any legal attributes. When we insist on validating a relationship and, subsequently, invalidating other types of relationships, we inherently create inequity and this is why the fight for gay marriage isn't one that should be championed under the banner of "equality."

We can't end discrimination by expanding a practice that is inherently discriminatory. Of course homosexual people should have the same rights as heterosexual people. But shouldn't single people, regardless of their sexual orientation, also be eligible for those same rights? What is it about being "coupled" that establishes an entitlement to rights that are denied to others in our society?

Our government has no business valuing some people over others and our legal recognition of marriage does exactly that. I'm happy that same sex couples are making huge strides, but it is still being done on the backs of others. What is the point in fighting for rights when those rights are won on the backs of others? We only continue to undervalue certain groups when we expand an inequitable practice. Marriage is, by its nature, exclusive and while we may increase the inclusiveness it will never be a fair and just institution.

It is far bigger than an issue of just health care or taxes or the ability to make medical decisions. Adding in the social benefits of being "coupled," we are creating an incredibly unfair and discriminatory system based solely on whether someone is in a relationship or not. As long as we elevate the status of some individuals over others, we will never have true equality. Our actions further oppress others and, at some point, we need to reevaluate the system.

Government has no responsibility for policing morality. Society does this without any governmental interference, and we need to make changes there, too. We need to question the interest of government in relationships and start pushing back.

How can we fix the system so that it conveys the rights created by legal marriage to
  • Single people?
  • Divorced people?
  • People in short term relationships?
  • People in long term, committed relationships who choose to remain unmarried?
  • People in non-traditional relationships, such as polyamory?
The answer is simple -- you can't, and we should probably stop trying.

It's an issue I struggle with every day, as someone who has recently become engaged. I certainly feel like a hypocrite, but also recognize the spiritual, legal and social reasons that make this is important to my partner. It doesn't change the fact that I don't share the same spiritual considerations and wish the legal and social incentives were wholly non-existent. I'm perfectly happy as a single person and don't need the government, a religion, or anyone else to validate my love. I don't want to benefit from my relationship, and don't need to be rewarded or congratulated; I haven't done anything warranting it. The happiness I've found in our relationship is benefit enough and I don't need any reinforcement from society or our nosy government.