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How Many “I Do’s” Does It Take?

By Lavender July 16, 2008

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Marriage has a sexist, racist, classist history. That’s why I can’t have it—yet. It is also an efficient way to protect those we love against whatever BS life throws our way. That’s why I want it—bad. It is also a deeply spiritual experience that has nothing to do with paperwork. And that is why the GLBT community ultimately will win its right to marry.

Where were you when California Supreme Court issued its decision on the matter? For many people, it’s one of those historic moments. I was reading that very case at Caffetto in Minneapolis. Governor Tim Pawlenty was in his office getting ready to veto the Minnesota marriage equality bill. There are no bystanders in this struggle.

I don’t need Britney Spears or Ted Haggard to highlight inadequacy of the anti-GLBT marriage stance. I just look around. At 28, if anyone is teaching me about commitment, it is certainly not the generation of my parents. “Let no one separate what God has joined together.” How many couples seem bound only by mortgage and insurance until their bundles of joy get shipped off to college? A survey of friends reveals many divorced parents. I was shocked to realize I know as many same-sex as heterosexual couples who made it to their Silver Anniversary.

Then again, queer tenacity is not surprising. In the face of adversity, GLBT people don’t just settle down. We set an example.

Earlier this year, during the Soulforce Right to Marry Campaign in New York State, I met a gracefully aging lesbian couple from Utica. After a decade together, Alice and Sandra worried about their future. So, in addition to the backyard commitment ceremony and trips to a local lawyer, they took the initiative to legalize themselves in Vermont and Canada. Wherever they go, they carry proof of their union: a thick folder of documents, photos, and mementos. My Mom and Dad were puzzled when I asked where their marriage certificate was: “It’s been so long, God only knows.” Alice and Sandra keep it by their bedside.

Marriage is a civil right with a mystery at its core. Out of all the people in the world, how do we find the one? Commitment is not legalistic mumbo-jumbo. It’s the stuff of revelations. Before constitutions and supreme courts, as long as humans roamed the Earth, people expressed their desire for coupling in front of other people. Marriage is consummated by those joined together, but it always has been validated by peers.

Melissa Etheridge in her 1988 single “Watching You” sings: “If I can’t love you, I don’t want to love you.” What logical conclusion am I to aim for at the start of a relationship? What’s beyond my romantic horizon? Accusations of promiscuity are not a reflection on homomorality but a product of heterohypocrisy. I was raised to take marriage seriously, and while others may not live up to their own standards, I’m determined to live the dream. That’s why I work for equality.

I can join my husband half a world away in Belgium or Brazil, but not down the road in Burnsville. Some justify wavering on marriage equality because it’s not yet the norm worldwide. That makes the American Dream a farce. Home of the Free and the Brave. Leaders of the Free World. How long will it be acceptable to have asterisks by those statements signifying GLBT exception? Sure, Myanmar, Uganda, and Haiti have more pressing social issues. Nonetheless, if Uruguay can handle domestic partnerships, so can Minnesota!

In 2005, the United Kingdom passed its civil partnership law. Now, the British employment tribunal is hearing a case against a registrar who refused to issue partnership licenses as a matter of her religious conscience, asking non-Christian coworkers to take over this duty. The battle for validity of our relationships will continue after the dust of legalities settles.

If we keep insisting that God, Higher Power, or That-Which-Cannot-Be-Named have nothing to do with marriage, we’ll hinder our progress. If marriage and spirituality are so separate, why do most same-sex weddings feature a Pastor, Priestess, Rabbi, Voodoo Master, or such? I want to honor the spiritual experience of marriage, and make it the common ground I share with my opponents. Yes, marriage is a religious matter, too. We can’t fight if we agree. Now, get me to the altar!

It is extra-stressful to go through life hand-in-ringed-hand when you have to lug proof of legitimacy around. Recently, Brigham Young University, the one-school Ivy League for Latter Day Saints, published a study on marital status, relationship quality, and cardiovascular health: “New research shows that happily married adults have lower blood pressure than singles with supportive social networks.” While “happily” and “supportive” remain questionable qualifiers, this study is another argument for marriage equality. Next time I see young backpacked missionaries on bikes, I’ll flag them down, and try it out. I don’t need a white lab coat to hypothesize that Alice and Sandra would confirm BYU findings in a heartbeat.

Do the spiritual and legal realms overlap in your relationship?

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