Right to Marry

Why do gay couples want the state to OK their unions?

Tucson is unlikely to make anyone's "Ten Best Places to Live" list any time soon, but there are some things about the Old Pueblo that make us happy we're here. Unlike other cities where self-righteous, fearful flocks of citizens start screaming about the end of civilization when elected officials say the words "civil union," Tucson succeeded in passing a civil-union ordinance without having to deal with hordes of outraged residents threatening to tar and feather the City Council.

But while some may grudgingly concede that it's OK for gays, or any one else for that matter, to join in a civil union, gay marriage is quite another story. Marriage, after all, is sanctified by God and traditionally between one man and one woman, and anything else is an unnatural abomination. Discussion closed.

There is probably nothing anyone can say to convince people who hold this view that history does not support it. You could present them with tons of evidence proving that marriage is a man-made invention and that its form has changed over time and is culture-specific. You could argue that in some societies polygamy, or even polyandry, was the norm--and still is in some places. You could point out that some cultures traditionally accepted homosexual behavior and even surrounded it with elaborate rituals. None of this would make any difference.

If you provide a different argument, one that addresses issues of equality under the law, you're not likely to change many minds, either. People seem more fearful of the prospect of gay marriage than they do the threat of an imminent terrorist attack.

But frankly, I'm puzzled by the whole debate, on both sides of the issue. I don't understand why anyone would care what two consenting adults decide to do, especially if it doesn't impact them in any way whatsoever. On the other hand, I also don't understand why gay couples want to waste their time and energy getting a state-sanctioned OK on their unions.

Since this manufactured issue causes so much fear and loathing, I am clearly missing something, but have no idea what it is. And I've tried to think about it from several perspectives. I keep coming back to the same conclusion: It's nobody's business but the people involved. And with all the genuine issues to be concerned about, why bother?

Why gay couples, or at least some gay couples, are putting so much effort into winning the right to marry thoroughly baffles me. (The very idea of the "right to marry" is somewhat befuddling, but that's another story.) It's not that gay couples lack ways to spend their lives together in a committed relationship without state sanction. There is nothing in the law that prevents two women or two men from drawing up any number of legal documents addressing issues of property ownership, emergency medical decisions, etc. So why the stampede to City Hall?

After due consideration, the best I can come up with are two possibilities. The first is that the gay men and women most vociferous in their demand for "marriage rights" are on the payroll of the Republican Party. The GOP is secretly bankrolling their efforts--and, in fact, initiated the movement--for two reasons. First, it distracts voters from the more urgent and real issues of the day. Second, Republicans, those sneaky Machiavellians, are counting on Democrats to support gay marriage, thereby costing them votes in the upcoming presidential election. On the one hand, we'll have Bush, "deeply troubled" by the scene in San Francisco. On the other hand, we'll have Kerry coming from a state where the judiciary has said, gasp, gays have a right to wed.

If this isn't some Byzantine Republican caper calculated to throw the election to the GOP, then we're left with the second scenario that, in a way, is more troubling than the first. After all, by this time, we should all be inured to Republican shenanigans and not surprised by whatever devious means they'd employ in order to stay in power.

So what we are left with is the disturbing thought that a certain percentage of the gay population really wants to wed. This is discomfiting, not because of anything having to do with the artificial, non-organic, state-shaped institution of marriage, but by the fact some gays seem to believe their union needs to be validated or legitimized by the state. (Of course, it's a wonder anyone believes this, straight or gay, but that, too, is another story.) And the argument centers around certain prerogatives presumed reserved for married couples, such as insurance coverage and hospital visitation in case of illness, to name two.

But these days, many insurance companies provide coverage for domestic partners, and if they don't, most offer a rider that provides the coverage. As to hospital-visitation rights, I'm pretty sure a cleverly crafted legal document could supercede any hospital regulation limiting visitors to immediate family members.

I could understand a gay couple who share religious beliefs wanting to be married in a church or synagogue (we aren't going to talk about mosques and homosexuality) in a ceremony that holds spiritual meaning for them. What I fail to understand is why they seek the legal imprimatur of the state.

Of course, I don't have to understand it. And neither does anyone else. It's really quite simple: Unless a union poses a public threat, people should be allowed to marry whomever they choose. So incest is out, because as taxpayers, we don't want to be supporting a host of genetically challenged children who will never be able to hold a fork. And marrying animals is out because it's akin to marrying children: It lacks mutual consent. (Obviously there's a moral dimension here, too.)

But gays? Why not? Polygamy? Sure. Polyandry? Bring it on. Just as long as we can all keep it civil.

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