As far back as I can remember, I have always defined “marriage” as “man + woman.” While I am not (and never was) homophobic, and always felt that homosexuals should have the same civil liberties as everyone else, my natural instincts told me that homosexuals did not qualify for marriage simply because it did not fit my mathematical definition.
However, I did support gay rights, domestic partnerships and civil unions, and felt that states not allowing those were violating individuals’ civil liberties. Even through law school, as my appreciation for the law and civil rights matured, I still felt that marriage equaled man + woman. It probably didn’t help that I was a registered and active Republican and felt a strong party alliance.
In Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the United States Supreme Court held that the “separate but equal” concept in education was inherently unequal, overturning the long-respected legal precedent of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). This same theory is now presenting itself as to gay marriage: Can a separate system allowing for “marriage” between men and women, and “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships” between two men or two women, be equal? Oddly enough, I was able to test this theory myself.
After moving to Manhattan with my girlfriend (now my wife), we decided to take advantage of the New York State Domestic Partnership law (section 4201 of the New York Public Health Law). We were not yet ready to be married, and were not even engaged, but my girlfriend was starting law school and her health insurance options were limited.
My girlfriend and I met all the legal criteria to register as domestic partners: we were New York residents, over 18, not married or related by blood, were in a “close and committed personal relationship,” lived together, nor in an existing Domestic Partnership or “registered as a member of another Domestic Partnership within the last six months.” We filled out an application, had it notarized, went to City Hall and paid a $35 fee, and voile!, we were domestic partners. The irony is that the law was created to provide homosexuals with the same rights and privileges of married couples, but was open to heterosexuals as well, because hey, the law cannot discriminate.
In the matter of a couple of minutes, my girlfriend and I had all of the same rights and privileges as a married couple while being able to dissolve the partnership with nothing more than a certified letter and a $27 fee. It crossed my mind that this was a superior alternative to marriage, because in case it didn’t work out, we would avoid the need to pay for expensive divorce lawyers.
My next stop was the Human Resources Department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where I informed them that I was upgrading my healthcare policy to include my domestic partner. I felt like I was getting one over on the system. My girlfriend had access to the same wonderful healthcare policy that I had, and I could still easily walk away at any time with the stamp of a notary. We had all the same rights as a married couple… or so I thought.
As it turns out, the joke was on me. Not only did we not have all the same rights and privileges as a married couple, but due to an absurd IRS ruling, the value of the healthcare benefits my girlfriend received were being added to my W-2 as taxable income. In case this is not clicking in your head, there is a tax on being a gay couple (or at least, they don’t enjoy the same tax benefits as “real” married couples).
Crap! Separate but equal really is inherently unequal. By this time, I had graduated law school and my notions of civil rights had matured and I realized that something here was terribly wrong. I was conflicted. I still defined “marriage” as “man + woman,” but I also recognized the serious injustice that came with civil unions and domestic partnerships.
My brain immediately came up with a solution: the government needs to get out of the business of marriage. Why is government licensing (permitting) us to marry anyway? What is the compelling government interest here? Wasn’t marriage traditionally a religious concept? So who is government to tell us whether or not two people can be licensed (permitted) to get married? Doesn’t separation of church and state apply here?
I eventually married my girlfriend and being Jewish, we had a Rabbi perform the ceremony. Even though we were forced by the State of Florida (where we were married) to obtain a marriage license prior to the wedding, I absolutely forbid the Rabbi from making any reference to the State of Florida in our ceremony. (“By the power invested in me by the State of Florida, I now pronounce you husband and wife,” was omitted from our ceremony at my request.) Who the hell do the states think they are? I was standing under a Chuppah with a Rabbi and my almost wife, and the State of Florida was going to give us permission to marry? What are we – cars, real estate, am I her property?
So here I am, a recovering Republican (because today’s national level Republicans are just totally nuts); utterly confused by the concept of gay marriage; knowing that all men (and women) are created equal, endowed with certain unalienable rights, among them, the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; and knowing that nothing in this world makes me as happy as my wife.
My brain still defines marriage with the mathematical equation of “man + woman,” but even more important to me is that we don’t deny homosexuals the same rights that I enjoy, including the right to marriage. Knowing that government will always stay involved, I see only one possible conclusion: states like Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia are doing what the Constitution requires them to by allowing same-sex marriages. Any other result is as disgusting as prohibiting blacks and whites from being in the same classroom. Gay marriage is not wrong – I am.
Gay people are just that… people. And unless we start treating them like people, we are no better than those that stood outside public schools with shotguns, staring down the National Guard, swearing on their lives they would never let a black child set foot in their white school.
My New Marriage Equation: Marriage = 1+1