Civil marriage is still a civil right

The Thinker by Rodin

Perhaps to really appreciate Valentine’s Day, you have to be single or divorced. When you are an old married dude like me, Valentine’s Day has a perfunctory feel to it. Of course, I get my wife a card, some chocolate and sometimes even some flowers. She does likewise. It should be a special day since after all it is a day that celebrates romantic love. Perhaps we could find ways to make the day more special. For us the truth is that we love each other the same every day of the year, so there is not much point in making a fuss over Valentine’s Day, beyond what is expected.

Absence does make my heart grow fonder. There are times when I feel if we really wanted to rekindle the old flame, we should spend a month apart. A week apart, which happens a couple times a year when I am off on business travel, definitely makes me miss my wife. I miss her as well as all those comfortable, somewhat nebbish things we do both together and apart, like sit three feet from each other while she inhabits one computer and I another but largely never speak. I imagine to feel so distracted that I craved her most of the time would take about a month. I really don’t know because in nearly a quarter century of marriage, we have not been apart for more than two weeks at a time.

Passionate love is designed to be fleeting. It tends to get more passionate with increased separation, up to a point. If your hormones remained as high as they are during the passionate love phase, you would live happy but die young. This is why many of us crave a lower intensity kind of love that amounts to the comfort and routine of being married. After a while, you take it for granted simply because it is so always available. We have someone to come home to. He or she may not be perfect, but neither are we. This low-key love that most of the time is pleasant rather than passionate seems to be the key for many to low blood pressure, health and long life.

Some of us would like this pleasant kind of love but haven’t found the right person yet. Others of us may have found the right person but cannot get married. The person they love inconveniently has the same sex as they do. Except in a handful of states they are out of luck. Perhaps they can live with their love, but they cannot do anything to make their relationship legal.

I do not know exactly how things would be between my wife and I right now had we decided to live with each other the last quarter century instead of tying the knot. I do know they would be a lot different. Would we have ever had a child? These days there is a lot less stigma associated with having a child out of wedlock but childrearing is so much less complicated when you are married. Our daughter could fall under my insurance. My wife of course would not be my wife, unless you count her as a common law wife, so she would have to fend for herself in the health insurance market. Frankly, I doubt we would still be together. We both wanted to settle down. Inhabiting a house together was nice, but until we were tied together legally, it didn’t feel quite right. Marriage was important because it meant we were an established and committed couple and could plan a future together in a straightforward and structured way.

It baffles me, particularly with the passing of each Valentine’s Day, why gays and lesbians cannot enjoy the simple right to a civil marriage. I could enumerate the many reason why denying civil marriage is so counterproductive to our society. However, the Reverend Evan Keely, an interim minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church I attend pretty much said it all in his succinct sermon Forty-Seven Theses that he delivered appropriately on Valentine’s Day Sunday. In addition, I have talked extensively about this injustice before.

Today, I simply want to say to my gay and lesbian brethren just how sorry I am that they were born into a society where they still cannot know the everyday pleasure of waking up with and interacting with a spouse. I never have to worry that my wife will be denied hospital visitation privileges, or that someone I trust can direct our financial affairs when I am unable to do so. I don’t have to worry about finding someone to accompany me to the hospital for outpatient surgery or to drive me home afterward. It comes implicitly with marriage. Having a spouse makes life so much less complicated in so many ways, while of course it introduces relational complexities as well. It is not fair, but I am fully vested in society and you, unless you live in a state that allows gay marriage, are not. Even if you happen to live in a progressive state like Massachusetts, in the eyes of the federal government you are still not married, and are treated as such.

Rest assured that this will change. In time, this injustice will be rectified and you will be treated as equally as the rest of us who happen to have been born with heterosexual orientations. I will not rest until you too can enjoy the right to live pleasantly (but not always with burning passion) with the blessing of civil society with the person you love.